Sunday, April 28, 2019

Blues want to get to game quicker, be more mindful of Stars second line

Despite 1-1 series, slow starts hampered Blues at home; 
Hintz, Zuccarello, Dickinson accounted for seven points in Game 2

BERKELEY, Mo. -- The Blues headed South for their Western Conference Second Round series with the Dallas Stars tied 1-1, with Games 3 and 4 slated for American Airlines Center without playing their best game in the series yet.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Ryan O'Reilly (90) delivers a check
to Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen Saturday.

That's the good news. The bad news is that they haven't gotten there yet, and with a pivotal Game 3 on tap for Monday (7 p.m.; NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM), the Blues may want to ratchet things up being in danger of falling behind in a series for the first time in the playoffs.

"I think we've obviously (got it at) 1-1. I still feel like we can get to our game quicker," forward Brayden Schenn said. "There's been some times in the game where it's a feeling-out process. We've just got to get to our game quicker, play harder, playoff hockey and we've just got to want it more. That's what it comes down to."

The Blues allowed the Stars to get a quick leg up on the momentum in Game 1 before Robby Fabbri scored the first goal of the game and give the Blues a lead before they settled in for a hard-fought 3-2 win.

In Game 2, it was more the same, but this time, the Stars made the Blues pay for their mistakes on costly turnovers, jumping out to a 3-1 lead before holding on for a 4-2 win after an empty-net goal with three seconds remaining.

"It's 1-1, we've been playing well on the road, especially in the playoffs," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We had some success playing in Winnipeg. So we feel confident going in there, another tough building to play in, but we feel confident after what we were able to do last series."

The road seems to bring out the best in the Blues. They're 3-0 in the playoffs, with all three wins coming in Winnipeg, they had the fewest regulation losses in the West (13) during the regular season (21-13-7 record) and fourth-fewest in the NHL behind Tampa Bay (nine), Toronto and Pittsburgh (12 each).

"At home, I don't know what it is," forward Pat Maroon said. "We struggle, but it is what it is. We've got to put it behind us now. It's tied 1-1, we're going in tomorrow, we've got to find a way to win.

"I just think we get to our game right away. Maybe we like playing on the road in front of the other fans. I just think bonding with the guys and being with the guys on the road makes it a lot different. I just think we establish our game right away. At home, I feel like we wait for them to come at us instead of dictating the play right away. On the road, we try to dictate the play right off the bat. We get to our game right away. I don't know why that happens. It's a weird game like that, but we're fully confident going into Dallas right now tied 1-1, we're still in a really good spot."

One area of emphasis for the Blues may be not only paying attention to Dallas' top line of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov, but also that of the Stars' second line of Roope Hintz, Mats Zuccarello and Jason Dickinson. That trio combined for seven points (two goals, five assists) on Saturday, with Hintz leading the way with two goals and an assist, and Zuccarello and Dickinson each picking up two assists.

"They're the ones who are scoring for them," Pietrangelo said. "They've done well. We've done a good job on that top line, but I think we can be better against that secondary scoring. If we can take that away, I think that's when our depth will really kick in."

Did the Blues underestimate that second line?

"No, I think everything that they're getting, we're pretty much giving to them," Pietrangelo said. "We can be better in terms of managing the puck and lessening those opportunities."

Regardless of the obstacles and challenges that lie ahead, nobody expected this to be a quick series. 

"Yeah, you knew going into it, you knew it wasn't going to be a sweep," Schenn said. "One and one, two games here, we've had chances, a lot of chances to score goals, goalies have played really well, you knew that was going to happen going into the series as well. We've got to do a better job of getting in on their defensemen, making it hard on [Ben] Bishop because chances are the shots that he's seeing, he's going to stop."

What the Blues would like to stop is making their power play predictable in the series. They were 0-for-5 on Saturday, including a 24-second two-man advantage late in the first period that they never even got a chance to try anything with, and a late power-play that included 55 seconds of 6-on-4.

"They've done a good job of up-ice pressure, disrupting the breakout," Schenn said. "That's up to us. We've got to make adjustments, be cleaner. Execution's got to be way better. They can pressure up ice all you want, but as long as you execute, there's always a guy open. We've just got to do a better job with that."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ivan Barbashev (left) tries to maintain control of the puck while absorbing a
check from Stars defenseman Esa Lindell on Saturday in Game 2.

With Dallas playing its first home game of the series, expect the Stars to ramp up the physical aspect.

"I think we need to be more physical," Maroon said. "I think myself (and) other guys need to be more engaged, more physical. But that goes along with the series. Right now, we've got to find ways to do that. We've got to be harder on those top guys. They're going to be more frustrating on our top guys, so our bottom two lines have got to find ways to frustrate them. We've got to do a better job off that. But like I said, it's a long series. You don't want to take stupid penalties. You don't want to get too involved in it. Just make sure you take numbers, get a nice clean hit. It's going to be a physical series. It's going to get dirtier and dirtier every game. I mean 'dirty' just by stoppage of play, in-your-face kind of stuff, so yeah, it's going to be more physical down the stretch."

No comments:

Post a Comment