By Lou Korac
Losses are going to happen in an 82-game season, but for the Blues, the one Tuesday against the Arizona Coyotes ranked among the worst.
Just ask Ryan O’Reilly.
Playing a team on the second of back-to-back nights, one that was thoroughly embarrassed 24 hours earlier, 7-1 at Chicago, one that was putting little to no offense in the game and the Blues owning possession of the puck, and having a 76-34 advantage in shots, the Blues rightfully lamented a 3-1 loss to the resilient Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday at Enterprise Center.
What makes this loss worse for the Blues (36-26-7), their margin over the Dallas Stars for third place in the Central Division is two points after the Stars and native Ben Bishop blanked Buffalo 2-0, Bishop’s third straight shutout, and the Blues missed out on a chance of pulling within two points of Nashville for second in the division and three behind Winnipeg when both the Jets and Predators lost.
“It’s embarrassing. It sucks,” O’Reilly said. “It’s a game we should have won. There’s no way those guys should have beat us. I was shooting the puck terrible tonight. I had lots of opportunities where I could have done something. That was embarrassing. That was a game we should have beat those guys.”
This one smelled a lot like that 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers on New Year’s Eve when Henrik Lundqvist stole two points for the Rangers after facing 40+ shots. Darcy Kuemper faced 40 shots Tuesday, but this just didn’t seem like the Blues had that many high-grade scoring shots. The chances were there, but puck management left something to be desired, and there wasn’t nearly enough net front traffic after Kuemper left some juicy rebounds laying in the crease and shot area.
Oh, and that old nemesis (missed shots) bit the Blues big time. Missed shots were St. Louis 19, Arizona 1, and the Coyotes (35-30-5) didn’t miss their opportunity until late in the third period.
“I think missed net shots, missed the net on a few, I don’t think we shot the puck that well tonight to be honest with you,” Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. “We had a lot of shots. I think we could have made it harder on the goalie.
“There were rebounds, have to go back and look at the tape. It’s not that we didn’t have people there. They battled hard in front of the net and cleared a lot of things. Maybe we were late on some of the second and third opportunities that we needed to get another goal or two.”
There’s no question the Blues missed Vladimir Tarasenko, who missed his second straight game with a lower-body injury, but after what just recently happened with Brayden Schenn when he missed six games and the Blues averaging only 1.5 goals per game (nine in the six games Schenn missed), this Blues have scored three goals (1.5 per game) in the two that Tarasenko has missed, and he’s going to be out for at least another week. And with David Perron (concussion) missing his 23rd straight game, it was doubly tough.
“Well, it’s always a little bit harder when you’ve got such an elite scorer gone,” Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “That’s why you have depth and we have the players we have. So I’m not worried about that. We’ve just got to look at it, watch the game, watch some film and find ways that we can get better. Make it harder on other teams’ goalies.”
The Blues should have made it harder on Kuemper, who was pulled from the loss in Chicago after allowing four goals on 16 shots, but the ones that really sting are the missed shots where players were trying to pick corners or trying to get cute by hitting a corner. And believe it or not, despite the 76 shot attempts, there were players who were hesitant to shoot pucks at times.
“Just trying to pick corners, trying to make the right shot,” O’Reilly said. “I guess you’ve still got to hit the net. I don’t know how many shots we threw up. Still, we had the puck the entire game. We’ve got to finish.
“I don’t think we shot the puck well. We had lots of shots, but just didn’t shoot well. It started with me. They were panicking half the game. We just moved it around and just didn’t beat him.”
And then there were mistakes, two costly ones, that ended up in the Blues’ net.
The first one, early in the second period, when Jordan Binnington, who made 19 saves, had an egregious error when he went behind his net and tried playing a blind backhand pass to Jaden Schwartz, who scored for the Blues, and instead, Binnington missed Schwartz and right on the tape of Richard Panik, who said thank you very much and deposited it into the empty net for a 1-0 Arizona lead 1:05 into the period.
“Not ideal timing to give that one up,” Binnington said. “I’ve got to be better there. I thought I had ‘Schwartzy’ on the backside there. I just missed my pass there and unfortunately it ended up in the goal and gave them the lead.”
And some life, and if you’re going to make that risky play in a 0-0 game, you better be right with the execution, and like many of the offensive chances, that one was so off the mark.
“I think one of our forwards was coming back on that side,” Berube said. “I think our forward thought he was just going up the other way and I think ‘Binner’ probably saw him in the back of his eye and went to pass it to him but he wasn’t ready for it. It’s just a miscue.”
The Blues responded. As they did throughout the game, controlled the puck, pushed and prodded with no results despite Pat Maroon doing his best to fire the team up by pummeling Coyotes defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin.
“I thought we responded well,” O’Reilly said. “We got back to the game. We still had some bad turnovers that gave them a little bit of ice, but still for the most part, we put it deep and hunted them. We had the puck, we made plays, possessed it and just still wasn’t good enough.”
That seemed to be an issue, making crisp, tape-to-tape passes, at times and throwing off timing plays.
“Sometimes we were a little cute, for sure,” Berube said. “That happens at times when you have the puck so much instead of just being more direct. We talked about it between periods, being more direct.”
All that the Blues were able to do, they had to do at times with guys leaving the ice in bunches.
Defenseman Joel Edmundson left the game with a lower-body injury midway through the second period and did not return. Forwards Brayden Schenn, Sammy Blais and Oskar Sundqvist all got dinged up in the period but returned to play. Schenn, however left with roughly 7:30 remaining in the game after taking a stick the face (that wasn’t called), bleeding from above his left eye and run into the corner glass along the Coyotes bench by Lawson Crouse.
“It’s tough,” O’Reilly said. “We lose some big guys, but for the most part, we stuck with our game plan and guys stepped up after that.
“I saw the replay (on Schenn), and yeah, for sure (a call should have been made). I thought there were a few calls that should … we had the puck the whole game. There were plenty of times I thought that there should have been calls that weren’t made. We’re getting to that late time where things aren’t called as much and it’s playoff style, but it’s frustrating because for how many shots we had, we had a few on the PP and it shows we had the puck the majority of the time. You’re going to draw stuff.”
Down a goal, the Blues felt good about tying it and even winning, but when Sundqvist fumbled a puck along the wall in the defensive zone and lost it, Vinnie Hinostroza pounced and made it 2-0 just 23 seconds into the third.
Schwartz scored a power-play goal, his 300th NHL point, with 1:11 remaining with Binnington out of goal and a 6-on-4, and when the Blues pulled Binnington again after calling a time out, they gained zone time for perhaps a tying goal but couldn’t convert, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson put the finishing touches on a Coyotes win with an empty-netter with 21.8 seconds left.
“We played well, we outshot them,” Pietrangelo said. “But again, we can say we had zone time but we’ve just got to find ways to score goals. One goal, 6-on-5, or just on the power play isn’t good enough right now. We’ve got to find a way to score.
“They seemed like they were fronting a lot of pucks. But ice wasn’t great. When you have the puck in the slot. They didn’t get a whole lot of good opportunities either. We did miss a lot of chances. But we still put up 40 shots. We might have missed the net a lot but we still had 40, 40 chances that we should’ve scored.”
AP Photo courtesy of KSDK Sports
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Raw Interviews from the Blues locker room after the game
Blues Coach Craig Berube, followed by: Alex Pietrangelo and Ryan O’Reilley