By Lou Korac
Third period leads in the NHL are sacred. They’re the reasons why teams normally have superb records when holding one.
It’s only five games, and stressing only, but for the second time in as many games –and days — and third in the past four games, the Blues had one, and came away empty-handed.
Empty-handed as in no wins. They got two points out of those three games, but 0-1-2 is not a recipe for success, and on Sunday night, it was a disheartening 3-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks when the Ducks rallied to score twice in the third period on Sunday at Enterprise Center.
The Blues (1-2-2) are still trying to get a grip on who they are what their identity is in this young season with so many new faces on the team, but it’s not coming together right now, and falling behind in the standings is not the way to go.
“Obviously it’s a trend that we have to fix here,” Blues coach Mike Yeo said. “For much of the game I thought there were a lot of things that looked better. We cut back on the chances against, and obviously shots against. I still don’t think we’re playing quick enough, whether it’s playing off instincts or just the jump.
“I’m not using energy in the sense that we played back-to-back games because they played the same. But for some reason, they’re a little quicker to react than us right now. But for much of the game, some of the things were better. The execution was better early in the game, and then the third period when the game’s on the line, we’re making one or two plays that next thing you know we’re spending a couple shifts in our zone and we’re not making a play to break that. We’re not making the next play to generate some momentum and get going the other way. We’re just sort of absorbing it and taking it and hoping to hold on. And obviously in the league today, with the offense in the league today it’s a tough way to win hockey games.”
Blues forward Alexander Steen, whose tip of Joel Edmundson’s shot tied the game 1-1 in the second period at 11 minutes, 49 seconds, said it’s easily fixed.
“For 40 minutes, I thought we played really well,” Steen said. “For the first time all year, that was 40 put together really well. Right now, there’s some individual or immature mistakes that we’re making. Not just the one that ends up in our net, but ones that kind of give them a little fuel. It’s something we’re obviously going to have to clean up and find our mojo here. Going on the road this week is a great opportunity for us to do so.
“That’s the good thing, they’re easy fixes. There has to be an understanding for all the little details that go on out there. How important every little play is, every little battle, especially if you’re going to manage the game the right way with the lead.”
Mistakes are being made, costly ones, and they’re being made by veteran players not only making a lot of money but ones that have been in situations countless times.
On the game-winner by Andrew Cogliano, Alex Pietrangelo goes to the back boards to retrieve the puck. Instead of just slamming it back and rimming it around the boards, he tries to get it under control so he can pivot and wrist it out of the zone at the end of a Ducks power play. But Pietrangelo fumbled the puck and lost it. He was able to get his gap back and pick up Ryan Kesler, but d-partner Jay Bouwmeester vacated the his side and front side of the net to cover his partner when he didn’t have to, left the front of the net exposed in front of Chad Johnson, making his first start in a Blues uniform, and Andrew Cogliano was able to get two whacks at the puck and deposit it in with 5:16 remaining.
“‘Petro’ I thought was playing a real strong game for us,” Yeo said. “Obviously, you pinpoint that one play and we talk about it. Listen, he’s the leader of our team and he’s the captain and he’s our best player on the back end that we need to be a stud. I think Petro would be the first to say that he can be better, and he will be better. I’m not worried about that. For me it’s kind of a mindset, whether it’s trust in just everybody else doing their job. I think that’s our whole group right now. Everybody wants to win. Everybody wants good things to happen. But every time you’re on the ice. You, yourself, you gotta job to do and you have to trust everybody to do theirs. If the goalie has to make a save, let him make the save and you do your job. And that applies to all different areas. So again, I think that collectively as a group, obviously we’re giving up too many goals. I think that other teams are pre-scouting that now. They’re identifying that, and that’s a game-plan of theirs coming in here, trying to beat us in those areas.”
But the bottom line is the Blues have left points on the table through five games. Of the 10 possible points, they have just four.
And the third period has been a nemesis.
Last Saturday in a 5-4 overtime loss here to Chicago, the Blues led 4-3, surrendered the tying goal at 6:59 and lost it in OT. Saturday night in Chicago, the Blues led 3-2 in the third, surrendered the lead with 6:54 to play and lost in OT. Sunday, Ben Street tied it at 7:16 after the Ducks won a faceoff in the Blues’ zone, and the Blues lost the lead with 5:16 to play.
“I don’t know. We’re doing a good job of getting back when we get down, and then getting the lead,” said center Tyler Bozak, whose power-play goal was his first as a Blue and gave them a 2-1 lead at 15:52 of the second. “Unfortunately, we’re not able to hold it. Whenever you have that lead, especially in the third you should be able to hold on.
“We know that’ll come, I think. We just gotta bear down a little harder and make some smarter plays.”
Johnson was solid. He made 28 saves and his rebound control was strong. Nothing he could have done about the third-period goals or Jakob Silfverberg’s breakaway goal with 1:39 remaining in the first after Joel Edmundson’s shot in the Ducks zone was blocked.
“I felt good,” Johnson said. “I obviously wanted to make more saves there. It’s about winning hockey games and we didn’t do that tonight. It’s just not good enough. Where I was in my positioning even on the goals to lame the saves, they made some good plays. I felt OK about my game. It wasn’t good enough tonight.”
The Blues went with 11 forwards and seven defensemen in the game, scratching forward Chris Thorburn, who played just 1:52 Saturday in Chicago, in favor of Vince Dunn, a healthy scratch the past two games. It would up being the right call with defenseman Robert Bortuzzo leaving the game early in the second period with a lower-body injury; he played just 5:33.
“It’s a good thing we did to be honest with you because ‘Borts’ went down obviously with an injury,” Yeo said. “So we end up having six. But the back-to-back games and whether it’s a guy like ‘Dunner’, getting him some power play time. Certainly some of the guys want to try to get their game going.
“I thought that [Jordan] Schmaltz, he wasn’t coming out, the way that he played in Chicago, so just a decision we made. And again we felt that we could get some extra ice time for some of our other guys up front.”
The Blues get a couple days here before playing again Wednesday in Montreal to begin a three-game trip to Toronto and Winnipeg. Something’s going to have to give here, and fast.
“Right now especially when it’s fresh, obviously leaving points on the table,” Steen said. “You know how key they are coming down the stretch at the end. We have a really solid group. Our goaltending’s been absolutely outstanding so far. There’s some positives, and like I said, there are some things that we’ve got to clean up, but a great opportunity to do it.”
“I think it’s a little too early to think like that,” Bozak said. “We just gotta keep working hard and keep getting better and keep improving. So we’re gonna get back to work here and we’ve gotta big road trip coming up.”