The Blues fell to the San Jose Sharks 2-1 Tuesday night at Scottrade Center where they’ve now lost five in a row. The local media is keying on the fact St. Louis, having experienced the pain of travel delays getting home from Vancouver, was operating almost as if they were the visitors and not the Sharks. The Blues didn’t get back in town until 8:30AM Tuesday and had little time to prepare for the game. San Jose had been there, ready and waiting, and perhaps it showed.
I’m going to lean more toward the opinion that Coach Hitchcock voiced in his post-game comments Tuesday night. Hitch said, “Too many passengers. Too many people not pulling their weight…Too many guys want the game to be a little bit easier. That’s the difference.” (via @lkorac10 & others)
Despite the long travel day Monday, the Blues came out with some energy Tuesday night, and jumped to a 1-0 lead in the 1st period on a goal by Patrik Berglund. The scoring opportunity was created by some very hard work by Vladimir Sobotka, who the NBC Sports crew called, and we’ve heard this before, maybe the most underrated player in the NHL.
We saw almost the same goal the other night in Calgary, Sobie skating around the back of the net and firing it in, this time a more obvious pass to Bergie’s open forehand.
The first period also saw another fine effort by the 4th line of Ryan Reaves, Jaden Schwartz, and Scott Nichol. They didn’t put any points on the board, but they effectively kept San Jose off as well, with furious backchecking, some big hits, and strong puck-hounding. Pesky Blues, indeed. The 1st period was all Blues. The Sharks made mistakes up and down the ice in their positioning and puck movement. Unfortunately, that didn’t extend beyond the first 20 minutes.
The 2nd period saw the same sort of flat-footed defensive play by the Blues that we’ve seen in the previous 4 losses at Scottrade Center. There was little noticeable forechecking or backchecking by the forwards, and after very sloppy clearing attempts by the Blues, San Jose was able to tie the game 1-1 at 3:55. Joe Thornton sneaked in behind Barret Jackman and banged a loose puck past Jake Allen, who had been very solid up to that point.
Things got a little chippy after that goal, and it appeared the Blues were already packing it in, looking ahead to another late night flight and their upcoming game in Colorado. Only TJ Oshie seemed to have any life in him, taking a hit to make a play to bring the puck up the ice, and even getting in a fight- only his second in the NHL- after some tight checking in front of the St. Louis bench. It wasn’t a heavyweight bout, and TJ held his own.
While the Blues did have their chances, credit Sharks goalie Antti Niemi for standing his ground and holding them off. Niemi made some decent saves throughout the game, but was never really tested. The Blues rarely had any sustained pressure in the offensive zone Tuesday night, and San Jose had much more energy in the 2nd period, carrying the momentum into the final 20 minutes.
St. Louis continued to look uninspired in the 3rd frame, though again, San Jose had picked up their game and were clogging passing and shooting lanes. The Sharks were doing all the things the Blues weren’t: backchecking, blocking shots, moving the puck up the ice. Despite 3 power-play opportunities Tuesday night, the Blues were unable to score with the man-advantage for the first time in 9 games.
Allen continued his disciplined play, all while lacking the kind of support his defense had been providing during their recent road-trip, and 13:02 a chink in his armor was finally exploited by San Jose’s Tim Kennedy. He fired a slap-shot high on Allen that somehow found its way through and trickled into the net to give the Sharks a 2-1 lead.
It would prove to be all the Sharks needed to close out the win and deal the Blues their 5th straight loss at home. They were out-shot by San Jose 9-5 in the 3rd period and simply failed to play the style of hockey it takes for them to win. It takes everyone working together as a team, hard-nosed play at both ends of the ice, for the Blues to be successful. Another Hitchcock post-game quote: “Too much skill ahead of work on certain guys … same guys. Night-in and night-out at home.”
There were limited bright spots for St. Louis in this game. Wade Redden had a very solid game, making a number of good plays to get the puck out from behind his own net, or to get the puck up the ice- the kinds of plays he should be making as one of the veterans on this Blues team. Oshie played at his usual high level for most of the game. Again, the Reaves-Schwartz-Nichol line, the “energy” line, played a very good up-and-down game. Vladi Sobotka- what more can I say about him? He was, as usual, one of the best defensive forwards of the night.
Hockey is a team sport, and for whatever reason the Blues are not playing as such in the (usually) friendly confines of Scottrade Center. They flew to Colorado overnight and play the Avalanche Wednesday night. They’ll be back home Saturday facing off against the Blue Jackets and will then have 4 full days until battling with the NHL’s best team, the Chicago Blackhawks.
In this shortened season there are few breaks, few moments you can let your guard down. The Blues have shown an inability, at times, to “keep the hammer down,” to finish off teams and, as we’ve seen, to win at home. If St. Louis doesn’t feel they have a handle on their team character yet, there’s precious little time remaining to find it. I believe they have the talent to do deep into the playoffs, but they need to play together.
GO BLUES! Long Live the Note!