Saturday, March 20, 2021

Blues get back to some good old-fashioned basics, snap losing skid with 2-1 shootout win over Sharks

Players, coaches have meeting to go over taking more pride on defense, pays 
off for one game as team was more fundamentally sound, especially in own end

It would have been nice if it was a Picasso, but at this point, the Blues don't care.

A win is a win, and maybe something where they had to lace up the boots and fill the lunch pails and go to work and grind out a win, even in a shootout, could help them snap their recent funk.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Justin Faulk (right) and the Blues were much more sound on
Friday night in a 2-1 win against the San Jose Sharks.

And the focal point of the recent five-game winless streak (0-2-3) was to play tighter defensively, not be "soft" as coach Craig Berube described after losing in Los Angeles on Wednesday and just being overall tougher to play against.

The Blues were tougher to play against, were fundamentally sounder in their own end and it resulted in a 2-1 shootout victory against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center in San Jose on Friday.

Perhaps Berube and the coaching staff got some things off their minds on the off day Thursday and hashed some details out with the players, because this time, it carried onto the ice, as opposed to the 4-1 thumping they took from the Kings on Wednesday, getting down 3-0 early.

Needless to say, whatever it was worked, and even though the goals aren't coming in bunches yet -- that's three in three games for the Blues -- they found a way and when one finds a way, often enough it leads to better play moving forward.

"We have a couple meetings with coaches inside the team and things obviously weren't working well," said right wing Vladimir Tarasenko, who scored the shootout-deciding goal before Jordan Binnington made a save on Kevin Labanc to seal the win. "We thought that the only one way to get back winning games, we need to start with simple plays, trust in our system we have and play the hockey that makes us successful. We've been known for a well-defensive team where everybody help each other. I think today was a way better game, a good step forward. Tomorrow's a new day. It's nice we get a win today, but tomorrow will be even harder game for us. have to move on, have to bring all the positive moments there and play even better because we think we're capable of it."

What was Berube's message to the team Thursday?


"We had pretty good meetings yesterday and talked about taking more pride in defense, playing defense as five, just like helping out more and being heavier and stronger," Berube said. "That's what it boils down to a lot of times is desperation at times and just being heavier and harder to play against and I thought we did a better job of it tonight."

The Blues seemed to play more compact in their zone, had more people around the puck and the support was better in all areas.

"We did it the right way," said Binnington, who made 30 saves in the game, then stopped two of three shootout attempts. "We played a very strong game. We were connected out there, supporting each other. Tracking in the d-zone was strong, breakouts were pretty smooth. We've just got to build off this and carry it into tomorrow.

"... You've got to stay with it, you've got to be relentless. It'll come. I think we want to win and we want to be there for each other. We want to be successful. Tonight was a strong game in all three zones, I think. Just build off that."

Perhaps it coincided with the return of Jaden Schwartz, who played 22:55 tonight after missing 14 games with an oblique injury, and the return of defensively responsible center Tyler Bozak, whose shorthanded goal in the third period tied the game, helped matters in that regard. Two veteran, responsible players who have an impact on and off the ice.

"I think in L.A., we got running around a lot," Bozak said on his 35th birthday. "We didn't stay connected and that's not the way we're successful. We want to be tighter in the d-zone, play better as a unit, move the puck, work well, skate up the ice together. I still think we turned the puck over in some crucial areas and something we're going to have to tighten up moving forward, but definitely a lot better in the d-zone, try not to leave our goalies out to dry like we have been."

It was tough sledding most of the night getting one past Sharks goalie Martin Jones, who had been sharp until the Blues got a fortuitous bounce while on the penalty kill when Kyle Clifford, supporting Bozak, was able to get around to low right circle before turning and whipping a shot towards the goal that caromed off Bozak's knee and in to tie the game.

"I think our D did a really good job of being in lanes, having good clears," Bozak said. "Obviously your best killer is always your goalie and Binner was great again for us. Got some fortunate bounces there, just like on the goal. 'Cliffy' made a great play to come help me in the corner there and pick up that puck and just throw it towards the net.

"Definitely will help me relieve a little tension and a little weight off the shoulders I guess. Throughout a season there's going to be ebbs and flows of where everything's going in the net and there's going to be times when it seems like absolutely nothing's going in the net. You obviously want to peak at the right time. With a shortened season like this, every game is much more crucial than it would be in an 82-game season. Obviously they all matter, but with a short schedule and how tight it is, every point matters. It was big to get a win tonight."

And once tied, the Blues had chances to go ahead, but more importantly, they didn't play loose in their zone. 

"I think you need five guys in your own end that are doing a good job and that are tight. You need numbers around pucks. That's the bottom line and our wingers did a better job of collapsing and protecting our net. When there's a breakdown, you need them there to help.

"... Obviously the kill's important, but when they got a puck, they had composure with it and did something with it, even shorthanded, and we ended up getting a goal out of it. (Ryan) O'Reilly and (Justin) Faulk had another opportunity shorthanded too. The composure was real good tonight with the hockey puck and I thought our composure without the puck was good too. We talked about composure, being more composed out there, not panicking, but composure, it comes from puck support and understanding that there's help, without the puck or with the puck."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Tyler Bozak (left) and Kyle Clifford are all smiles after Bozak's 
shorthanded goal in the third period Friday at San Jose. 

Then there was an important kill in overtime, when the Blues were called for too many men, a call Berube said was a "bad call." Defending the 4-on-3 is tough as it is, but the Blues were able to thwart it off, with a couple strong Binnington saves, then grabbed the all-important second point in the shootout.

"They did a good job and kept it tight and kept them on the outside," Berube said of the PK unit. "Just won some puck battles, we got some pucks down and they did a good job, those guys. We called a time out to rest them and get them back out there. It was a real good kill."

On the downside of the night was the loss of center Oskar Sundqvist in the first period. Sundqvist sustained a lower-body injury and did not return, needing help off the ice when he collided with Clifford in front of the Sharks net. Clifford seemed to catch the back of Sundqvist's left knee, and he needed help off the ice.

Berube didn't have an immediate update but said Sundqvist will be getting an MRI and more will be known Saturday when these teams play for the eighth and final time this regular season.

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