Sunday, November 14, 2021

Defensively, Blues need more from their top guys

Parayko, Scandella not performing up to what team needs last three games, all 
losses; second straight game in which Blues lose late in third, 5-4 to Edmonton

ST. LOUIS -- It's gotten dicey around Enterprise Center the last week or so, and natives are getting restless.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Colton Parayko (55) and his partner Marco Scandella have
had a tough time the past three games, all losses, going 0-2-1.

Sure, with good reason, after the Blues frittered away at least another point, if not two, for the second straight night after a deflating 5-4 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday night.

It's the second straight night in which the Blues (8-4-3) had themselves a point pocketed in the bank, only to see it slip away for lack of simple execution.

Saturday, they fought back from a 2-0 deficit against the Carolina Hurricanes, only to lose by allowing the game-winner with 2:57 remaining.

On Sunday, it was worse. It came with 27.8 seconds remaining when the Blues, who trailed 4-2 but received third-period goals from Ivan Barbashev and Vladimir Tarasenko, surrendered the game-winner to Kailer Yamamoto.

It came off a feed to Leon Draisaitl, who sped into the Blues zone along the right boards. Calle Rosen cut him off, but Draisaitl spun, fed Yamamoto in the slot for a one-timer over Jordan Binnington's glove to shock the Blues for a second night.

The Robert Thomas line with Vladimir Tarasenko and Ivan Barbashev was on the ice, Thomas was in a position to defend, Tarasenko was the trailing forward, but Parayko, who had a pretty abysmal night to cap off a tough week for the top-pair d-man, was sucked back too far away from the coverage, allowing Yamamoto the freedom to get the shot off.

"They were back," Blues coach Craig Berube said of the forwards. "When Draisaitl turned up, Rosen's on him. I'd like to see Thomas back off a little bit and be in better position and Parayko out farther on the guy and be tighter. That's basically what it boils down to."

What else it boils down to is what Berube called clock management.

After playing a solid first period where it looked like it would result in a 1-0 lead, the Oilers get the tying goal when Connor McDavid scored on what didn't amount to much, but turned into something when he redirected Zach Hyman's centering pass past Binnington with no resistance from Parayko, who was on the ice for three goals against Sunday.

"Managing the clock better, that's the bottom line," Berube said. "I say that and it's really important to manage the clock and understand the situation that's at hand, but at the same time, the goals are so defendable and it's just not quite close enough to people. That's the bottom line. Just a little off. Got to be better. We will be better."

Berube takes the late first-period goal back to Marco Scandella, who tried to make a long up-ice pass that got picked off and restarted by the Oilers instead of just taking the clock down and killing the period.

"What was left in the period, point-eight or something like that, four second or something like that," Berube said. "You know the situation. The d-man should have just went D-to-D and killed the period. We quick-upped it to the weak side, it got turned over and they attacked right away. We're right there again. We've got numbers back. It's not like they're odd-man rushes or anything. We got people back and we just got to be tighter to them."

But these subtle mistakes are winding up in the Blues' net now, and they're starting to pile up.
The team got off to a 5-0-0 start but are 0-2-1 the past three and 3-4-2 the past nine games.
They've been hit with COVID-19 protocol, but good news is in the horizon as the remaining skaters on it (Torey Krug and Niko Mikkola) will start skating Monday.

But it's been a hodge-podge of mixing and matching while they get at least one of their top four d-men (Krug) back into the fold. And it's saying something that call-up Rosen is on the ice trying to defend a game in the balance in the waning seconds.

Parayko and Scandella are supposed to be the Blues' shutdown pair, and it's not totally on them, because there have been some forward fallouts in defending, but Parayko is minus-8 and Scandella is minus-6 the past four games, and it's all come with Krug out of the lineup.
Parayko has been playing a lot of minutes. Nobody is denying that. He's 11th in the league in average ice time at 25:18, but to get to that upper echelon of d-men in the league, this last stretch of games, beginning with last Thursday's 4-3 overtime loss against Nashville, have not been his best.

