Thursday, October 25, 2018

Blues frustrated they haven't protected third-period leads better

Team is 2-1-1 with lead after second, 0-2-3 in games which they gain lead or 
tie in third with points on the line after 32-1-2 mark a year ago with lead after two

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When the Blues begin a seven-game homestand tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets and wonder how they can improve on their slow 2-3-3 record out of the gates, they can focus on not so much the start but the finish.

On the heels of a 5-4 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Monday, a game in which the Blues led 2-0 in the first period and 3-1 after two, a solid three-game Canadian trip ended sour at 1-1-1.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Brayden Schenn (10) battles with Jets defenseman Tyler Myers
for the puck in Monday's game at Winnipeg. 

It marked the fifth game in which the Blues were either ahead or tied in the third period and the game in the balance that they have lost. They're 0-2-3 in those games.

Leaving points on the table early can be costly late, but the Blues have to figure out why they're unable to protect leads late like they're so accustomed to doing.

Last season, they were 32-1-2 when leading after two. They're 2-1-1 this season, but in four other games, they were able to regain a lead or pull even, only to come up empty-handed.

"Little details of the game. I think we're panicking when we have the lead," center Brayden Schenn said. "Not panicking as a team, but just little plays that has you playing without the puck more. I think we're almost trying so hard to win that I guess you forget the little details of the game sometimes. We all want to win in here. That's obviously no secret and we've got to do a better job of protecting leads.

"It's been since Game 1, we've had a lot of leads in the third period and we just haven't been able to close them out. As a group, we've got to do what it takes to win in the third period and take care of the puck more."

In the second game of the season on Oct. 6, the Blues rallied to take a 4-3 lead on the Chicago Blackhawks, only to fall 5-4 in overtime. One week later in Chicago, the Blues rallied from a 2-1 deficit to go up 3-2, and again, fell 4-3 in OT. One night later, they led Anaheim 2-1 going into the third, lost 3-2. On Oct. 17, they tied Montreal late but lost it with 11 seconds remaining 3-2, and on Monday, they led the Jets 3-1 before falling 5-4 in OT.

"I think it's more mentality," forward David Perron said. "We've got to find our game. We're in October, so we've got to trust everyone to be able to do it, whether it's the first line or fourth line, there's three minutes left in the game, you've got to feel like everyone can go out there and do it. If it's March or April, maybe we're in a different situation, maybe it's different but I think at this time of year, you've got to trust everyone to be able to do it. There's different ways we can look at it and I got my own opinion. We can all talk about it with the coaches and meetings and things like that.

"The easy thing is to say keep playing the same way like we were the first two periods. ... I think don't change anything from really any type of perspective, if you look at it. There's different things that happen in the game, different situations, we don't react the same way maybe like we do in the first two periods. I feel like they come back on us a lot easier. We just play neutral zone hockey, we chip it out and they get it right back on us and we forget to go grind it out down there and make plays."

It would be somewhat understandable if this was a young team with inexperienced players getting their feet wet in the NHL, but the Blues are loaded with veteran players that have been through the wars and have a solid understanding of closing games out, whether it be a key play, a timely save, a clutch blocked shot, anything.

Right now, it's not happening regularly, and it's costing precious points.

"I think we stop playing and obviously we have to stay aggressive in how we defend and continue to execute," coach Mike Yeo said. "I think the execution was a big part. Our defending was a big part but you can't keep defending and keep defending. 

"... Obviously (confidence is) not where we want it to be. I think it's a matter of how you look at it. I'm sure a lot of people looking at last game, and we are too, it's about getting better. Disappointing we didn't close it off, but we went into two tough buildings, and got three out of four points and should have got four out of four, so yes, there are some things we should have got better at, we have to stay out of the box, we have to get better at playing with the lead, but the bottom line is we're getting much closer here. I'm way more encouraged now than I am frustrated or disappointed. This is a different story for me than a week or two into the season because I feel like it's starting to look the way it should look. I feel we're starting to do it regardless of the team we're playing, regardless of where we're playing. For the majority of games right now, it's starting to look the right way. Even the last game, we had a third period where they came at us and tied it up and then we were able to regain the lead. We should have been able to fit it off at that point. So there's a lot of good. Obviously there are things we have to get better at, but for me, there's far more good and now we have to bring it on home."

The term "taking the foot off the gas" seems to be something the Blues tend to use when these situations arise, and instead of staying on their toes and bringing the initiative that led to leads in the first place, it seems the players are afraid to stay on the attack for fear of not executing properly and getting scored on in that manner.

"I think that's just confidence. It's all confidence really," Schenn said. "When you're confident, you're going to win a hockey game, you just keep on playing. You don't really think, you just go out there and play. Maybe we're doing a little too much thinking with the lead. We've got to find a way to keep our confidence and play within our team game whether we're up or we're down.

"It's mental. It's all mental. That's all it is. The game is all mental and there's no reason why we've blown a lot of leads. It's not we stop playing, it's mistakes that end up in the back of the net."

Goalie Jake Allen said after the loss to the Jets the players play like they're scared to lose games and if they do, it has to be with an all-in mentality, not one with a conservative approach. That's what has to change moving forward.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) positions himself on the post as Winnipeg's
Adam Lowry (17) curls the puck towards him during Monday's game.

"Yeah, we're overthinking it. That's what I'm saying," Perron said. "I feel like we're overthinking everything right now. We have to get back to basics and not forget to have fun out there. For me, when I've moved around and changed teams, you see different mentalities and last year for me what I lived through basically with Vegas is we were still light and had fun at the rink but we still worked really hard. I feel like at times when it can get heavy and we're starting to lose here, it's a feeling that it's sometimes we've had here before in previous times that I was here and it's definitely something we've got to learn from. We still have to come to the rink, enjoy our time, smile and make sure that we still put in the work."

It won't take much. The Blues are in every game, and they've played some very tough teams in tough buildings. 

"We're in every game, we're close," Schenn said. "Obviously not quite there yet, but not a great start to start a season with our record, but at the end of the day, we feel like we're building our team game. We could have got five out of six points on the road trip. Nine seconds in Montreal, had a good game in Toronto and then lost in overtime last game. There's a chance for us to keep on building and develop."

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