Saturday, March 13, 2021

Blues have points in seven in a row, find way to lose third straight in OT

5-4 loss to Vegas a trend of past three games of not holding 
a lead despite the limited roster, without key, injured players 

ST. LOUIS -- The good news is the Blues got another point, against one of the division's powerhouses to run their point streak to seven games.

The bad news: they left another one on the table, even after it looked pretty bleak in the first period.
(St. Louis Blues photo/Scott Rovak)
Zach Sanford (12) knocks on a rebound for a power-play goal in the third
period against Vegas and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (second from right).

And even with a continued lineup that resembles more of a hodge-podge mix of NHL-AHL players trying to stay above water in a tense season, the Blues are managing to tread those waters. But in a 5-4 OT loss, their third straight loss -- all in extra time, the Blues are managing to do just enough to now find ways to lose these close games, as they did Friday night at Enterprise Center, which has been more of a house of horrors for them than not.

The Blues (15-8-5), 4-0-3 their past seven games, haven't lost in regulation in 16 days, which is remarkable considering what's been missing from the lineup. And it may sound conceited all things considered, these three straight losses, albeit a point was snagged in all, the games were on the table to win, even after falling behind 2-0 and 3-1 to the Golden Knights (17-6-1), who got a power-play goal in OT from Reilly Smith to win it after Torey Krug's ill-timed tripping penalty to set the 4-on-3 up.

The Blues were playing fine in the early stages of the game, and then came the turnovers, and the free-wheeling in the neutral zone which feeds the Vegas transition game, and bang, it's 2-0.

What came from captain Ryan O'Reilly was a peculiar comment, and one that sounded surprising all things considered. 

"It's disappointing. Obviously it's close and you have a chance to get two more points and you don't get them," O'Reilly said. "It's frustrating that way, but you can just say in general in our game, I think having the few days off, you could tell we kind of came into it feeling it out a little bit. They kind of took it to us right off the bat and it took us a little too long to make hockey plays, but we stuck with it. It's unfortunate. I think we could have squeaked out two there, but the good thing is we have them tomorrow and it's a chance to respond and pull two points out of it."

Whoa, whoa, whoa. 

Weren't the two days off supposed to be what this team needed after a 12-day, California trip? Isn't that why there was an extra day off there after the team got into St. Louis at 4 a.m. Tuesday morning? The schedule is compact enough as it is, and players always talk about managing their time on ice with rest. So the rest should have had this team refreshed and energized, but instead had the players feeling out the game?

"I could see it in our game and even myself, that time off was great for resting up, but we're so used to just playing every other day," O'Reilly said. "It's tough to jump right back in and play where you left off. We weathered the storm, we put ourselves in a good spot, but we've just got to find a way to close it out."

Agreed, but that's been the common theme now for three games.

They blew a 3-0 lead at Los Angeles before falling 4-3 in OT; they led San Jose 2-1 in the third before falling 3-2 in OT, and despite rallying and actually taking a lead, 4-3, in the third period on David Perron's season-high eight-game point streak with his power-play goal, the Blues found a way to lose another point by not holding a third-period lead.

But that start Friday, hard to imagine with fresh legs falling behind 2-0 against a powerful team such as Vegas.

"I didn’t mind the first period until the penalty," Blues coach Craig Berube said, referring to an O'Reilly tripping penalty at 7:56 of the period. "And I thought that penalty gave them momentum. They were better than us after that. We just kind maybe give them too much respect. Didn’t quite play our game. Not aggressive enough. But we hung in there. We've got to do a better job defending their rush. We gave them some opportunities in all three periods off the rush that there’s no need for that. We can defend those a lot better than we did. And we took too many penalties tonight, too."

What the Blues failed to accomplish were some of the things they spoke of after the morning skate: take care of the puck, don't turn it over and don't feed the Golden Knights transition, especially through the neutral zone.

But that's what happened in falling behind, and even on the third goal that made it 3-1 after O'Reilly got the Blues to within one at 2-1, it was an offensive zone turnover and transition the other way before Vegas finally scored after failing to do so on an initial 3-on-1.

"We knew before they have a really skilled, fast-skating team," Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko said. "They play hard. We know they're first in the West, so it was a pretty personal matchup for us. We need to be ready from the start."

"We didn't help ourselves tonight," O'Reilly said. "The turnovers and you could tell our legs weren't where we wanted to. We were just kind of thinking too much and not skating and being on top. It fed their transition. We gave them some good opportunities. Normally when we're doing things our way, we kind of shut that down and limit those chances. It's a quick turnaround. That's one of the areas we have to focus on. We have to be better in the neutral zone."

But then came the good, and the Blues showed some resiliency in overcoming that 3-1 deficit by storming back on goals by Tarasenko in the second, his first since Oct. 21, 2019, and third-period power-play goals by Zach Sanford and Perron.

"I think I liked our second intermission," O'Reilly said. "I thought we came into the room down one, we were all positive, we knew we were going to stick with it and find a way to battle and tie the game up and get a lead. I thought we showed good resilience there. Coming back, we made some good plays in the third, but we have to find a way to close it out. It happens, but the focus now is to draw on tomorrow."

They didn't close it out. Again. And the lead evaporated in 47 seconds when Alec Martinez came from the backdoor to sweep in a rebound of a loose puck past Jordan Binnington to tie it at 4. It came off loose coverage, similar to how the Blues were beat on the first goal by Mark Stone and the third by Tomas Nosek, guys not being aware of their surroundings and not being defensively responsible. It happened to Jordan Kyrou twice and once to Torey Krug, who was also the culprit of the overtime tripping penalty that ultimately led to Reilly Smith's game-winner.

"It’s awareness. Those are individual mistakes. They’re awareness," Berube said. "And they've got to figure it out. Those plays, they shouldn’t happen. We gave them three goals in my opinion where we have guys that should be on guys and they’re not. Are they are right there, but they’re not tight enough.

"We got beat back door. And that shouldn’t happen. It’s a bit of a lucky bounce (on the fourth goal), but it doesn’t matter. You've got to be on your man. You've got to do your job. And we need more guys to go out there and do their job consistently."

It turned out to be another one-goal game, the eighth straight for the Blues, who seem to like living on the edge. 

"Yeah, that's the way we like to do things. We grind it out," O'Reilly said. "Yeah, I think we know there's never an easy night, especially when you play teams a couple times in a row. Even that, you get to know each other well and it makes the games a bit more stingy. We know it's going to be difficult and that's when you've got to focus on the little details, all the little things matter and we have to be better at them tomorrow."

The other positive tonight was Tarasenko scoring his first goal in 17 months, and playing just his third game of the season after a third surgery on his left shoulder Sept. 17, it was good to get that one out of the way and it moves another barrier out of the way.

"It's nice to score after that long break," Tarasenko said. "Sammy (Blais) make a nice play and I just need to tuck it in. It's a better feeling when I score and the team wins, so I don't want to talk too much about this goal. 
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Brayden Schenn (10) goes airborne in a puck battle with Vegas defenseman
Alec Martinez on Friday at Enterprise Center.

"I mean, being honest here, it's a big game for me. First game home. Now my family is able to see me play, my kids and my wife. (To) be able to score a goal in front of them, they know it was a tough time. But like I said before, when you score and the team is winning, you have different emotions. But it was nice to get one."

The Blues will try to extend their point streak to eight games Saturday night in the rematch. They'd prefer to do so with a win, find a way to close out a game if the lead is in their hands, something even this handicapped group needs to do until the cavalry of injured players return.

"Our thoughts is, we just need to play better at the start of the game and prepare for tomorrow," Tarasenko said. "This is game is history. We need to learn lessons, learn what we don't do well and come out there tomorrow for a fight and play hard for a win."

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