There was a direct Scandella giveaway that led to Nashville's go-ahead goal in the third period last Thursday before Tarasenko tied it to help the Blues salvage a point.

"They've got to be better, but in saying that, I always talk about team and we've all got to be better at ... again I'll say it, clock management's important," Berube said. "We've got to be better at it knowing the situations. Just from a defensive standpoint being a little tighter to people and if we do that, you know ... listen, we played the two top teams in the league and I thought we played with them both games. We ended up coming out on the wrong end of it, but our team didn't quit and we battled and there was a lot of good. We have to clean up a few things and we'll do that.

"'Scandy' and Parayko have played some real good hockey for us. It's fallen off lately and they've got to get back to it, that's the bottom line. We need those guys to be real solid for us defensively and they will be."

Suddenly, the Blues, who have lost six games this season -- five by one goal -- are in a hotly-contested pack in the Central Division, behind Minnesota, Winnipeg and Nashville.

"It's obviously frustrating," said Blues forward Robert Thomas, who had three assists Sunday giving him seven the past three games. "Even one point's a big difference and can make a big difference at the end of the year. So really frustrating. We've just got to tighten up and that can't happen.

"... Late goals, those are killers, end of periods and they change the momentum of the game. And I think looking at a positive, I think we're fighting back where every goal they get, we seem to respond well and get back into the game, so that's a positive, but yeah these late goals are killers and we need to be sharper at the end."

Let's describe how Edmonton, which is atop the Western Conference at 11-3-0, was able to break down the Blues on Sunday.

Draisaitl's power-play goal early in the second came with the Blues looking completely discombobulated to begin the period, getting hemmed in their zone before Thomas takes a hooking penalty, putting the league's No. 1 power-play unit on the ice.

McDavid fed Draisaitl at the bottom of the right circle and his one-timer somehow found it's way through Binnington for a 2-1 lead.

After Robert Bortuzzo tied it in the second, Edmonton scored twice in eight seconds.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored from the slot after Jake Walman's backhand clearing attempt was picked off the glass, and the shot got through Binnington, a shot the goalie would like to have back, and eight seconds later, Ryan McLeod made it 4-2 after the Blues won the face-off back to Rosen, who moved the puck back to Parayko. But his attempt to move the puck up was picked off, keeping the puck in the zone at the net.

"No, no, nothing, in particular," Bortuzzo said when asked if there's a common theme as to the mistakes. "I think it's a matter of understanding time and score and just upping our desperation level in certain areas of a certain time on the clock. Guys know. These things happen."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues call-up Calle Rosen (43) has stepped into a larger role with top-end
defensemen struggling the past few games.

But as they did against Nashville, as they did against Carolina, and as they did against Edmonton, the Blues fought back, and out of all three efforts to tie games in the third period, they only have one point to show for it.

"It's just frustrating," Bortuzzo said. "I think every guy in that room knows how valuable points are, no matter what time of year it is, the league's too competitive, there's too much parity. Strong division. So frustrating to give a few of those away, especially tonight where I thought we had great energy and a little lapse in the second but overall, I thought, good, strong spurts of hockey, similar to last night, where we kind of played a good third period. Just frustrating."

Getting reinforcements will help, and included in that will be the addition of Brayden Schenn, who was out again with an upper-body injury.

The forwards have to help the d-men out, but the guys getting top-end minutes need to perform at a cleaner clip.

"It's not pointing out about anyone, I think it's all five guys on the ice, whether it's help out for someone else or get back or whatever the case is, there's no pointing fingers," Thomas said. "It's on all five guys."

Berube won't back his players into a corner. The record still says they're good, which they are, and there's the belief the ship will be righted.

"I like our team a lot. I do," Berube said. "Like I said, we've got a lot of good depth and it's a good hockey team."

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