By Lou Korac
The emotions were high for the Blues for a second straight game, but this was the first home game since the near-tragic cardiac episode for defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.
There was a tribute for ‘JayBo,’ whose life was saved when he collapsed on the Blues bench with 7 minutes 50 seconds remaining in the first period at Anaheim on Tuesday. Bouwmeester had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) procedure to restore his heart’s normal rhythm on Friday and was placed in injured-reserve, so the Blues know they will be without one of their more reliable d-men for the foreseeable future, if not being career-ending. It still meant some raw emotions were there to start a home-and-home set against the Nashville Predators.
It certainly showed in the first period when the Predators dictated play, took a pair of two-goal leads before settling for a 4-3 win when Mikael Granlund scored a power-play goal 3:59 into the third period.
But this game, even though the Blues (32-16-10) pulled even 3-3 with a strong second period, for all intents and purposes, lost in the first period.
The Predators (28-22-7), for the second straight game in this building this season, were all over the Blues early, outshot them 15-7 and outscored them 2-0 on goals by Viktor Arvidsson, who gained some measure of retribution when he was cross-checked by Robert Bortuzzo here on Nov. 23 and forced him to miss six weeks, and Matt Duchene.
The Predators led the Blues 3-1 here in that game Nov. 23, a 4-2 Nashville win, and outshot the Blues that game 22-7, but this was a highly different circumstance.
The Blues were once again not connected. They were chasing pucks in their zone, hemmed in by Nashville’s forecheck, and when they possessed pucks, passes weren’t crisp, few passes were tape-to-tape, and when passes were hard, the Blues were icing it.
The natives, all 18,096 of them, were getting restless, and not giving the Blues the benefit of the doubt that they’re still trying to shake off the emotions of nearly losing a teammate and friend.
“We’re a sensitive team right now and obviously we feel for him and for each other and for his family,” Blues defenseman Vince Dunn said of Bouwmeester. “The support has been really great and it’s hard to get over something like that but when we’re on the ice, we’re playing for him and that should give us more pride to do the right thing so I guess it’s a little shame on us.
“We need to step up for him. We know when he’s in the lineup he’s definitely a big presence so we’re not just going to fill his roll. We know that but everyone needs to step it up and focus on making sure they’re doing their job out there.”
The opposition won’t feel sorry for the Blues. They sympathize, which many, if not all, NHL teams and their fan bases have done in support of Bouwmeester, but when the puck is dropped, it’s battle time, and there are too many opponents the Blues are facing that are fighting for their playoff lives.
The Blues ought to know, they were that team a year ago.
“I think pretty emotional with everything going on before the game and stuff,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “Obviously that had an affect on our group, but we recovered from it. I thought we outplayed them the second and third periods. For the most part, I thought we were the better team, but we ended up short.”
Berube may be right, and the not just on the shot counter, which was 19-12 Blues the final two periods, but the Predators had already set the tempo against a Blues squad that, maybe, was too jacked up with emotion again?
“It could be. I think the emotions were really high before the game,” Berube said. “Sometimes that can have a negative effect too. They were better than us the first 10 minutes.”
So what was up with the slow start?
“Slow start,” Brayden said shrugging his head.
“They’re tight. This time of year you’re going to get tight hockey no doubt,” Schenn said. “We had her there for a little bit, finally started trending towards our game. Obviously the first period wasn’t as good as we needed to be. Battled hard, played hard … last two periods anyway, and weren’t able to (finish).”
“No excuses,” Dunn said. “I mean we had a day off yesterday so I think it just comes down to focus and getting ready for the start. It’s not always going to be a pretty game for us as long as we’re playing the right way and unfortunately we were playing a little bit catch up from the first period so that’s just not good enough.”
The Blues fought back, and it started with Zach Sanford, goal scoring machine with his fifth in two games and ninth in nine games, getting it started, followed by Jaden Schwartz on the power play and Jordan Kyrou to tie the game 3-3.
The game, like Thursday’s 6-5 overtime loss at Vegas, was there for the taking, but a Carl Gunnarsson holding penalty in the third period led to Granlund’s power-play goal, and Nashville locked things down the rest of the way.
The loss was the Blues’ fourth straight (0-2-2) and their ninth in 11 games (2-6-3), and you can say emotions are running high all you want. The Blues deserved that the first few days after Bouwmeester’s unfortunate incident, but now that they know he’s going to be OK and be able to live his life, they have to find a way to get back to being their dominating self earlier in the season.
“We will. We’re not worried,” Schenn said. “We’ll get back on track. We’re a confident group in here and we’re gonna find a way.
“When things aren’t going your way, you can either roll over and quit or battle. And we were able to battle back, we just weren’t able to tie it up late.”
The numbers, though, are alarming since Dec. 27. The Blues are just 8-8-4 since then, and .500 hockey won’t cut it, but what stands out is their goals-against (3.55) is the worst in the league. And Jordan Binnington is 7-4-3 with a 3.42 GAA and an .883 save percentage, while Jake Allen, who made 23 saves in the loss Saturday, is 1-4-1 with a 2.66 GAA and .901 save percentage in that stretch.
They’ve allowed three or more goals in 11 straight games.
“We’ve just got to keep working,” Berube said. “We were competitive tonight. We worked hard, we did a lot of good things tonight. I liked a lot of things tonight. We’ve just got to keep building. You go through stretches like this. Every team does. Got to climb through it. You’ve got to be mentally tough and you’ve got to go through adversity at times.”
The teams will battle again on Sunday at 5 p.m.
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports