Monday, March 29, 2021

Blues may have hit rock bottom Sunday in 3-2 overtime loss to lowly Ducks

Team blows 2-0 lead to second-worst team in the league, gets 
swept in two-game set, loses seventh straight at home, fourth overall

ST. LOUIS -- Imagine being in a rut already thinking you were about to halt it for a moment, and then this, having to sit on this kind of a loss.

An abysmal loss against one of the worst teams in the NHL for the second straight game, and on home ice for that matter where the Blues have been beyond abysmal this season (4-8-4) losing for the seventh time in a row (0-5-2).
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues center Ryan O'Reilly (90) tries to skate away from Ducks forward
Rickard Rakell during action Sunday at Enterprise Center.

But this one speaks volumes, losing 3-2 in overtime to the Anaheim Ducks, the very same Ducks the Blues (16-13-6) slaughtered four times in Orange County earlier in the season.

They came into the weekend set with Anaheim (11-19-6) desperately needing points with the suddenly pesky Arizona Coyotes slowly clawing at their backs, pulling into a tie for the fourth and final playoff spot in the division on Saturday night.

But instead of skating away with four points and perhaps applying some pressure to those above you in the standings, the Blues came away with one, single, solitary point and now go into a week in which they don't play again until Friday when they open a back to back set against the red-hot Colorado Avalanche.

And they get to think about losing a two-goal lead to a team already looking into the future.
Not exactly a confidence booster for a team struggling mightily to score goals lately.

"Yeah, I definitely didn't expect us to be in this position," Blues captain Ryan O'Reilly said. "I know how good we can be and our personnel and how good it is. This happens. I think none of us expected it, but there's definitely growth to be had and we have to find a way out and the only way we're going to do this is together. If we don't, we obviously won't be where we want to, but it's challenging for every one of us, coaching staff, every player, our goaltending. We have to help each other out and it's frustrating right now."

Frustrating may be understating it at this point. If this isn't the low point of a challenging season, it would be hard-pressed to find another one.

The Blues have now scored 12 goals the past eight games. That's a whopping 1.5 per game. And if you take away the 5-2 win at San Jose March 20, that would be seven goals the past seven games, or one per game.

Not exactly brimming with confidence depositing the vulcanized rubber into the back of the net.

Just in the past three games alone, the Blues have made Cam Talbot (Minnesota), John Gibson (Anaheim) and on Sunday, Anthony Stolarz -- Anthony Stolarz? -- look like Vezina Trophy-winning netminders. They've fired 111 shots on goal the past three games, but a good majority of them have been right in the bread basket, or into the eyes of the opponents' respective logos.

"I think it's just the confidence in our scoring ability right now," said O'Reilly, who along with Vladimir Tarasenko scored goals on Sunday. "We're just not scoring enough. Even I felt today some of these passes I gave guys were just on edge. Usually I can get that flat to a guy, give him time where he doesn't have to settle it and he can shoot it right away. It's just little things like that that are kind of not giving us the best chance to score. It's frustrating because we worked hard to get the puck back, put ourselves in a good scoring area and puck's not going in. It's just frustrating for all of us."

On Sunday, the Blues faced a goalie who hasn't won in the NHL in over two years and got off to a solid start when O'Reilly scored off a turnover -- one he created -- 2:27 into the game, and then Tarasenko's power-play goal at 15:59 made it 2-0.

They could go into an extended pause in their schedule with a good feeling, one in which could perhaps instill some confidence and have the team feeling good about itself going into the gauntlet portion of the schedule.

So much for that.

They allowed the Ducks to crawl back into the game with a goal in the second by Cam Fowler after a lost offensive zone face-off by Robert Thomas -- after Brayden Schenn was kicked out of the circle -- followed by Torey Krug not being able to win a puck battle along the center ice wall to create an odd-man rush, and then the second and tying goal by the Ducks' Adam Henrique was a comedy of errors.

The Blues, despite 40 shots in the game, had a particular shift in the offensive zone that saw them pass up at least three or four chances to shoot pucks, but instead, made the extra pass (where have we heard that one before). The last one which Niko MIkkola tried to pass to Jordan Kyrou on the right point never had a chance after Kyrou fell, then Mikkola failed to win a pair of wall battles that allowed the puck to get into the defensive zone, and Robert Bortuzzo, instead of taking the man, he seemed to try and stick-check Henrique off the puck but instead fell down, and Henrique lifted a backhand over Jordan Binnington's glove.

"The tying goal against, we had opportunities twice to probably take the body on the guy and we didn't and my opinion, it's just not a good goal," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "... A 2-0 lead is a 2-0 lead. We got off to a good start for sure with a couple goals. Listen, I thought we played a pretty solid game all around. Put 40 shots on net again, good opportunities, I thought we did a good job of being at the net tonight. We didn't score enough goals. That's the bottom line, but I think that second goal has got to be defended. Maybe we win the game 2-1. 

