By Lou Korac
The Blues were able to keep a wounded dog down on Thursday and were faced with the same dilemma once again on Saturday.
They blitzed the Calgary Flames and kept that team in their doldrums to the tune of a six-game winless streak, and with the Nashville Predators coming in, another wounded animal on a six-game winless streak of their own (0-5-1), this was different. This was a divisional opponent that rose to the challenge of facing the defending Stanley Cup champs.
And it was evident from the drop of the puck which team played with more urgency, more desperation in Nashville’s 4-2 win Saturday at Enterprise Center.
The Predators, who improved to 10-9-3, were quicker to pucks, won the 50-50 battles, forechecked harder, forced the Blues into mistakes, and it all amounted to the Blues looking slower, disengaged and the inferior team on the night. The Predators were driving the net, working for second and third chances.
“They got a couple bounces early, but even saying that, that’s not our brand of hockey,” Blues center Brayden Schenn said. “Turn over the puck too much, sat back, didn’t take care of the puck and (caused) them to (have) good chances and break out with the puck. Our turnovers led to their offense and we have to clean it up for the next game.
“… Regardless of how they’ve been playing, we knew they were going to give us a good test tonight and they did. They played us hard. We knew that going in and we didn’t match that early on.”
The Predators scored three goals in the opening period, spent much of the time in the Blues’ zone, had a 10-0 shots advantage and led 2-0 before the Blues even got their first shot on goal at Juuse Saros, and finished with a 22-9 shots advantage. It finished 43-26 for the game, the second time in as many games the Blues have allowed 40 or more shots.
“They were more desperate and definitely came out harder than we did,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “(Breaks) happen. Things happen in games. We didn’t play good enough to win the game.
“I think a lot of the puck management tonight was losing the 50-50 battles, soft plays with the puck, more than puck management. We weren’t heavy enough tonight.”
Had it not been for Jordan Binnington, who made four — yes, four! — breakaway saves in the game, including two while the Predators were shorthanded along with a host of other Grade A scoring chances, this would have been a far wider margin of victory for the visitors.
“Just turnovers, taking care of the puck,” Schenn said. “They did a good job of clogging up the neutral zone, when do get into their end, they have that guy sitting back, waiting to break out the puck, so we’ve got to make an adjustment for next game and find ways 1, take care of the puck and 2, get pressure on the forecheck.
“[Binnington] made big saves, the three that he let in, he couldn’t do much about it, he made big saves for us tonight and we have to be better in front of him.”
The lone bright spot on the night was Klim Kostin, who scored his first NHL goal in his fourth game, and it was a beauty.
The 31st pick in the 2017 NHL Draft got the puck at his own defensive circle, drove with speed 1-against-3 but had no fear. Instead of pulling up to wait for help or perhaps just dump it in and go on the forecheck, Kostin peeled to his left and in the blink of an eye, whipped a wrister past Saros to give the Blues life in a period where they showed none and made it 2-1 at 13 minutes 55 seconds of the period.
“Feels great,” Kostin said. “I just see the net and just shoot. … I was lucky a little bit today. I’m happy to score first goal.
“It’s just unbelievable. No words to explain the feeling.”
Instead of using it to their advantage, and instead of using a big penalty kill, including one for 1:12 with David Perron in the box for hooking and Robert Bortuzzo in the box for cross checking Viktor Arvidsson (oh, and Bortuzzo will have a hearing Sunday from the Department of Player Safety and will likely receive a suspension and/or fine), the Blues finished the period much like they started it.
Oskar Sundqvist turned the puck over at the red line in a simple dump-in and Nashville restored its dominant period.
“I just think in general we didn’t take care of the puck, which led to us playing in our own end, too many turnovers, which led to goals, and I think we’ll be better next game,” Schenn said. “We’ve got to be better. It’s tough playing in Nashville, they always come hard there and you can’t let them generate offense off us turning over the puck the whole game.”
The Blues seem to find ways to recover from stinkers. This was one of them. The schedule makers did them no favors the rest of this month with a three-game trip at Nashville Monday, Tampa Bay Wednesday, Dallas Friday and back home next Saturday against Pittsburgh.
“A couple bounces that are just fortunate their way,” said Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo, whose power-play goal with 3:08 in the third cut the deficit to 3-2 and gave the Blues a chance. “I’m not going to make any excuses, but chances of the first one going right to him and second one goes off ‘Faulker,’ but other than that, I thought we … we could have played a lot better. We could have been more aggressive. I thought we weathered the storm a bit there in the first, got a handle of it, but we need to play better if we want to beat a team like that.”
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports