Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Tired, weary Blues fall to Panthers 2-1

Chance to gain separation atop Western Conference, Central Division 
goes by wayside with mistake-prone game that lacked proper execution

ST. LOUIS -- The passes looked off. Pucks were being uncharacteristically turned over. The forecheck wasn't that persistent, high-pressure game from the Blues. 

Bottom line, the legs looked weary. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Sammy Blais (left) and Florida's Frank Vatrano battle for a
loose puck on Monday at Enterprise Center.

Tired minds make tired mistakes and lack proper execution. 

Such was the case for the Blues in their 2-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on Monday at Enterprise Center on the second of back-to-back games.

The Blues (41-19-10), coming off a 2-0 win at Chicago on Sunday, had that necessary jump early in the game. They were turning the Panthers (35-26-8) over, they were the ones with the early jump, doing the things that make them successful.

It all went awry on a late first-period power play and from that moment on, the game, even though the Blues grabbed the lead, slowly fell from the Blues' grips.

"We had a lot of opportunities to score," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "I thought they did a good job with their sticks tonight blocking shots. They had 23 blocks. Back-to-back games, I didn't think we had a ton of jump. I thought our first period was pretty good. Second period just okay and third period was kind of an even period for me, but you know, we just didn't execute on some plays offensively. It's tough to win only scoring one goal."

That one goal came off the stick of defenseman Colton Parayko, whose bomb from the top of the right circle came off an Alexander Steen screen past goalie Chris Driedger for a 1-0 lead at 11:20 of the second period.

That makes four of the past five goals scored by Blues defensemen the past three games and only one by forwards, and none in the past two games.

"Our forwards definitely could probably get, have to get more opportunities than they're getting," Berube said. "I think, like I said, maybe they're looking to pass too much and not shoot enough. But, you know, we do use our 'D' a lot. They do shoot the puck a lot every game, it's nothing unusual them getting that many shots tonight. But, you know, we do need our forwards to start generating more offense for sure. We have three of our top four scorers tonight not with a shot on net."

The Blues won't make excuses, but they simply looked tired as this game wore on. Coaches and players downplay the effects of playing back-to-back games, but after the Blues exerted a fair amount of energy sweeping a season series from the Blackhawks for the first time in history, and even though the flight home from the Windy City is less than an hour, the Panthers, fighting for their playoff lives, began their push and pushed hard enough to get a power-play goal from Mike Hoffman at 16:12 of the second period, and the eventual game-winner from Brett Connolly at 4:23 of the third.

"I don't know. I personally felt good, but I don't know how the others felt," Parayko said. "Maybe, I don't know if you want to kind of put it on that, but I think just we deviated away from our game a little bit getting the puck in deep, just getting in on the forecheck. That's kind of been our style getting in on their defense, making them turn pucks over, getting pucks toward the net making it hard on their defense. It's hard on d-men when opposing teams get the puck towards the net and you have to kind of turn around and find the forwards. That's our style of play when we're tough to play against."

The Blues got 27 shots on Driedger for the game, but many of them that got through, the Panthers goalie could see. There didn't seem to be enough layers of players at the net on a consistent basis or players not taking the eyes away from the goalie. There were times when the Blues passed up shots or just simply weren't quick enough getting them off, and that goes back to tired, weary bodies. 

"Yeah, I think a little bit of that," Blues center Robert Thomas said of the layers at the net. "We ran three-high a little bit more. We were making plays and kind of allowing us a 3-on-2 up top. We did that a lot a decent amount of times and we had some good looks. So I think it’s more about that and being a little bit more patient with the puck."

Or as Berube said, "Our Grade-A opportunities, I don't think that we executed on them. Like a stick got in there, missed the net, something like that. We waited a little bit too long, a little too cute at times with the puck. I thought we probably could have directed more pucks to the net than we did."

The Blues tried doing that late, but Florida, which did block the 23 shots, sacrificed their bodies and got in shooting lanes with nine blocks in the game's final 4:48.

"Yeah, they’re a desperate team," Thomas said. "They’re fighting to get in the playoffs. And they were getting in all the lanes. I think we've got to do a better job getting it off quickly, getting in front of the net more, getting more tips, kind of boxing their guys out to allow shots to get in."

Jordan Binnington made 32 saves and some of the brilliant variety. He bailed teammates out for careless puck plays, including two separate breakaways following Vince Dunn lost pucks, wasn't buying the theory of losing to a team that is good enough and fighting for the playoffs.

"These are games we can win and we're better than that," Binnington said. "So we're not happy about this one.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Colton Parayko unleashes a slap shot for the only goal in 
a 2-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on Monday night.

"We want to win obviously, and losing to these teams that I think ... we can win these games. They're winnable games. It's the time of year where you can't make excuses and you've got to find ways to win and we didn't do that tonight."

The game was played on Monday, originally scheduled for Tuesday, but was moved up when the NHL dropped the Blues' Feb. 11 suspended game against Anaheim on Wednesday.

The Blues missed out on a chance to go four points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche, who lost at Los Angeles 3-1.

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