NASHVILLE — The Craig Berube era with the Blues didn’t net the desired result.
The Blues were in a predicament of trying to get the season back on the rails after the firing of Mike Yeo as coach on Monday and Berube taking over on an interim basis against the NHL’s best, the Nashville Predators.
Filip Forsberg’s shorthanded breakaway goal, one of two scored by the Predators in the game, in the second period broke a tie and the Predators went on to a 4-1 victory against the Blues at Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday and spoil Berube’s debut and the first NHL goal for rookie Robert Thomas.
Thomas, a 2017 first-round pick, scored in his 16th NHL game in the first period to tie the game 1-1, but Nashville, which also got goals from Frederick Gaudreau, Austin Watson and Ryan Ellis, were able to extend the lead in the second and send the Blues (7-10-3) to their thirds straight loss.
Jake Allen made 29 saves in the loss, and reigning Vezina Trophy winner Pekka Rinne made 28 saves for Nashville (16-5-1), which leads the NHL with 33 points.
It was most definitely a grittier game from the Blues but the result has been much like the ones through the first 20 games, which includes 13 losses.
It may not be the result frustrated fans were looking for, but there has to be a ground level spot to stand on and build on, and the players feel like there is some traction to start from.
But when Berube talked about having to build confidence, it makes it tough to do when mistakes continue to wind up in the net, and the Blues had their share on all of Nashville’s goals.
“We know it’s not going to happen overnight, building confidence,” said center Brayden Schenn, who assisted on Thomas’ goal. “Obviously this team expects a lot more out of themselves as far as what we’ve (given). We’re going to build it game by game. I thought we played a hard game tonight. We played fast, we competed for one another from the goalie out. If we do that on most nights, we’re going to beat a lot of teams.”
“It’s obviously frustrating,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “We had some really good looks offensively. I think if we start scoring those, you start feeling the puck, you start creating a little bit more pressure. I like the work ethic tonight, I liked the passion tonight. It’s a step in the right direction. No better way to answer after an intense game than to play these guys again and keep getting better.”
But the bottom line is the Blues are mired in an offensive funk, and have one goal in the past 202:48 and it’s from a 19-year-old rookie playing in his 16th NHL game.
General manager Doug Armstrong called out the core players after firing Yeo, saying their equity was at its thinnest.
The Blues are missing key players (Alexander Steen, Jaden Schwartz, Pat Maroon, Carl Gunnarson and Robert Bortuzzo), but there are enough core players and depth players that should be carrying the boat.
“We got the passion back,” Pietrangelo said. “It was one of the more intense games we’ve had in a while and I think that started with our work ethic I think. We put that in, especially there in the second half of the game. We did a lot in spurts there in the beginning but again, you’ve got to find a way to win hockey games. It’s the reality. We’re in a situation now where we need to get points. Right now, not getting a point is not good enough.”
As for the mistakes, the first goal scored came as a result of failed coverage in front of the net, the second on a badly-executed turnover, the third on a failed rim clearance and the fourth on a missed shot on goal at one end that ends up being an empty-netter.
The Blues surrendered the first goal when Frederick Gaudreau crashed the net and collected a rebound of an Anthony Bitetto shot and slam it home at 6:14 to put the Predators ahead 1-0 after Colton Parayko was caught in the corner and not in position to defend his goal, and a fourth line that was caught sucked down too low to defend the perimeter aside from Oskar Sundqvist.
“On their first goal, we’ve got to be harder at our net,” Berube said.
But Thomas came back to get the Blues even at 1-1 when Schenn stole a puck near the blue line, fed a cross-ice pass to Thomas, who from the left circle whipped a shot over Rinne’s left shoulder at 12:39 of the first.
The Thomas goal ended the Blues’ goal drought at 155:27.
“‘Schenner’ made a great play keeping it in there and was able to find me,” said Thomas, who played a career-high 19:04. “I was kind of looking around because I knew Rinne was creeping over to me. I shot it and found the far side.
“It was nice to get it out of the way. I thought it just helped me keep building my game throughout the game there. I wish it would have been for a win, but … ”
But it didn’t. However, Thomas was given plenty of responsibilities and keeps grabbing what’s thrown his way.
“Absolutely. He’s had a lot of chances, he’s been working hard,” Schenn said of Thomas. “He’s going to be a good player in this league, so it’s nice for him to get the first one out of the way.”
A shorthanded goal by Forsberg turned out to be the difference.
An intense second period (and game for that matter) ensued, and the Blues, as has been problematic in the early going, had a blatant turnover bite them when Robby Fabbri’s giveaway near the offensive zone blue line led to a Forsberg shorthanded breakaway to put Nashville up 2-1 at 13:22 of the second.
Fabbri tried a quick one-time pass to Pietrangelo at the blue line, with the play in front of him, and Forsberg getting a read with the stick and poked puck ahead for the breakaway, and he beat Allen short side.
Pietrangelo said he also didn’t see Forsberg.
“No, because then I wouldn’t have let him get the puck,” Pietrangelo said. “Stuff happens. I’m sure we’d like to have that one back, but lots of game left after that.”
There was time, but the Blues’ ineffective power play reared its ugly head again when they went 0-for-4, they’re not 0-for-17 going back eight games and do not have one in the past seven games after scoring 15 the first 13 games.
“Well, you don’t pass it around. You’ve got to simplify and shoot pucks and again get to the net,” Berube said. “I thought we passed up opportunities to get the puck there tonight and kept to the outside too much. Simpler approach, but we’ve got to work on it too.”
“We’ve just got to shoot pucks to simplify,” Pietrangelo said. “We’ve got guys that can make plays if we just try and get a few dirty ones, we’ll get teams thinking twice about us shooting pucks and we’ll find a way to score some nice goals.
“Simple. We’ve got guys that can shoot the puck. Let’s just use it.”
The game was still in the balance in the third and Watson’s goal was the back-breaker, and it came 7:53 into the third to make it 3-1.
Allen tried to rim the puck around the boards to Edmundson, but it was a quick and bouncing puck that skidded past the Blues defenseman and right to Watson along the right wall. Watson’s shot caromed off Nikita Soshniov in the shooting lane up into the net.
Then trying to get back in, Berube rolled the dice and pulled Allen with 5:37 left and the skaters going 4-on-4 that turned into a 4-on-3 power-play when Nick Bonino was called for tripping Allen. Berube wanted to go 5-on-3 and when the Blues won the faceoff, the puck came back to Pietrangelo in the high slot, and his one-timer was well off the mark, around the boards and out of the zone and Ellis collected the puck and scored into the empty-net with 5:12 remaining to make it 4-1.
“I got to hit the net there,” Pietrangelo said. “Trying to shoot to score there. It was a spot I wanted to get it to. It was the top blocker. I just didn’t get it where I wanted to.”
Some might question Berube going with the extra skater there with so much time left, but he felt the right call was made.
“We haven’t scored … what have we got two goals in a number of periods,” Berube said. “So I thought it was a good opportunity to try to get one.”
“You’re down by a couple goals,” Pietrangelo said. “You’ve got to try and find a way to score. If I hit the net there and I score, it’s a different situation.”
The Blues just ran out of opportunities and will get a chance at revenge when Nashville visits Friday ahead of Winnipeg coming to St. Louis Saturday.
Yeah, I thought it was a hard game,” Berube said. “I thought we competed for 60 minutes and we just didn’t get the result. We’ve got to do a better job of screening goalies and getting some dirty goals around the net. We’ve got to get better in that area.”