"Right now a mistake is going in too much into our net and it's hard to play mistake-free hockey. Now, the mental mistakes are one thing, but it's hard to play mistake-free hockey from a physical standpoint. Teams are going to get chances and you're going to make mistakes. We definitely obviously have to generate more goals. Trying to win 2-1 every day is tough."
Instead of applying the killer instinct, the Blues reverted back to recent form, which hasn't been good.

"I think the big thing is we just kind of let them hang around," O'Reilly said. "I think we had a good first and kind of thought we had it going and we just took our foot off the gas a little bit and we let them hang around in the game. Eventually they get a break and put us on our heels. We just lost the urgency for a bit and the desperation. We should have been up a couple more goals or a goal even and make it a little tougher on them. We let them hang around."

The Blues shouldn't have had to try and win that game 2-1. They did drive the net more against Stolarz, who allowed some leaky and loose pucks to be had in the early going, but the Blues just simply don't have anyone that can consistently put the puck in the net for them.

And making things even more of a challenge, Berube scratched $4 million signee Mike Hoffman on Sunday.

"I just want more out of him," Berube said. "I made a decision to not play him, I want more out of him. That's basically what it boils down to.

"... I need more effort and competitiveness from him. He hasn't scored in 10 games (five actually). Basically that."

But this didn't make it any easier for the Blues when they literally made Stolarz look like he was former Ducks Stanley-Cup winning J-S Giguere.

"We have to (play hockey) for 60 minutes," Tarasenko said. "It’s not one or two guys. Every one of us has to find out how to play all 60. Not only win the games but outplay the other team, especially at home."

The overtime session, well, was something rarely seen. 

When Josh Manson, yeah, that Josh Manson, who hadn't scored in 32 games, was able to take a pass from Stolarz on his side of the red line, get to the right edge, around Brayden Schenn and cut to the inside before lifting a backhand over a seemingly bewildered Binnington for the game-winner, it capped off 1:42 of 100 percent puck possession by the Ducks.

Yeah, the Blues never possessed the puck for one iota in the extra session, capping off the downward spiral from a two-goal lead.

And about this home thing. Can we just call this seriously bad?

The Blues are minus-15 in goal differential on home ice. 

Minus-15 in a building that's slowly adding fans to it but having little to no affect.

"There is no excuses," Tarasenko said. "We have to fix the home games. We lose a lot of home games, which is unacceptable. I don't see the reason to find the reasons or excuses for you guys. It's on us and this is unacceptable."

By the time they take the ice again Friday in Denver, the Blues could easily be on the outside looking in, a place they haven't been all season, and it could get daunting trying to get back into the top four with Colorado (six times), Vegas (four times) and Minnesota (six times) left of the remaining 21 games.

"Oh yeah, we know how tight it's going to be," O'Reilly said. "Every point matters right now and we desperately needed that extra one, but yeah, we have to put this behind us and take this little break we have, get rested. It's not getting any easier. We have Colorado next. These are big games, big games for us and big points. We've got to get our rest and shift our focus to them and we've got to take it one at a time. It's going to be a tough, tight race. I believe we can do it.

"It's important to get our rest here. We don't get these breaks often and we have to take advantage of it. We haven't been home much. That would be nice to see families and get away from the game and just kind of get that recharged. Not only physically but mentally too just to kind of get away and maybe not be at the rink as much. It's a good reset for us. We know how tough this playoff hunt's going to be, so it's a good opportunity to completely reset for us."

"Everybody’s schedule is hard," Tarasenko said. "It’s nice to have some days off. We’re going to have a really tough opponent next game. It’s a big game for us. Yeah, it’s always nice to have a day off. It’s time to recharge the batteries and get prepared because next games will be even harder. Nobody says it’s going to be easy. It’s on us, how we handle our days off and how we prepare. I think we will do well next game."
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues defenseman Justin Faulk (72) looks to win the puck from Ducks
forward Max Jones during action Sunday afternoon at Enterprise Center. 

The Blues will take two days away from the rink before resuming Wednesday. Maybe they need it, maybe they don't, but when they come back, they better be ready, or this downward spiral could spin out of control.

Using injuries anymore, albeit a couple key guys remain out, is out the window. That excuse is gone. Twenty-one games remain and it's time to buck up after this mini break. 

"​Rest is one thing. And then, approach, we're going to practice and have good practices and work on some stuff," Berube said. "That's how we're going to approach it. I think our guys need to get away here for a day or two to clear their heads a little bit and I think that'll be good for them, not to constantly be thinking about hockey. They've been on the road a lot and played a lot of games. I think it's good that they can get away for a couple days and clear their heads a little bit and come back with some energy and we need to have good practices and work on some things, work on the power play. We know we've got to score more goals, we all know that, but like I said, I think we're generating good chances but you've got to finish, we've got to finish better, so we'll get after that this week."

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