By Lou Korac
Rubber was flying from every which way towards Anaheim goalie John Gibson with little to no results.
It’s been the Blues’ way these last few games, and predictable for that matter.
Did the Blues really think there wouldn’t be stretches like this after a disappointing 4-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday, where the Blues would have issues putting the biscuit in the basket? Especially with their leading goal scorer [Vladimir Tarasenko] shelved for virtually the rest of the regular season with a dislocated shoulder?
Once that left shoulder popped on Tarasenko Oct. 24 against Los Angeles, there went with it a guaranteed 30 or more goals. Who was going to pick up that slack?
In an 82-game season, sometimes it will look like the Blues don’t miss Tarasenko. Other times, like Saturday, they wish they can have 20 of him on the ice.
Saturday was one of those games in which a tale of two circumstances occurred. When the Blues are having trouble scoring, it almost makes you have to play a perfect defensive kind of game with little to no mistakes. Whether that means no turnovers, being responsible with the puck, be in the right spots on the ice or have your goalie stand on his head, all those things must happen.
The Blues (12-4-5) actually carried much of the play against the Ducks (10-9-2) in this one, but a couple costly mistakes helped Anaheim end their five-game winless streak, and an offensively-challenged team isn’t in position and equipped right now to be chasing games.
“Obviously putting the puck in the net,” said Blues center Ryan O’Reilly, who has no goals on home ice this season and had two shot attempts in the game Saturday. “We had some opportunities and we didn’t bury it and once they got the lead, it was tough. All they did was just shot the puck out of the zone and chase it down and try to kill momentum, but we have to find a way to put the puck in the net. It’s on myself. I can’t remember the last time I got a 5-on-5 point. I’ve got to generate more and obviously it’s an issue. Obviously I think we’re a much better team, but we have to do those things better.
“… In a sense. I look at the game and I think there’s an opportunity for the top guys to make a play and put the puck in the net, and that’s on us. When you have momentum and puck possession, we’re putting it in the right areas and we’re getting it back, a big play to happen is to put it in the net and that’s on myself and a few other guys. We have to take control. We’re responsible for that part of the game. If we’re not doing it, how can we expect anyone else to?”
Going back the last nine games, of which the Blues are 6-1-2, not counting empty-net goals, they have scored three or fewer goals in regulation in all of them, and in six of them, scored two or fewer goals in regulation.
Overall, the Blues are 17th in the league in goals for at 2.95 per game, which isn’t all that bad, but in the last 11 games, it’s dipped to 2.72 per game, and if you take away the two empty-net goals in Edmonton Nov. 6 and five overtime winners, that number is 2.09 in regulation.
“We’ve got to score goals and we didn’t. It’s clear we didn’t score enough goals, with a lot of shots,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “… We’ve got to work on finding ways to score goals, more goals.”
Sarturday, Berube flipped Robert Thomas and Sammy Blais, inserting Blais with Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz, and playing Thomas with Tyler Bozak and Klim Kostin, who made his NHL debut Saturday.
Berube was trying to find something, anything to get an offense that’s going stagnant going.
“We did have some chances,” said Blues right wing David Perron, who finished with five shot attempts Saturday but none on goal in his 800th NHL game, 500th with the Blues. “We did have a lot of shots on net compared to them, but they didn’t result in goals and that means we have to do a better job, either be more in front of the goalie’s eyes or creating more second opportunities for other guys. Also our power play could have been a little more sharper tonight.”
The Blues fired off a season-high 38 shots against Gibson, and they out-Corsied the Ducks 64-35 in the game, and on many nights, when the Blues out-attempt someone so badly like that, usually the case is they’re not getting on the interior as often as they need to, finding those second and third opportunities off rebounds.
That wasn’t necessarily the case Saturday. It simply came down to not burying their opportunities. When the Blues were crashing the net, they simply didn’t find the loose pucks.
“Close to 40 shots. We’ve got to find a way to score some goals,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said.
But when that’s not happening, it magnifies the glaring mistakes that on many occasions, winds up in the back of one own’s net.
Like the Ducks’ second and third goals, both scored by Derek Grant, who added an empty-netter to tally his first NHL hat trick for one of the easiest hat tricks one would ever score.
Ryan Getzlaf had already scored off a fortuitous bounce that resulted in a 2-on-1 to make it 1-0, and Grant scored to make it 2-0 in the first when Jordan Binnington played a backhand pass from behind his net to Pietrangelo in the left corner with his back to the ice. It was a precarious spot for Pietrangelo to be in, but he said the play that resulted in the turnover, a quick backhand pass to Ivan Barbashev in the middle of the ice that caromed off forechecking forward Nicolas Delauriers’ skate before Grant deposited it into the short side, is a play he makes in his sleep.
“Guy’s wide open. I make that play 15 times a game,” Pietrangelo said. “It just hits a skate. Shit happens.
“That’s the right play. I’ll make that play again next time I have the opportunity. Sometimes you don’t get the bounces.”
And when the Blues had built momentum off a Vince Dunn goal to make it 2-1 in the second, the second and more egregious error occurs when Justin Faulk, on the power play, plays the puck from the right wall back to the trailing defenseman, only to have it picked off in the middle of the ice that gave Grant a breakaway for the back-breaking goal to make it 3-1 at 7:20 of the third.
“We didn’t do ourselves any favor, whether it was me passing off the skate,” Pietrangelo said. “Faulker makes that play nine out of 10 times too. Sometimes they just don’t go your way. These are usually ones we find a way to win. I think it’s just catching up to us right now.”
This is true, the Blues were probably winning some games they had no business winning earlier in the season but found a way. Lack of offensive execution combined with mistakes eventually catch up to you, but this right now is simply a case of finishing pucks, and it’s put the Blues in a small hole being winless in the past three (0-1-2).
“I think it’s a little bit of a wake-up call,” Perron said. “Energy-wise, we played a lot of hockey recently, a lot of travel and things like that. We’ve had success, but we have to keep focus and keep going at it and finding ways.
“… Our structure, we talk about that a lot, and our structure is to hem teams in their d-zone and from there, finding chances. I think we can do a better job.”
It’s good to be finding things to fix, all the while, the Blues are still first overall in the Western Conference and suffered just their first regulation loss to a Western Conference team this season (8-1-2). And the loss Saturday ended a nine-game point streak (7-0-2). So for all the woeful occurrences, there’s still a lot to be desired about the position the defending champs are in, all things considered.
“There’s no panic,” Perron said. “I’m not even close to saying there needs to be panic. It’s just a little bit of a wakeup call that we have to refocus here in the next few days and just get our game back and just kind of go back to what makes us successful, changing at the right time for the other guy to go on the ice, to go into the o-zone and get some tired guys on the ice versus coming on the ice and having to go play 20 seconds in the d-zone. That way it’s tough to create offense because you’re a little bit tired when you get up the ice. Just leaving guys in good situation. Just basically from ground up, just kind of go back to all the little details that we do so well.”
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports