Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Blues fall to Capitals 4-2, still have life

Despite defeat, Colorado loss leaves St. Louis one point 
out of wild-card with three games remaining, game in hand

ST. LOUIS -- With games reducing to almost nothing and time running out, the Blues were in a position of strength once again against another team in the Washington Capitals on Tuesday playing for nothing.

The Capitals did what they wanted on Sunday night when they clinched the Metropolitan Division title by beating the two-time Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, and with three games remaining, all they need to do is play out the string and be ready mentally and most importantly, physically and healthy for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues players Robert Bortuzzo (left) and Vladimir Sobotka (right) defend
Washington's Lars Eller on Monday in a 4-2 Capitals win.

The Blues are playing for their playoff lives, needing to squeeze out every point possible of their remaining four games heading into Tuesday. But for whatever reason, frustrating to all involved, a bad stretch of hockey to start the second period left the Blues bewildered in a 4-2 loss to the Capitals on Monday before 18,841 at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (43-30-6), who have now lost three in a row after winning six straight, know it's the time of the year where slip-ups are simply not acceptable. But it was one slip-up after another to begin the second period when the Capitals (48-25-7) scored three times in the first 7 minutes, 54 seconds, and when the Blues power-play, which has been maligned all season long, needed a boost, it failed for the umpteenth time to deliver.

And on a night where the Blues failed to gain anything on the Colorado Avalanche, which in the Blues' eyes thankfully failed to gain ground after a 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings, the Blues got one silver lining out of the night: they still only trail the Avalanche by a point for the second wild-card with a game in . They're three behind the Anaheim Ducks for the first wild-card.

"Just know the situation we're in," said Blues defenseman Colton Parayko, who was on the ice for two of Washington's goals. "We understand where we're at and we know what we have to do to win. We've done it last week, the last couple of weeks, and it's going to be a good couple tests against Chicago and then Colorado to finish it out. We know basically we're in a win-out situation so it's going to be a good challenge for us and we're looking forward to it. I know it's tough to turn the page quickly but that's what we have to do and make sure that we're ready."

Blues coach Mike Yeo, after his media availability, was ready to get glued to the television to watch the late game between the Avalanche and Kings hoping for a Kings victory and held belief that his squad was still good to get this done for a seventh straight season.

"I do. We’ll scoreboard watch for the rest of the night today," Yeo said. "When we come back to the rink tomorrow we’re full steam ahead here. There’s not a single part of me that doesn’t believe that we’re still going to get there. It’s our job now as coaches to make sure that the players match that feeling."

It's unfortunate that the Blues put themselves in this situation, and it was an eight-minute lapse in play that did it.

"Yeah, start of the second period and then we needed a goal from our power play," Blues forward Alexander Steen said.

Nicklas Backstrom, who had a goal and an assist, scored 51 seconds into the second to tie the game 1-1, then Alex Chiasson scored on a breakaway at 2:39 before Andre Burakovsky made it 3-1 at 7:54.

A quick-strike, talented team like the Capitals, even with nothing to play for, don't need much, didn't take much but made it effectively bad from the Blues' standpoint after Vladimir Tarasenko scored his 32nd of the season 3:38 into the game to give the Blues a 1-0 lead.

"Obviously we scored a goal early, but I didn't think our start was that great," Yeo said. "I thought we had some guys who looked like they were going (well), and we had some guys that weren't sharp enough. And that wore on us, and obviously they took advantage of that. They had a couple opportunities, situations that they created offense that we need to be much sharper on that individually. Obviously, that's a team that can make you play if you're not sharp there."

Backstrom scored on a rebound in front to tie it 1-1 when he was able to convert over Jake Allen, who made 30 saves, with Parayko there.

"Yeah, a little bit," Parayko said when asked if he could have been more physical with Backstrom. "He made a really good play, actually. Kind of spun off me where he went away from me. It was a nice play by him. Credit to him. At the same time I have to make sure I'm kind of, almost counter his ability to do that and make sure I kind of push him away from the puck. Where the puck bounced, he made a good play and credit to him."

The Blues were sluggish to start the period and puck handling was an issue and ultimately led to the tying goal.

The second goal was the result of two defensemen (Parayko and Vince Dunn) who failed to communicate and allow a gaping hole in the middle of the ice for Chiasson to burst through after Jakub Jerabek's stretch pass.

"Just obviously as defensemen our objective is to cover over the middle, that's right where the guy came is right through the middle and maybe a little miscommunication of what was going on," Parayko said. "We've got to make sure we're over top of the forward at all times as defensemen for sure."

Yeo was more focused on the Blues' forwards (Steen, Patrik Berglund and Kyle Brodziak) at the time.

"It’s a neutral zone forecheck," Yeo said. "We talked about them trying to get behind our 'D.' That’s just a read that we have to be sharper on. That was too easy of a  play."

And on Burakovsky's goal, when he danced around Dunn before cutting in on Allen and beating the Blues' goalie short side, some missed coverage in the neutral zone allowed the play to get into the Blues' zone cleanly.

It was a punch in the mouth, and again, the Blues tried to respond but couldn't muster up enough.

"Yeah, we had a bad stretch there for 7-8 minutes and they were able to get a 3-1 lead," Blues center Brayden Schenn said. "I thought we threw everything at them, [Braden] Holtby made some good saves and we just weren't able to buy that third goal tonight."

Berglund cut it to 3-2 at 11:38 of the second when his shot deflected off Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen past Holtby, who made 34 saves in the game.

"Yeah, we had a good push, we had a good push," Steen said. "But like I said, ultimately our power play has got to come through for us. It didn't and now we've got to regroup, make sure we're ready for the next one."

The Blues had 3:56 of power-play time in the third period and finished the game 0-for-4. They had some decent zone time after a horrendous first power play in the first period but had nothing to show for it, much like the entire season.

"It's obviously an issue tonight," Yeo said, downplaying the entire season, which is now at 15.3 percent efficiency, good for 30th in the league. "We get a chance in that third period, back-to-back power plays. We gotta come through. Basically that's your opportunity and those are the plays that we need to make right now. Again, we were finding a way to make some plays, finding a way to come back in some games. I don't think we should've put ourselves in a position where we had to chase and to battle back, and all that kind of stuff tonight. But still, the game, there was an opportunity, there were opportunities for us to tie that game up, and we didn't take advantage of those opportunities."

And with Holtby making 15 of his 34 saves in the third period, Alex Ovechkin scored an empty-net goal on the power play to make it 4-2 at 18:29 to ice the game.

Brodziak was whistled for a penalty and took the Blues nearly a minute to gain possession of the puck, and with no other alternative, Yeo pulled Allen to make it a 5-on-5 situation.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz (17) checks a Capitals player on Monday at
Scottrade Center in Washington's 4-2 win.

"I mean, if we try to kill the penalty then there would be seven seconds, nine seconds, left in the game, whatever, obviously not an opportunity for you to try and tie it up there," Yeo said.

The Blues have three games left (against Chicago in the regular-season home finale on Wednesday, at Chicago on Friday and at Colorado to end the season on Saturday) to try and salvage their season and their chance at making the playoffs. 

"It's big-boy hockey right now, and we were doing it when we were rolling," Yeo said. "We were feeling good and the finish line was a little further away. Now it's right here in front of us. So you're not allowed to feel pressure, you're not allowed to feel tired. Whatever the case is, you've gotta find a way to go out there, to do your job. Whatever it calls for that shift and we got be better."

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