By Lou Korac
Well, so much for backing up that statement win on Friday.
For what seems like the millionth time that the Blues felt they got the blueprint for how they were going to string together some consistent efforts, and more importantly, get some wins racked up and get back to where they feel they belong.
The Blues said all the right words, they talked the talk after blitzing Nashville, arguably the best team in the NHL on Friday, and could really begin to make inroads with another solid win against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.
But the Blues happened, again, as in the Blues of much of this season, the one that couldn’t defend a beach ball on a player’s stick. That’s how it must have felt for sharpshooter Patrik Laine, who played target practice with first Chad Johnson, then Jake Allen in outscoring the Blues himself with five goals in an 8-4 Jets win before 17,028 at Enterprise Center that sounded at game’s end like an all-too-familiar sound: boo’s reigning down on the players as they departed the ice.
It’s been a common theme through the first 22 games of the season for the Blues, who dropped to 8-11-3 on the season. And it all boils down to consistency, effort and execution. There was minimal amounts of any of them at all in this game.
And for frustrated fans who are tired of the same rhetoric coming from the locker room after every one of these puzzling losses, puzzling for the way they happen, the players keep backing themselves into a corner with no escape plan that sooner or later will close all walls.
“Just honestly, lack of effort,” defenseman Joel Edmundson said matter-of-factly. “We were focused so much on our offense, we didn’t take care of our own D-zone. We let one guy score five goals. We shouldn’t be letting a team score five goals, let along one guy.
“… It’s embarrassing. The fans don’t deserve that, and especially at home where you’ve got to leave it all on the line. These fans deserve better than that and we definitely deserved to be booed off the ice tonight.”
It’s the worst feeling for a player when his own supporters boo them of the ice, but the Blues are now a poor 6-7-1 on home ice, and in those home losses, they’ve allowed eight goals, seven, and five three different occasions.
“This is a tough one to swallow, especially after the effort we gave last night, beating a team like that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said of a 6-2 win against the Predators. “We’ve got to be ready to play. It’s a back-to-back, early game, we’ve got to be ready to play.
“Sometimes it’s harder when you have a game like that to grab it. We’ve got to be ready to play. All their goals were just pucks in front of the net that we’re not hard enough on. We’ve just got to be ready from the start.”
And comes the same question Blues fans want to know: how are the Blues not ready to play? It’s puzzling and most frustrating.
“I know it’s tough right now, but we’ve got to go to work and get a lot better,” said forward David Perron, who had a goal and an assist, his first goal in 14 games. “We still have to come together as a group.
“… It doesn’t matter how it goes right now. We have to put our work boots (on) at practice and make sure we recover from that game. It’s been one good game, one bad game. Let’s get on a roll here, let’s break through and finally put two, three, four, five games in a row. At the same time, I know all you guys are doing a great job reporting and all that, but we can’t listen to the noise. We’ve got to come together as a team, together within us and work really hard and show everybody what kind of team we can have.”
The Blues fell to 8-2-2 when scoring four goals in a game this season, and what’s disturbing is that there are four losses there already among 22 games in which are lost with that kind of offense.
It was back to the old when the Blues are starting to score again but can’t defend.
Laine was the recipient of the shoddy defense, and on a couple occasions, could have pitched a tent. That’s how wide open he was.
“Missed coverage. We didn’t do a very good job defensively tonight,” interim coach Craig Berube said. “Sticks were brutal tonight. We didn’t have good sticks defensively.
“… We came out flat. They were clearly the better team.”
Obviously, and even after a 2-2 first period in which Perron and Vladimir Tarasenko’s first goal in 11 games made it an even game with 40 minutes to play, the Jets capitalized with four second-period goals to put the game away, including a hat trick from Laine in the period alone.
“Sometimes you’re overworking, not the right coverage,” Pietrangelo said. “We just have to let the guys who are on the puck do the job and trust that he’s going to win the battle. You can’t leave a guy like that open.”
Laine put Winnipeg ahead for good 1 minute 41 seconds into the period with a power-play goal after a poor decision from Tarasenko to take a roughing penalty by punching Nikolaj Ehlers after Taraenko had laid Ehlers out in the Jets zone, and Ehlers came back at Tarasenko when he had the puck and checked him back.
“No. It’s not a good penalty,” Berube said. “But Vladi’s playing with a lot of emotion right now. And sometimes it gets carried too far.”
Berube made the decision to start Johnson, who was victimized for four Laine goals. Johnson was pulled when Laine’s fourth of the game made it 6-2 at the 16:02 mark of the second period.
Johnson allowed six goals on 25 shots.
“Just back-to-back games,” Berube said of going with Johnson instead of Allen. “We have a plan in place. So we stick to it.”
In all the chaos caused by another lackluster result, Pat Maroon scored his first goal as a Blue, on the power-play, to break an 0-for-26 slide, and Ryan O’Reilly scored his team-leading 12th.
But with all the defensive problems that resurfaced again Saturday, as was posed in this space after Friday’s win: now what? What’s next?
“We’ll take advantage of the three days to change some things and get used to the changes we’ve made,” Pietrangelo said. “But the reality is it comes down to work and being ready.”
Which they were once again clearly not on Saturday.
As for Laine: he became the third player since the 1997-98 season to score five goals in a game and the first since Johan Franzen did it for the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 2, 2011. Marian Gaborik (Dec. 20, 2007) did it with the Minnesota Wild.
Laine, who leads the NHL with 19 goals, has 11 goals during a four-game goal streak and his seventh NHL hat trick is the second most before the age of 21, done in 177 games; he broke a tie with Dale Hawerchuk and Jimmy Carson, who each had six, and trails Wayne Gretzky, who had 12 in 210 games.
Laine is the 14th player in NHL history and sixth in the League’s modern era (1943-44) to score at least three hat tricks through his team’s first 22 games of a season.
Laine is the first player to score four goals this season and fourth player in Jets/Atlanta Thrashers history to do so. The others were Mathieu Perreault (Jan. 13, 2015 vs. the Florida Panthers), Ilya Kovalchuk (Nov. 11, 2005 vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning) and Pascal Rheaume (Jan. 19, 2002 at Florida). Laine has 99 NHL goals. Only six players in NHL history have hit 100 goals before turning 21. They are Gretzky (167), Jimmy Carson (141), Dale Hawerchuk (122), Steven Stamkos (114), Kovalchuk (108) and Brian Bellows (102).
Head Coach Craig Berube’s post-game interview: