Saturday, January 29, 2022

Blues head into All-Star break on sour note following 4-1 loss to Jets

Team decided vacation starts sooner than expected, 
play on ice was reflective in loss on home ice

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues knew there would be a break for them once they finished off a Saturday matinee against the Winnipeg Jets.

A 2 o'clock start would put the end of the game roughly around 4:30 p.m. or so, and they needed to put in one solid game to go out on a high note.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues forward Pavel Buchnevich (89) pursues the puck with Jets defenseman
Ville Heinola during action Saturday afternoon at Enterprise Center. 

Unfortunately, the players didn't get the memo that vacation didn't start until 5 p.m. or so, because as they skated through the motions of a lackluster 4-1 loss to the undermanned Jets playing their backup goalie for the first time in nearly two months, the Blues somehow thought their week-long hiatus started at 2 p.m.

On the heels of a solid 5-1 win against the Calgary Flames on Thursday, the Blues followed that up with a thud. Their execution was poor, their ability to skate was non-existent, their mistakes were magnified, their puck management was inefficient and their ability to put pucks on net against a goalie that hadn't win since Nov. 5 was not exactly the script the Blues (26-13-5) had in mind.

Oh, the Jets (18-16-7) had lost six in a row (0-4-2) and were playing without four of their top six defensemen. 

"Not a lot of emotion. Not a lot of push," Blues coach Craig Berube said. 'We had some opportunities. 

"We missed the net 16 times in the game. But six Grade A chances missed the net. So you’re not going to give yourself an opportunity doing that."

"I think we were flat," forward Brayden Schenn said. "I don't think we had the intensity we needed to beat a good team. I don't think we moved our feet enough, didn’t take care of the puck enough and ultimately fell behind and weren’t able to grab it back."

Ville Husso, who was 9-0-0 in his past 10 starts with a 1.50 goals-against average and .951 save percentage dating back to April 10, 2021 and 6-0-0 with a 1.11 GAA and /965 save percentage this month, couldn't bail the blundering Blues out this time.

They actually took a 1-0 lead on Vladimir Tarasenko's power-play goal at 6:08 of the first period and had actually got off to a decent start. But for whatever reason -- maybe they were too focused on their flight reservations or starting their vacations early -- the bottom fell out of the Blues' compete level.

"I wouldn't say a flat day, but it was another game not the way we're supposed to play. I think we play very well lately at home. I don't what is it. Some days are like this, and like Schenner said before, we have breakdowns, we have a really tough first half and it's time to get some energy and rest up for second half and get ready for playoffs.

"Losing is tough, doesn't matter where you play, home or away, but I think the reason we have success in past years when we have success is ability to step up after games like this. The game is done, we need to make adjustments and get ready for second half, like I said before."

The first goal against was a combination of bad luck and poor execution.

With the Blues in control of the puck behind their net, Colton Parayko plays it to the right to Justin Faulk, who moved it ahead near the blue line to Jordan Kyrou. For whatever reason, as his teammates were skating north, Kyrou brings the puck back into his zone, to the surprise of Faulk and the two collide. Husso comes out to play the loose puck and instead of pushing it to the side boards, he tries to go forward on the backhand, hits Paul Stastny with it and the former Blue eventually tucks in a backhand into the empty net to tie the game 1-1.

More on Kyrou in a moment, but the Blues got out of the period tied 1-1 and a chance to regroup.

It didn't get much better. In fact, it got worse, and when Winnipeg took a 2-1 lead on Kyle Connor's goal at 7:57 of the second, it came when the Blues turned the puck over when Faulk and Thomas couldn't make a connection, and instead of going to the puck handler along the wall (Pierre-Luc Dubois), Kyrou stood still on his skates allowing the Jets center to make a play to Connor and he beat Husso off the near post.

"We had two guys collide into each other. And 'Huus' is probably wanting something different with that puck," Berube said. "That was the one goal. The second goal, we’re all standing around watching him. And he jacked it into the net. That’s basically what it boiled down to."

An interesting way of putting it, coach, but spot on and right to the point. The standing around was the part that should bother the Blues. There was a lot of that going on, and as a result, puck decisions were not effective.

A Nate Schmidt power-play goal followed at 12:35 of the second to make it 3-1. It came off a one-timer from the point and Husso without his stick, knocked out of his hand moments before the goal by teammate Robert Bortuzzo.

But the game was still there. What the Blues completely lacked was any desire to get pucks to the net. They had two shots on goal against Comrie in the second.


And it wasn't as if the Jets were just smothering the Blues and keeping the puck out of their hands, it was a lack of shooting pucks, waiting too long to unload or making a poor puck play.

"Just shoot the puck. Don't give up some shooting chances, but sometimes it's nice, guys try to make plays, unselfish, but sometimes you have to take responsibility for shots," Tarasenko said. "It's not good enough if you just funnel pucks from the outside, but when we have inside shot, I think we can use it more. There's a positive side too. Guys can make plays, guys playing unselfish hockey, but as we know in the playoffs, sometimes we get closer games. Need to find the lane between making a nice play and take responsibility for the shot."

The Blues lacked that aspect throughout this game.

Kyrou and Robert Thomas, each a minus-3 in the game along with their linemate Tarasenko, were their own victims of missing out on some of those Grade A chances.

"You get Grade A’s, you've got to shoot and score," Berube said. "Missing the net like that, you’re not going to score. So it’s just a matter of executing better."

"We're normally a good second period team," Schenn said. "But I think the reason why is because we get pucks in, we pick up the puck, we hem teams and then we set each other up with good line changes which enables us to sustain O-zone time. Tonight, we just didn’t do that, didn’t do enough of it anyways. I guess the results show."

There wasn't much of a pushback to begin the third period either. The Blues went shorthanded two minutes in, and before they tried to get some sort of push, it was too late, and even though they scored a power play goal, going 1-for-5 was reflective of how poorly executed it was despite having seven shots in those five attempts. 
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist (70) tries to control the puck while being
defended by Winnipeg's Johnathan Kovacevic on Saturday.

"I think it boils to execution," Berube said. "Again, I didn’t think we moved the puck very well on the power play. We were predictable on it, we weren’t direct on it. We were on the outside too much. And the shot selection wasn’t very good. That’s kind of what I saw on the power play tonight."

And when Stastny scored into an empty net with 2:35 remaining after what was a totally blown call by officials on the ice when Ryan O'Reilly, playing in his 900th NHL game, was tripped by both Pierre-Luc Dubois and Brenden Dillon but wasn't called, it capped off what will undoubtedly leave a bad taste in the mouths for the Blues until they play again on Feb. 10 against the New Jersey Devils.

"We have to be able to follow games up better," Schenn said. "I think we’re going to use these 12 days off here, guys can reset, refocus. We’re going to look at the positives of having a good first half and we’re going to have to make a strong push in the second half the way the division is."

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