Thursday, April 15, 2021

Blues' loss to Avalanche came down to missed opportunities, mistakes

Passing up prime scoring chances, robbed of a goal, not 
connecting on Grade A chances magnify mistakes in 4-3 loss

ST. LOUIS -- Let's cut to the chase when it comes to the Blues' narrow 4-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday.

Sure, it was a nice comeback, and the Blues (19-17-6), who had their modest three-game winning streak snapped, were knocking on the door for the tying goal to at least get a valuable point, perhaps sneak away with two.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Jaden Schwartz (left) missed this golden chance to score on Avalanche
goalie Devan Dubnyk in the second period of a 4-3 Blues loss.

But alas, it never materialized, and it was clear as day -- again -- why this Blues team, as frustrating as they can be on one hand and play like world-beaters on another, can't finish off games they should be finishing.

Because they can't score when it matters, or in the case of this night, they couldn't score enough when given opportunities.

Prime opportunities.

Oh, Mike Hoffman can; he scored two more goals and set up another giving him four goals and an assist in two games since he was a healthy scratch for two. But there were others that just, well, either refused to pull the trigger when given the opportunity or couldn't convert on primo scoring opportunities.

"I thought we passed up too many opportunities to shoot pucks tonight in certain situations," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "Even with the goalie pulled there at the end, I think that there's a couple of times there where we should be letting it go."

Let's start with the rash of chances, beginning with Tyler Bozak hitting the post breaking in on Dubnyk in a 0-0 game 1:43 into the game. Yes, that one was simply bad luck. But no dice nonetheless when Bozak's shot from the right circle after Justin Faulk's outlet pass.

What would a goal there have done for the Blues, who clearly had been playing some of their best hockey coming in?

Jaden Schwartz, who we'll get to again, had a 2-on-1 chance with Marco Scandella at 3:33 of the first period, but all his long-range wrister did was dent the logo of Avalanche goalie Devan Dubnyk, who was making his Colorado debut after being acquired from San Jose April 10.

With 11:02 left in the first, Vince Dunn, who did get the Blues on the board Wednesday, took a feed from Sammy Blais and missed the net from the slot.

OK, you ask, where are these missed opportunities? They're coming, but these are also scoring chances that were missed in a sense of not scoring.

Poor Sammy Blais, who undressed Ryan Graves before firing his point-blank chance at Dubnyk, had his chance stopped. Then a missed opportunity by Francis Charron, out of vision and perhaps out of position, didn't see that Dubnyk didn't have possession of Blais' shot with 1:18 left in the period before it was deposited in by David Perron, that should have counted, and would have given the Blues a 2-1 lead in a very well-played first period, but it was blown dead.

"Yeah, that's part of the game, though, boys," Berube said. "It's a quick whistle, probably shouldn't have been blown down, but there's nothing we can do about that."

"I mean that's part of the game, that stuff happens," Hoffman said. "You can't really let your emotions get too caught up in that stuff. That's the ref's call, they're judgment calls. Things happen."

Second period, where this game was won and lost, was a different story.

It started with 15:19 to play in the period when Schwartz was able to get into the Colorado zone and drop a pass to an on-rushing Vladimir Tarasenko, who you feel good about his chances of scoring with his shot, but instead of shooting, Tarasenko chose to ... pass? Isn't this guy supposed to be one of  this team's go-to scorers? A very peculiar decision to try and get the puck to Brayden Schenn, who's now gone 15 games without scoring.

The most obvious one came with 9:46 to play in the second when Zach Sanford and Marco Scandella turned a 2-on-1 into ... nothing.

Sanford perfectly sauced a pass to Scandella, and it's understood he's not the goal-scoring offensove-defenseman version of Paul Coffey, but Scandella's got to shoot a puck there. Instead, he tried going back to Sanford, who was tied up by Devon Toews and the Blues got nothing.

This wasn't Patrick Roy in his glory days in goal for the Avalanche. It was Devan Dubnyk.
Brayden Schenn had a point blank range chance with 7:18 remaining in the second, but his confidence scoring right now has to be as low as it's even been. He couldn't convert there, and it's now 15 games and counting without a goal.

And speaking of Schwartz, here it is, the one chance that summed up the Blues' night when he misfired off a give-and-go with Tyler Bozak with 2:36 left in the second.

Schwartz had it, gave it to Bozak, who returned the favor in the slot, but Schwartz didn't make Dubnyk pay for the real estate.

With 17:31 remaining in the game, Jordan Kyrou had a chance to shoot a puck when he cut into the right circle but instead, took it wide around the net and tried to cut a backhand back in the crease or on goal.

Another missed opportunity.

Schenn had a 2-on-1 chance with Schwartz and tried to saucer a feed to Schwartz over Cale Makar instead of letting it rip with 14:23 remaining. Once again, trying to make an extra pass instead of shooting against a goalie that had a 2-3-0 record, a 4.43 goals-against average and .845 save percentage against the Blues this season with the Sharks.

Want more posts? Well, Torey Krug got in on the act with 11:18 to play when he backhand effort off a rush hit the pipe and lay there before Samuel Girard swept it away.

And the last but not least moment when David Perron took a cross ice feed with 1:10 remaining and the Blues, who have the most sixth-attacker goals in the league this season with nine, down a goal. Instead of a one-timer, Perron dusted that attempt off and perhaps tried hitting Schenn in the slot for a redirection. 

A slew of chances to score, and the Blues did get three, but could have had so many more. 

In a one-goal game.

"We definitely had some," Hoffman said. "A couple 2-on-1's, odd-man rushes. We had our opportunities, but at the end of the day, it wasn't enough."

That's been a common theme for the Blues this season, not having enough, and that's been the case with the Avalanche this season, particularly in the past 12 days when the Blues and Avalanche played three times, and Colorado won each by a goal.

"I think you said it, I think it's a little play here, a play there," Hoffman said. "A lot of the times, every team is good in this league. It just depends on who can execute the best and the one that makes the least amount of mistakes. They're obviously a very offensive team and capitalize on any little mistake you make."

And if the Blues aren't shooting to score on a regular basis, instead trying to make the perfect play, or cute play, mistakes get magnified.

They have against the Avalanche, who have now won four of five against the Blues this season.

"Less mistakes, that's what it boils down too," Berube said. "When you're playing this team, you've got to understand that every shift matters when you go out there. You've got to compete and do your job. 

"In the second period, we weren't on our toes, like I said. They were quicker than us and we made mistakes and they capitalized on them. They're a very good team and you've got to do a good job and you've got to be on your toes all the time. You've got to play aggressive, like we did in the third period."

Yes, the Blues were aggressive but should have never been in the position to chase such a deficit (three). 
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Mike Hoffman, who scored two more goals Wednesday in a 4-3 loss to
the Colorado Avalanche, gets congratulated by teammates after scoring.

Costly errors (Jake Walman had himself a tough night on the ice and took a costly penalty, in particular, and Kyrou had a glaring mistake that led to Colorado's first goal) means the Blues will head into a showdown with the Arizona Coyotes, who trail the Blues by a point for fourth in the division, on Saturday.

"We can compete with anyone. It’s a tough league," said goalie Jordan Binnington, who stopped 24 shots. "Any team can win on any given night. But those are close games for us, and we’re right there. Just a little more. So it’s just pick ourselves up and keep working and keep focusing and playing together and hopefully it comes together."

It's down to 14 games left for the Blues. It better come together quickly.

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