By Lou Korac
Jake Allen took ownership of this one, and rightfully so.
In a season full of ifs, ands and buts, this one typifies why the Blues are where they are: near the bottom of the NHL standings.
They had to win this one, and in the end, failed to do so.
Despite outshooting the New York Islanders 32-14 and literally outplaying the visitors, the Blues couldn’t hold down another third period lead, and another 2-0 lead in a dreadful 4-3 loss to the Islanders on Saturday at Enterprise Center.
This wasn’t one of those where the Blues played poorly and coughed up a lead. They coughed up the lead this time because their goalie couldn’t make a save.
Allen, who started for a personal NHL-high 14th straight time Saturday, has won some games for the Blues this season and has played a lot better after a tough start to the season. But this was a game in which 18 skaters did what was necessary to win a hockey game, to start building in a season that’s slowly going down the drain.
Allen allowed four goals on 14 shots, and the four goals came on the final eight shots the Islanders (23-13-4) had in the final 40 minutes of the game.
“I thought the guys did a pretty good job the whole game,” Allen said. “I’ve got to be better than that in the third period for this team. I lost it for them.
“… It was a weird game. We had some opportunities. I thought we carried the momentum of the play. It’s just, we were up 2-1 going into the third, no matter what the situation, no matter how we were playing or what the situation, how we were playing or not, it’s a good situation to be in. I’ve got to be better.”
Yes, Allen needed to be better. He had two goals squeeze through him, one by Matt Martin in the second period to make it a 2-1 game that one could give him the benefit of the doubt, and one by Jordan Eberle early in the third to tie the game 2-2, and then an Anders Lee goal late in the third to make it 4-2 on a break-in coming in from the side, where Allen left a rebound right on the doorstep for Lee to knock in.
“He’s been really good for us,” Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. “Look, he wants a couple of them back. But we can do a little better job, too, defensively there.”
It all looked good early. Brayden Schenn and Zach Sanford gave the Blues a 2-0 lead after one period. Both were the kinds of goals they’d been searching for earlier in the season, at the net, on rebounds (Schenn) or tips (Sanford).
The Blues (16-19-4) were taking it to the red-hot Islanders, who came in winners of five in a row.
And even in a second period where the Blues were the better team, they couldn’t build on the lead, and one of two shots Allen saw in the period got through him on Martin’s goal 2:25 into the period when he couldn’t squeeze the shot from the slot with three Blues puck-watching and not covering up the slot.
“In the second, we had a lot of good shifts in the offensive zone,” Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “Just got to keep trying to find ways to bury teams when we’re up by one or two.”
Up 18-8 on the shot clock after two, the Blues were hopeful of a Washington-style attack, taking it to the Islanders like they did against the Capitals on Thursday in a 5-2 win.
But Eberle scored when he curled around the net with the puck and from the side, was able to find a hole Allen exposed with Leo Komarov running some traffic to tie the game 2-2 at 8:27. Johnny Boychuk gave the Islanders a 3-2 lead 11 seconds later on a shot from the point through traffic.
“It doesn’t matter how the goals go in, I want every goal back,” Allen said. “It’s the goalie’s mindset. At the same time, it’s time and place, time and situation. It was fine. We were 2-2, to be able to get that quick one right away sort of drains all the momentum from the team. I have to find a way to somehow keep one of those out of the net to keep our momentum going. It’s a killer for any team when they get two goals in that quick a span.”
There was a look of discontent on the Blues bench, and certainly among the 16,801 in attendance. Berube called a time out to reign in the troops.
“I called that timeout and I thought they were pretty good and we were gonna give ourselves a chance,” Berube said. “We got that third one and we had some good life I thought. I thought we attacked, which is good.”
The Blues thought they tied the game when Vladimir Tarasenko scored with 8:38 remaining, but the referees ruled on the ice it had been kicked in, and video replay confirmed the call on the ice.
“It looked like he turned his skate and directed it in,” Berube said. “That’s why they probably disallowed it.”
The Lee goal turned out to be a killer, and it happened after a stretch pass to the Blues’ blue line where Robert Bortuzzo gambled a bit and thought about jumping the pass but fell down, giving Lee a lane in from the left. His first shot, Allen got his stick on but pushed the rebound right into the crease and Lee, driving the net was able to tap it in with 4:54 remaining.
“It’s a breakaway. I’m not worried about a rebound on a breakaway,” Allen said. “Still at the same time, it honestly dived right off my stick right to him.”
Ryan O’Reilly made it interesting scoring with 1:33 remaining to make it 4-3 with Allen on the bench, and the Blues had a chance to tie it late, but Pietrangelo’s chance going hard to the net was off by inches when he tried to skate past Islanders goalie Robin Lehner to the backhand, but Lehner got his skate on the puck with 19.3 to play.
“I just hit it by a hair on his toe there,” Pietrangelo said. “I have an open net … if I get by him. I didn’t think I could shoot it because he came out pretty far. I just needed another half a foot and I had a wide open net.”
It seems like the entire Blues season has been off by a hair, and this was no different. A game they felt they should have won goes by the wayside with nothing to show for it, and the five-game homestand closes at 2-3-0.
And to make matters worse, it’s the fifth time this season the Blues have built a 2-0 lead and lost the game, going 0-2-3 in them. That’s seven points down the drain.
“We’ve built some good hockey here, but we’re not winning hockey games and it’s not good enough right now,” Pietrangelo said. “We’ve got to win hockey games. We can talk about playing well all we want. All that matters right now are results.”
Photo courtesy of St. Louis Blues