Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Blues top lineup comes up empty in 4-0 loss to Capitals

First game with near-regular season lineup sees positives, 
shortcomings that need work; Allen Perron make preseason debuts 

ST. LOUIS -- Playing with a loaded lineup that will resemble as close to, if not, what the opening night lineup will look like, the Blues found out some things playing their fifth preseason game against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

The bottom line: there's work left to be done, some quirks to work out and some timing plays that need repetition.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jake Allen (34) made his preseason debut for the Blues in a 4-0 loss to the 
Capitals. Allen made 19 saves on 21 shots in two periods of work.

A 4-0 loss against a Capitals squad that brought with it some savvy veterans, including Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson, Evgeny Kuznetzov and Lars Eller among others, was a stark reminder that not all is going to go right when putting  plethora of new faces into the lineup. 

On paper, everything looks Stanley Cup worthy. The finished product obviously needs some touching up. But one thing the Blues can take away from a loss and first experiment as a group together: they won't take any flack from the opposition.

"This was an intense game. You can see that," Blues coach Mike Yeo said, with 44 minutes in penalties and two fighting majors in the game. "They had a physical lineup. Some things I'm unhappy with, but certainly happy with the way the guys competed and stuck up for each other.

"... We want to be a team, and tonight, I thought that we were team-tough. When something happened, we saw a teammate getting in there for each other. That's a big, physical team. Saw that in the playoffs last year, and they had a couple other guys in the lineup that play a very physical brand. We were willing to stand up to it, but obviously at the end of the night, we're sitting here and we lost the game 4-0. There's some other areas that we have to get better, but from that standpoint, you're trying to build your team, you're trying to build a group that wants to play hard and stick up for each other and play for each other. At least in that regard, there's something to build off of."

One was Patrick Maroon, who jumped in with Washington tough guy Liam O'Brien, both chucking their gloves off and landing in North County, before each landed some hard blows when the game was 3-0.

Maroon took exception to O'Brien getting a little too physical with captain Alex Pietrangelo. 

"I felt he got his elbow up on 'Petro' and I didn't like that and he jawed back at the bench," Maroon said. "I was just trying to be a teammate. That's all I'm trying to do. It's nothing new with me. I'm sure you'll see a lot of it. It's how I play. It's kind of my game, my style. I'm not afraid to do that stuff. He's a tough customer. I'll have to look at the stat sheet next time."

The Blues, who outshot Washington 42-37 in the game, and were blanked because of the efforts of Pheonix Copley, who was in the Blues' system until traded back to the Capitals in 2017 in the package that sent Kevin Shattenkirk to Washington, has their moments at scoring, including a 5-on-3 for 1 minute, 54 seconds that yielded them four shots on goal and a Vladimir Tarasenko snapper off the left post.

"Good movement, threats from different areas," Yeo said. "We saw chances from in front of the net, saw chances from up top. You've got to find a way to finish, you've got to find a way to bury chances, but without scoring, that's as good as a 5-on-3 has looked for a while here."

The game was the first for Jake Allen, who made 19 saves on 21 shots and played the first two periods before giving way to Chad Johnson.

"I actually felt pretty good," Allen, who will play a full game Friday against Dallas, said after the game. "My footwork felt good. It was actually (more challenging) getting into the gameday routine again and that sort of thing. It's nice to get back into that rhythm as well. I was happy. I felt pretty solid out there.

"It was good to get some shots too. I was glad to get some good attempts instead of a boring night. It was nice."

Allen and David Perron made their preseason debuts in the game.

"Man, it's been a while since he played," Pietrangelo said of Allen. "Stopped the puck real well. I think the next for him is feeling more comfortable, keep moving the puck and I think Friday, he'll be even better."

"I thought he made a couple really good saves," Yeo said. "I thought he didn't look like he's been out for a long time, and that's good news for him. He stood tall in there. Him getting through this is a big first step."

The young kid line with Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou and Ivan Barbashev didn't get a ton of ice time (10:15 for Thomas, 8:19 for Kyrou and 10:43 for Barbashev) but when the trio got out there, they were threats with their speed and puck movement. 

Kyrou was robbed by Copley with a glove save directly in front of him after he got a pass from Thomas with 2:53 left in the opening period.

"Those guys, I thought they did their job tonight," Yeo said. "It's a bit of a different role for them. They're used to being the top ice guys on their team and first over the boards. We had to focus on our veteran guys and guys that haven't played a lot of games got a lot of ice time. With that, there was long periods of time where they weren't playing, but they came over the boards and they were ready. They took advantage of their opportunities and generated some good opportunities for us."

The game presented the Blues (3-2-0) a stern reminder that it was a good lesson playing against Washington and some of their big guns, because there were at times timing issues, gaps in allowing odd-man rushes too cleanly up the ice, particularly in the first goal scored by Shane Gersich 10:16 into the first period and a few other kinks that need to be ironed out.

"It's a good reminder that we're not there yet. We shouldn't be there yet," Yeo said. "Obviously we've been off for a long time and we've got to find a way to get up to the level that we need to be at and this will be a good reminder for us there. There's some things that are close, there's some things that every game we get a little bit closer, every day we get a little bit closer, but we're not there yet. The fact that we played that team is good for us because that's a team winning the Stanley Cup, the game that they play at is very fresh in their minds, they're on top of it, they're at the level a little more than we were. We have to find a way to get there."

There weren't many, if any, dejected faces in the locker room.

"Our team was in the game and we've just got to find some chemistry right now," Maroon said. "New faces, news guys. We've got two more games and we can bounce back. 

"We need to clean up some things. It's not a lot, it's just a little. Sometimes you've got to tip your cap. That goalie made some unbelievable saves. The game could have been very different if we busy on those chances. Just clean up the minor details between the ears."

And playing more together as a group would help.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Robert Thomas moves the puck during preseason action on Tuesday for the
Blues in a 4-0 loss to the Washington Capitals at Enterprise Center.

"We've only really practiced with a couple of these guys for two days now," Pietrangelo said. "Not really an excuse, but I think systematically, we can get better. I think we're still kind of hesitant, some of us have never played in this system. Some of us, we've played in for a couple years. I like the effort though, I like sticking up for each other. That's something to build off of. It shows a lot of character right now. Systematically, if that's the issue, we can hammer that into our brains and it should be second nature for a lot of us. The other thing can't be taught and it's good to see."

Nathan Walker, Madison Bowey and Chandler Stephenson also scored for the Capitals (1-3-1). Bowey scored on Chad Johnson just 52 seconds into the third and Stephenson's goal was an empty-netter.

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