Sunday, November 11, 2018

Blues end homestand in disappointing fashion with 3-2 loss

Granlund third-period goal difference despite St. Louis outshooting 
Minnesota 31-18; Blues end seven-game homestand 4-3-0

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues and coach Mike Yeo were rightfully pleased with their shutout victory on Friday night against a tough opponent in San Jose, but the signs that things were really in the rails in a good way was to see if they could follow it up with another solid effort against another worthy opponent.

There were decent spurts against the Minnesota Wild, but once again, not enough of them. And in the end, the Blues were left wondering why they weren't banking two points.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Nikita Soshnikov (86) races after a loose puck with the Wild's
Matt Dumba in Minnesota's 3-2 win on Sunday.

Mikael Granlund scored for the Wild 12:17 remaining, and the Wild hung on for dear life in the waning moments when the Blues had goalie Chad Johnson pulled and escaped with a 3-2 win before 16,735 at Enterprise Center, ending the Blues' season-long seven-game homestand with a thud.

The Blues (6-6-3) played with assertiveness and confidence in a 4-0 win against the Sharks and put together two wins in a row and wanting to put a stamp on a homestand that would have been 5-2-0 and worthy of moving forward with some positive vibes and feeling like their game was getting in order.

But it ends a disappointing 4-3-0, and on Sunday, after a start that showed some vigor and moxie early on but without a goal or two to set the tone, two big gaffes and a lack puzzling lack of a push early in the third period of a tie game raised more questions than provided answers.

"It stings. I think we're all pissed off. It's unacceptable," said Blues center Ryan O'Reilly, who did extent his NHL career-best point streak to 10 games with an assist (eight goals, nine assists). "We've got to start making a push, we've got to start climbing, and especially against a team like that. We were there. We could have taken those two (points).

"... It's still very disappointing. It's a frustrating one. A little lapse in the second and responded, but in the third, they're just a more veteran team that stuck with it and waited for us to make a little mistake. It's disappointing. We easily could have got that into OT and we didn't."

And by not going so, the Blues fell back to the .500 mark at the 15-game mark, which is not anywhere near where they thought they'd be, but prior to Sunday, had won four of five and were building the right way.

Allowing games to slip away, at home and within the division, is not a recipe that will bode well as the season moves along.

"That's what was disappointing. I thought it was a winnable game," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "Just made the wrong mistakes at the wrong times. And the mistakes we're making obviously are big ones. But it's not just the mistakes. A mistake is not being firm enough with your play.

"There were some things that were pretty good, but we're not in the business of saying that. I think we limited their chances. But it's chances that we give up that are unnecessary. Goals where our gap's not strong enough, are we're just not strong enough. Or we're not making a hard enough play, strong enough play, and it ends up in the back of our net. That's what you gotta do to win hockey games."

Making a play in the third period is not what Colton Parayko did. His turnover, by not assertively clearing a puck from the slot despite some resistance from Minnesota's Jason Zucker that resulted in a turnover, Granlund beat a surprised Chad Johnson for what turned out to be the game-winner.

"You've got to recognize you've got the puck in a dangerous area, just slap it out, just do whatever you can," Yeo said. "Hammer it, and if somebody happens to be in your way, then it should hurt. You've got to get it out of there as hard as you can.

"It's not just him. I think we had our puck on our stick probably about four times there (Zach Sanford twice). We've got to be better than that."

Arguably more puzzling at the outset of that third period was the Blues' unwillingness to push the initiative and dictate on home ice in a 2-2 game. Against San Jose Friday, they didn't allow the Sharks to breathe. Of course, a 3-0 lead helps in that matter, but instead of sitting back, the Blues were on their toes and dictating. Sunday, they weren't, and they needed one.

"I think so," said Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, whose second-period goal at 9:37 tied the game 2-2. "I think both teams were playing a bit cautious there, started the third getting a feel, but I think we could have gone out there and dictated the pace a little bit better."

Despite the missed chances in the first period when Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk bailed Minnesota's bacon early when the Blues had a power play, Oskar Sundqvist gave the Blues a 1-0 lead with 52.8 seconds left in the period on a won puck battle by Sanford and Sundqvist. Sundqvist and Ivan Barbashev worked in on a mini 2-on-1 before Barbashev feathered a pass in the slot to Sundqvist for the goal.

But that missed power-play early was a chance to perhaps get an early lead, build on it and dictate against a team playing its third game in three and a half days and ending a seven-game road trip.

"We need to capitalize on the power play, especially in a game like that against that team that doesn't give up a lot," O'Reilly said. "They clutch, they grab a lot and when you do get those PP's, it's really important to convert on them because it's tough to generate against those guys."

Not being able to build on that lead cost the Blues early in the second when they were lethargic at the outset and it cost them two goals in 25 seconds.

Zach Parise was on the end of a fortuitous bounce when Nino Niederreiter's shot deflected off a Blues stick, off the cross bar behind Johnson and he couldn't locate the puck before Parise's spin-o-rama backhand into the net at 1:19 to tie the game 1-1.

Then another turnover, this time by Robby Fabbri in the neutral zone when his pass was off the skate and behind David Perron, the puck caromed back to the Blues' blue lone and Minnesota was on the hunt and scored when Joel Eriksson Ek put home a rebound at 1:44.

"A couple mistakes, but no one would score in the league if people didn't make mistakes, right," Pietrangelo said. "Mistakes are going to happen, teams are going to score. It's just how we respond. I thought in the second period we did a good job of responding in the second half."

Pietrangelo's goal was proof that they did, but until a late flurry when the Blues did everything but score at the end, there wasn't much of a push with the game on the line.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues winger David Perron (57) gets checked off the puck by Wild 
defenseman Ryan Suter on Sunday night.

"You have to know also that they're playing that way, and they're waiting for you to make mistakes," Yeo said. "So I just didn't think that No. 1, for us to grab the lead, I didn't think that we were strong enough on the puck in the offensive zone. I didn't think our forecheck was quite hard enough. We were missing a second guy a lot of the times. And again, just talking about the firmness of our game. The way that they were playing and protecting the middle, you've gotta get to the net. As a coaching staff, we didn't feel that we had the desperation around the net until the goalie was out. So obviously you need more of that."

"A lot of pretty good chances. A couple back doors," Pietrangelo said. "I don't know what mine hit. I think he saved mine. Vladi [Tarasenko] walking down the pipe with 10 seconds left, I'll take that that any day of the week. So just one of those games where it didn't go in but hopefully next time they do."

Minnesota's win was its second here since Nov. 11. The Wild won that game 5-1 and outshot the Blues 45-16. The Wild were outshot 31-18 in this one.

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