By Lou Korac
A chance for a third time this season to put together a — drum roll — three-game losing streak, a chance to gain even the slightest bit of traction for the Blues on Sunday against one of the Western Conference’s power teams.
And … well …
“We were terrible in the first period. Every player. Terrible,” Blues coach Craig Berube said.
When those are the first words out of the coach’s mouth, well, one can guess how this script was written.
And it wasn’t pretty.
The Calgary Flames, those same Flames that played Saturday afternoon in a tough 2-1 win at Minnesota, came into the car rental joint known as Enterprise Center and schooled the Blues in a 7-2 lopsided win, another in a line of distressing home losses for in this building in front of 17,064 fans that are more than fed up waiting for this underachieving, overpaid bunch to step up and give them some sort of consistent, sustained performance.
The Flames (22-10-2), owners of the top spot in the Western Conference and playing the part quite well, came in with the jump, came in with the legs, came in with the determination of a team trying to assert itself as a conference power.
They scored twice in a four-goal first period on the power play, scored a shorthanded goal when he Blues actually won possession of the puck on an offensive zone faceoff, and scored a fourth by sacrificing a body to the net willing to score a gritty goal.
And the Blues (12-15-4), who dropped to 8-9-2 at home, well it was more of siesta hockey for them instead of determined hockey.
At least in the first period when they were getting outshot 16-6, and in the third period when they could muster up a whole six shots on goal playing against a Flames team that had enough, was leading by three and was ready to take whatever punches the Blues could throw at them.
“The first period. We just didn’t come out,” said forward Pat Maroon, who is stuck on one goal in 25 games this season. “I don’t know why we didn’t come out. It’s been an ongoing thing all year. It’s been disappointing.
“We had a chance to move up in the standings and a chance to gain playoff position and we come out in the first period flat-footed. I don’t have answers anymore. It’s just kind of embarrassing, to be honest with you.”
That about sums it up.
The Blues have now allowed five or more to opponents in seven of their 19 games; they’re 0-6-1 in those games, and it only happened four times in 41 games last season.
They were getting booed off the ice — again — but this time, the fans didn’t wait until the end or even after the second period. They let the home side have it early and often. And for the third time this season, the Blues had a chance to gain a three-game winning streak and failed. They’re 0-3-0 in those games and have been outscored 15-5.
“I don’t know how you’re not ready to play,” a frustrated Berube said. “You’ve won two games, we’re feeling good, ready to roll. We’ve got a team that played yesterday afternoon in Minnesota and a real good opportunity to make it three in a row and start feeling good. We lay an egg. No good. We couldn’t make a play, couldn’t check. No composure, no team play.”
And to think, this is a veteran-laden group that’s doing this, performing this embarrassingly in front of their loyal fans.
“Very concerning. It’s frustrating and concerning,” Berube said. ‘These are veteran players that need to provide leadership. They should be the ones initiating out there and setting the tone for the game and they didn’t.
“We’ve got to fix it. Guys gotta look in the mirror. It’s up to each individual to prepare themselves to play the game the proper way. You’re in the NHL. That’s your job.”
Not being prepared was evident early when Maroon takes an offensive zone tripping penalty that put the Flames on the power play, and hometown boy Matthew Tkachuk scored on Jake Allen, who got the mercy pull after the first period. Tkachuk slipped behind Jay Bouwmeester and Robert Bortuzzo and took in Mark Giordano’s wrister from near the blue line.
And given a power play of their own, Ryan O’Reilly won faceoff to Jaden Schwartz, whose pass back to Colton Parayko didn’t have much zip on it, Parayko fumbled it at the blue line and Elias Lindholm broke in and scored shorthanded at 10:15.
Two-zip, just like that.
And the capper of the first period? Well, it’ hard NOT to guess it: another too many men penalty, the ninth time this has happened this season, and sixth time under Berube.
And Giordano’s goal at 16:47 made it 3-0, and the natives, if not restless already, were done.
“Too many dumb penalties,” Berube said. “We take too many penalties all the time.
“They know who’s up. It’s just the guys jumping too early or guys coming to the bench and then he changes his mind and the other guy jumps on. It’s composure. It’s stupidity. It really is.”
When Alex Quine, who came in with one goal and only four games played, scored the first of two for him on the day, to make it 4-0 at 18:25, it was pretty evident that it was going to be c’est la vie for Allen, who faced 16 shots and could only stop 12 of them with little to no help from his teammates.
“He was bombarded pretty good too,” Berube said. “He’s the least of our worries.”
That’s an understatement.
“The start killed us,” O’Reilly said. “We didn’t come out with jump and ready for them and they’re a team that’s playing loose now, they’ve won a lot of hockey games, they got to us early, we didn’t have the jump needed.
“… It’s not fun. It’s frustrating. I myself have to be better, I can’t be looking at other guys as well. Go back to work again and get ready for the next one.”
Oskar Sundqvist and Tyler Bozak scored second-period goals for the Blues, who inserted Jordan Binnington into the game to play the last two periods (he allowed two goals on 12 shots), but it was too little, too late.
“You’ve got to go out there with some pride and jump back in the game,” Berube said. “I thought in the second, we did a little bit. We pushed and ended up getting a couple goals. In the third, there was nothing, and you’ve got to have a lot more pride than that. If you don’t have more pride than that, then you’re not going to go anywhere.”
Too many times, the Blues passed up on shooting the puck against a team that was willing to sit back and absorb anything and everything the Blues would fire at them. But there would be looking for that extra pass (where have we heard that one before), hesitation, broken plays.
The Flames, on all of their four shots, outscored the Blues 2-0 in the third.
“It’s tough,” Parayko said. “Especially before the break. Obviously you want to finish strong at home. It’s obviously frustrating. Not what we wanted.”
And now the Blues, who won’t practice Monday, will jet off to Western Canada to take on Edmonton, Vancouver and these Flames before Christmas needing to win out just to get back to .500.
Photo by Jeff Curry, USA Today Sports
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