Thursday, December 31, 2009

Oh, no! Not again

Blues blow another 3-0 lead, lose to Canucks in overtime to end 2009

ST. LOUIS -- Blues fans were loud and boisterous, something sorely missing from Scottrade Center much of this season. They've been waiting to erupt because frankly, there have not been many opportunities to do so.

So when the Blues build a three-goal lead in the second period against the Vancouver Canucks, a team they've beaten twice in as many chances, the Blues and their fans were ready to close the chapter on 2009 and leap into 2010 with renewed confidence.

But it happened again, and instead of being ready to embrace the new year, the Blues will limp into 2010 much the same way they've done so after many home games this season.

The Canucks scored four unanswered goals, including a power play goal by Christian Ehrhoff 2:24 into overtime to give Vancouver an improbable and -- to the Blues and their stunned fans -- a shocking 4-3 victory in front of the 10th straight sellout of 19,150 at Scottrade Center.

It was a stunning ending to the game and to the 2009 calendar year, as the Blues (17-17-6) can't wait to begin a new year because they have now lost nine of 10 at home and four of those games have been with leads entering the third period. It's the second time in six games they've blown a 3-0 lead at home and lost and fell to a league-worst 6-13-3 at home.

"You've got to act like you've been there before," Blues coach Andy Murray said. "You've got to act like you've been in tight games and get the job done and certainly, we didn't act the part tonight.
"We've been here before and they all hurt. I don't qualify losses. This hurts just like every loss that we've had."

The Blues, who build a 3-0 lead on goals by Alex Steen, Keith Tkachuk and Andy McDonald, played with confidence, played with passion and played with tons of energy.

They had the Canucks reeling for much of the game, despite trying to get Vancouver in the game with penalty after penalty (they had 12 minor penalties for 26 minutes after eight for 16 in the last home game).

But things changed in the third period, as the Canucks (24-16-1) mounted a rally that included third-period goals by Mikael Samuelsson and Henrik Sedin after Daniel Sedin got Vancouver on the board late in the second period.

"It's just one of these things where it's just not going good right now for us," a frustrated Tkachuk said. "You shouldn't lose the game when you're up 3-0 in your own building. It just seems like when we get a break, things start to unfold against us. It's frustrating, but we've just got to battle our way through this. We put ourselves in this predicament. You've got to keep trying to find solutions."

So how did the Blues manage to lose this game? According to Murray, it was all about puck management, something that was working for the team in building its lead.

"We have to manage the puck," Murray said. "The first touch out of your zone has to be good so that you move it by them so that when they're playing aggressive instead of stepping up like they were. You need to be composed with the puck, you need to deal with the pressure. You can't get the deer-in-the-headlights look. That's when you've got to be composed and make plays and you count on your guys to do that.

"We've always been a team, since I've been involved here, we've been able to close it out and get the job done by playing assertive and continue to attack. Tonight, again, two situations we get guys overlapping on coverage in our zone. A guy steps off the wall and gets a shot off to get their second goal, and then they get a guy that jumps out of the penalty box ahead of our guy and they score the goal to tie."

Samuelsson somehow worked his way out of the left corner and fired a shot from a tough angle that Blues goalie Chris Mason was unable to handle, as the puck squirted through his left side 5 minutes, 46 seconds into the third to make it 3-2.

And Henrik Sedin was able to bang home a shot at the near post with a crowded scrum near Mason's right with 1:56 to play, where the Blues goalie wasn't able to hold his position.

"You need key saves at key times, and for the greater part of the season, we've gotten that from our goaltender," Murray said. "I have to watch them to know exactly how we would grade the goals."
The Blues' Brad Boyes picked up a four-minute high-sticking penalty, when he apparently cut Vancouver's Ryan Kesler and the Canucks pounced when Ehrhoff blasted a shot from just inside the right circle through a screen.

"It was a great pass by (Kyle Wellwood) through the seam there," Ehrhoff said. "(Kesler) was making a great screen there (in front of the net) and the goalie couldn't see it. I just had to put it in the corner."

The penalties that plagued the Blues cost them in the end, for sure.

"They're all difficult," Blues captain Eric Brewer said. "It's certainly a tough stretch for us. At the end of the day, the penalties really took our flow of our game and we were good with it most of the game. They just found a way to get one when they needed one.

"Too many penalties, obviously," Brewer added. "It takes guys out of rhythm. ... It's hard to keep guys in it, and we found ways to break down and they stuck with it and built some momentum from some good shifts and were able to sustain it and find a way to win."

The Blues' Cam Janssen tried to motivate the sellout crowd when he got into a spirited fight with the Canucks' Rick Rypien, who received a match penalty that resulted in the power play for St. Louis.

Rypien received the automatic ejection for having tape on his hands below the wrist that cuts or injures an opponent during an altercation. Janssen was bleeding from the nose, where unconfirmed reports said he suffered a broken nose.

Steen's seventh of the season and fourth in three games gave the Blues the 1-0 lead, their only goal on the five-minute advantage.

* NOTES -- Tkachuk has 62 points in 64 career games against Vancouver. ... Canucks D Kevin Bieksa did not play and looks like will miss substantial time after injuring his ankle from a skate blade Tuesday in a shootout loss at Phoenix. ... When the Blues defeated the Canucks 6-1 here on Nov. 10, they scored four goals in the game's first 7:36. ... Blues D Erik Johnson returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch Tuesday. He is pointless in his last nine games. ... Steen has 10 points in seven games. ... St. Louis is 13-2-4 when leading after two periods.

* EDITED (12-31-09) Canucks-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Mired in a season-long home slump which includes losses in eight of their last nine at Scottrade Center, the Blues continue to search for the missing pieces to remedy their home woes.

After today's morning skate, the Blues (17-17-5) will once again mix and match their lines tonight against the Vancouver Canucks, who the Blues are 2-0 against this season -- including a 6-1 thrashing here on Nov. 10.

* Andy McDonald will play and Brad Winchester is the healthy scratch tonight. He will be replaced by Derek Armstrong, who will have the emergency call-up label removed and thus, be a regular call-up. The Blues must be confident he will clear waivers if they send him back to Peoria.

Here are tonight's lines:

Andy McDonald-David Backes-Brad Boyes

David Perron-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie

Alex Steen-Jay McClement-B.J. Crombeen

Derek Armstrong-Keith Tkachuk-Cam Janssen

Erik Johnson, who was a healthy scratch in Tuesday's 4-3 loss to Nashville, is back in the lineup, replacing Darryl Sydor.

So the D-pairings will include:

Erik Johnson-Eric Brewer

Barret Jackman-Roman Polak

Carlo Colaiacovo-Mike Weaver

Chris Mason will get the start in goal.

The Canucks come in with a 23-16-1 record, good for 47 points. Along with the loss here on Nov. 10, the Blues beat them at GM Place 3-1 on Dec. 20.

Along with the departure of Mathieu Schneider, who was put on waivers Tuesday, the Canucks also lost defenseman Kevin Bieksa, who suffered a severe cut on his left ankle and it appears he will miss substantial time.

The Canucks forward lines will resemble something like this:

Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Alex Burrows

Mason Raymond-Ryan Kesler-Mikael Samuelsson

Tanner Glass-Kyle Wellwood-Steve Bernier

Darcy Hordichuk-Alexandre Bolduc-Rick Rypien

With their defense in disarray, the D-pairings will resumble something like this:

Willie Mitchell-Sami Salo

Christian Ehrhoff-Shane O'Brien

Aaron Rome-Alexander Edler

Roberto Luongo will be in goal.

Remember, tonight's game is at 6 p.m., not the usual 7 p.m. start time

Home issues beginning to take toll on Blues

They'll host Vancouver tonight looking to snap 1-7-1 slide at Scottrade

ST. LOUIS -- There comes a time when even all those that are directly involved in orchestrating and piecing together a team don't have an answer.

Such was the case Wednesday for Blues President John Davidson, who had to sit through another baffling home defeat Tuesday night.

And as the Blues usher out 2009 tonight after facing the Vancouver Canucks at Scottrade Center at 6 p.m., they have to find some way to break this hex that has been put on their home building, where they now sit at 6-13-2 -- including a win in Sweden.

"I can't answer it, I don't know. How can we play like we play on the road and play like we play at home," Davidson said. "There's got to be some form of a mental block of some sort that has developed. ... Our power play let us down. And I think that when you're power play struggles at home, it creates a negative vibe, a negative feeling."

The Blues (17-17-5) outshot the Nashville Predators 12-4 in the third period of Tuesday's 4-3 home loss and outscored them 2-1. They were just as good in the final 20 minutes as they were bad in the opening 40.

Which poses the same, old question: how can that be?

"All we can do is build off the third period and try and go win a hockey game (tonight)," Davidson said. "There's no magic wand here. You talk to other teams every day. You talk about every scenario. There's just no magic wand. We've got to, as a group, persevere and deal with it.

"It's a mental part that has become a struggle for us, for whatever reason."

Call out the shrinks, are the Blues going crazy?

Not so, says Davidson, who likes that there is still time on the schedule to get the team's direction leveled out.

"We've got a lot of season left, and if we start winning at home, we're going to be OK," he said. "But we've got to start winning at home. There's no other way around that. We've got to deal with whatever pressure there is with not winning at home and turn that pressure into a positive. Enjoy the pressure. The most pressurized games you'll ever play are the playoff games and they're the most fun to play and the easiest games to get ready for. We have such great support here. The fans have been unbelievable, and I don't say that lightly. I say that with conviction. We've just got to go out and play."

The Blues, who sit in 12th place in the Western Conference with 39 points -- eight points out of a playoff spot -- will reach the halfway point to the season after they host Chicago on Saturday. Game No. 40 is tonight, and after 39 games a season ago, they 15-21-3 and in last place in the West.

"We're .500 right now and we're a lot better than we were last year at this time, won-loss record wise," Davidson said. "All we've got to do is start winning at home. Pretty simple arithmetic."
If the math is that easy, the Blues seem to be making it look like rocket science, and the complexity is of it all is very puzzling.

"We all know the situation. There's either winning or misery," Davidson said. "There's no in between. All of us have to work at everything every day.

"I'm not going to sit here and tell you that somebody's job is on the line, or we're going to make a major trade. We have to assess things as they move along here. Then when we do make decisions -- try to make the decisions -- no matter what it is, that's the best decision on behalf of our hockey club to become a better club."

The team will go into tonight's matchup with the Canucks (23-16-1) with a 2-0 mark against the team that swept them out of the Western Conference quarterfinals a season ago and they'll do it with a new addition to the club, as former LA King Derek Armstrong was called up from Peoria Wednesday under emergency conditions.

With Paul Kariya (upper-body) on injured reserve and Jay McClement dinged up resulting from blocking a Shea Weber shot, the Blues are hoping the 36-year-old veteran can induce some enthusiasm around a home locker room that has resembled a mausoleum.

"I think he brings a Danny Hinote personality to our room, which is good for us," Blues coach Andy Murray said of Armstrong, who played for Murray when he coached the Kings. "I think we miss Danny's personality.

"I think 'Army' is a great addition and brings a lot of energy and so on, but Derek Armstrong is not going to ride in here on a white horse (tonight) and save the group. It's up to the group itself."

The Blues were feeling good about themselves after a 3-0 sweep of western Canada, the first of its kind in franchise history, but what a difference a week makes.

"Tough times only make you appreciate the good times better," Murray said. "It's amazing. In this sport, you go from week to week. There were a lot of smiles getting on that plane in Calgary. Guys are enjoying life and come in here (Wednesday) and it's a bit of a grind. But that comes with the territory. Lots of people would trade jobs with me."

* NOTES -- Blues defenseman Roman Polak has been named to the Czech Republic 2010 Olympic Team Roster. The Ostrava, Czech Republic native served his country at the 2009 World Championships as well as the 2005 and 2006 World Junior Championships. ... Defenseman Erik Johnson, a healthy scratch Tuesday, is not certain to return to the lineup tonight. ... Forward Alex Steen has nine points in six games, including three goals in the last two contests. ... Besides missing tonight's game, Kariya will also be out for Saturday's game against the Blackhawks.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

12-29-09 (Blues locker room quotes)

Leftover locker room quotes from Blues 4-3 loss to the Nashville Predators

Were early penalties poor ones to take?

We played frustrated, and we took penalties. We didn't show a lot of composure with the puck, made poor decisions with it, put ourselves in a position where we took some penalties because we didn't manage the puck very well. Certainly a number of poor penalties tonight, but most of it stems from the fact that we didn't manage the puck very well.

On difficulties getting changes during penalty kill

Some of the shifts they had, we couldn't get the penalty killers off the ice. We had tired people playing out there and part of that, we were in defense mode and we couldn't get any fresh people out there because we were killing so many penalties. That was the fact that when we were at even strength, we had tired people out there because we couldn't get the puck advanced enough to get those guys off the ice.

On what team did in third period that was missing first 40 minutes

I think we skated. To me, the game of hockey is all about skating, pressuring the puck, getting to loose pucks, winning your battles when you get there and certainly, Nashville skated much better than we did. They got to all the loose pucks, they won all the puck battles, they played with more energy than what we did. In the third period, we got to loose pucks, we put pressure on their defense as was the game plan to start the game tonight ... to get after them, to wear them down. We did it in the third period and again that magnifies the problem for me because we knew what we needed to do and we didn't do it at the start of the game, and yet we do it in the third period.

Why doesn't what happened in the 3rd period happen for 60 minutes?

You have to do it at the start of games when games are on the line. It's easier to do that when you're down two goals because you have nothing to lose. When it's the start of the hockey game, that's when you have to bring it. You can't win games playing one period. I've got to be better and the whole team's got to be better.


On good start to game and what happened after that
The first couple shifts were pretty good and then after that, the second half of the first just simply wasn't good enough. The second period was clouded with penalties. The third, we had a lot more jump, were more aggressive, but at the same time, Nashville is sitting back on their 4-1 lead so it's a mixture of both, I think.

On why it's tough to get going when you have to kill all those penalties
It's tough to get into a rhythm, but I thought since (the penalty killers) did such a good job ... I don't know how many minutes, three-something minutes. After that, we've got to bring momentum and turn the game around. I thought we had a couple strong shifts but it wasn't good enough.


What was the difference in the 3rd period
Our defensemen were jumping into the play more, pinching down. We were taking a lot of risks you really don't want to be taking ta the beginning of games. I don't know if that's something we have to start doing without trying to take away from our defensive play. In a perfect world, we'd be playing that way all the time.

Late rally not enough as Predators top Blues 4-3

Penalties, lack of composure, poor decisions with puck hurts St. Louis early, who've dropped 7 of 8 at Scottrade

ST. LOUIS -- It was a thing of beauty watching the Blues play in the third period. They had the Nashville Predators on their heels, outworking them, pressuring them in their own end, and getting another loyal fan base out to do whatever they can to get the Blues out of their home funk.

Problem is, there were two periods to play prior to that, and the Blues were doing all those things that got them into this home mess to begin with.

Down by three goals, the Blues made a fast and furious comeback attempt at the Predators, but it was all for naught in a 4-3 loss to the Predators Tuesday night at Scottrade Center, also known as the House of Horrors for the home squad.

The Blues, who dropped back to .500 at 17-17-5, have lost three in a row since a western Canada sweep, but more distressing, they are 1-6-1 in this building, with the lone win coming on the night they honored Brett Hull.

They put some life back into a sellout crowd of 19,150 when they got goals from Alex Steen -- who has nine points in six games -- and Andy McDonald with 7:30 to play.

But the problems the Blues dealt with in this game -- penalties -- crept back into the equation in the third and they could never get the equalizer.

"I think it magnifies the issue tonight when you outshoot the opponent 12-4 in the third period and in reality, the shots were 10-4 with about eight minutes to go and we proceed to take two minor penalties in the last eight minutes in the hockey game when we've got the team on their heels and we're down by one goal," said Blues coach Andy Murray, referring to a interference penalty on Keith Tkachuk with 6:10 remaining. "Unacceptable to take those penalties. It also reveals the problem that we get outshot (15-6) in our own building in the first period. It's unacceptable."

The Predators (23-14-3) scored four unanswered goals -- two of them coming in dominant fashion in the first period where they outshot the Blues 15-6 despite falling behind 1-0 a minute and a half into the game -- and then getting a third early in the second when the Blues were hit with a rash of unnecessary penalties that included 2 minutes, 9 seconds of 5-on-3.

"It's definitely tough to get momentum killing penalties," said goalie Chris Mason, who stopped 26 shots in the loss. "The first two periods, I thought we could have been a lot better. Third period, we laid it all out there, but that's still not good enough. We have to be ready at the start of games. I don't think we were again."

The Blues, on the receiving end of some Bronx cheers when they were finally able to get a puck out of their zone on Nashville's seemingly endless power play chances in the second, and then again when they got their first shot on goal in the period with 8:10 remaining, used Steen's goal to give them some life 9:08 into the third. Then McDonald tucked in a power play goal with 7:30 left and suddenly, there was a glimmer of hope.

But having to come from behind like that in one's own building is what really has this team scratching its head and brings up a question always asked: why can't this team sustain that energy and passion for 60 minutes?

"I really don't have answers," Mason said. "We have to be so much better at home. I guess it starts with hard work and using our brains and our hearts."

"We have a lot of questions in the room right now with the way we play at home," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "If we had the answers, we'd be correcting them and we'd be translating them into some wins."

Carlo Colaiacovo jumpstarted the crowd and the Blues by slamming home Andy McDonald's centering feed 1:29 into the game for a 1-0 Blues lead, but the Predators would tie it 5:04 into the period on a goal by Marcel Goc, a goal Murray was frustrated to talk about afterwards.

"We got the first goal the first two minutes, but then we have a guy (Goc) that's in our zone and he's the only player on the Nashville team that's in our zone," he said. "We have four guys in there and we give him enough time to hang onto the puck, to manage it and get some help coming in and they end up scoring a goal where he should have been eliminated, stripped of the puck.

"We needed to play assertive and not give him any time. We gave him too much time and it ended up being in the back of our net. Certainly you score a goal, as we've talked to our team the next few shifts after a goal are very, very important. We weren't accountable in that moment."

The Preds led 2-1 on Patric Hornqvist's goal, and that's when the Blues took a rash of penalties, including a double-minor on Jackman for high-sticking J.P. Dumont behind the Blues' net to set them back two men before Mike Weaver's delay of game penalty prolonged the Preds' man advantage.

"It's tough. You get some excitement on the bench when you kill a penalty, but when you go out there and take another penalty and you're back in the box, the penalty kill can give you only so much momentum," Jackman said. "It starts to wear on some guys and then other guys don't get to play."
Dumont scored 5:16 into the third period put Nashville up 4-1, and some folks started heading for the exits.

They missed the Blues' best, which was 50 minutes in the waiting.

Steen rifled a shot over the shoulder of Preds goalie Pekka Rinne with 10:52 to play and brought some life back to the home team.

Steen then set up McDonald when his one-timer from the point caromed off Tkachuk to McDonald on the doorstep.

"I think when we got to 4-2, we lifted ourselves a little bit," Steen said. "Then when we got to 4-3, I think everybody knew there was still a lot of time on the clock and it was going to be close hoping we would get that fourth one. We didn't tonight."

The Blues have two more games remaining on this four-game homestand, and it won't get any easier playing Vancouver on New Year's Eve, followed by the first trip into town by the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday.

"Somehow, we've got to bottle up what we had here in the third and bring it into the start of the next game," Steen said. "We obviously have to change this. Our record at home is not getting us into the playoffs right now. That's the thing that needs to change. On the road, we've been playing good. If we want to be a playoff team, we've got to turn this thing around quickly at home."

* NOTES -- Steen has three goals in two games. ... Blues D Erik Johnson was a healthy scratch, replaced in the lineup by Darryl Sydor. ... Blues LW Paul Kariya missed the game with an upper-body injury. Kariya took an elbow to the head in the first period during Sunday's 5-3 loss to Buffalo. ... Predators RW Martin Erat (lower-body) and D Kevin Klein (upper-body) both left the game in the first period with injuries and did not return. Klein only played 32 seconds and left after a big hit by Tkachuk, and the Predators claim that Erat was the victim of a knee-on-knee hit by Jackman. He played 5:49.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Third period letdown costs Blues again at home

Three goals in final period gives Buffalo 5-3 victory; St. Louis falls to 5-12-2 at Scottrade

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues have found so many ways to lose at home, it seems. At least they thought they did.

Sunday night's latest home loss came from an unlikely variety: leading after the second period, where the Blues were virtually spotless.

Sure, there was the Edmonton debacle of a few weeks ago, but this is unchartered territory for a team that has prided itself on protecting third-period leads.

The Blues were also done in by a bevy of former Blues to rub salt in the wound.

They led the Buffalo Sabres by a goal and were looking to wipe away a tough loss the previous night in Minnesota.

But the Sabres got a goal on a fortunate bounce that set the tone, and Tim Connolly helped seal the Blues' fate by scoring twice, including the game-winner on the power play in Buffalo's 5-3 win over the Blues at Scottrade Center.

The latest loss dropped the Blues to 6-12-2 on home ice, including 5-12-2 at Scottrade Center, and after the latest loss, the swing of western Canada -- where the Blues went 3-0 -- has quickly become a distant memory. The 14 home losses combined are the most in the NHL.

The Blues (17-16-5) have now given up six goals on 13 third-period shots in the last two contests and lost for only the second time in regulation (12-2-3) when leading after two periods.

They were tied 1-1 Saturday night in Minnesota and gave up three goals on seven shots in a 4-3 loss. They allowed six shots and three goals Sunday.

"It really bothers me because we lost both games," Blues coach Andy Murray said. "We've been a pretty good team this year in most cases leading going into the third period. ... Certainly a concern for us.

"I can't say we sat back. I think you would be in agreement there. I don't think we sat back in the third period."

The game marked a reunion of sorts for the Sabres (23-11-4), who sport former Blues Jochen Hecht, Grier and goalie Patrick Lalime. They also roster St. Louis native Chris Butler, who collected two assists. Grier had two goals and an assist and Lalime stopped 32 shots.

"We didn't play well (Saturday) night," Grier said, referring Buffalo's 3-2 shootout loss to Ottawa. "I think we all kind of felt anxious coming into the game (Sunday) and the guys battled. I think it took us a while to find our legs, but we battled and hung in there."
Ty Conklin took the loss in goal, stopping 19 shots, but the third Buffalo goal was what got under his skin.

The Blues held a 3-2 lead -- on two Alex Steen goals and Eric Brewer's 50th career goal -- when Grier redirected Tim Kennedy's long stretch feed from the point that Conklin had, but he puck squirted through his pads after he tried to close the puck up. The goal came 3 minutes, 15 seconds into the third and got the Sabres rolling.

"I went to close my legs to cover the puck and it hit the inside of my knees and just squirted in," Conklin said. "It's just a fluky goal.

"I knew exactly where it was. I was looking at it. I just went to close my legs. ... That probably won't happen again in two years. It was a fluky goal, but it sets a bad tone for the third period."

"I knew I had (Grier) on my backside and (the pass) kind of went off my blade and it went off him somehow," Blues defenseman Erik Johnson said. "Sometimes, that stuff happens."

The Sabres would take advantage of a Johnson holding penalty when Connolly tipped home Butler's shot from the point at 7:22.

"We took a tough penalty, gave up a power play goal," Blues coach Andy Murray said. "It went by two guys, a shot from the point. ... I have seen the penalty. We need to kill a penalty and we need to score a power play goal, and we didn't."

The Blues failed on five power play chances and have now misfired on 11 opportunities since scoring four power play goals in Edmonton Tuesday.

"Our power play was not very good when we needed it to be good," Murray said.

The Blues' golden chance on the power play came late in the third, when Andy McDonald -- who was stopped on a point-blank chance with 5:03 to play -- took a shot that Lalime kicked out to the far side to a wide open Brad Boyes, but the puck got to Boyes so fast he didn't have time to react quickly enough. Thirteen seconds later, Connolly was backhanding a shorthanded goal past Conklin with 3:16 to play.

"It came out quick," Boyes said. "I'm trying to get what I can on it. I don't know if I'm too tight there or what, but (Saturday) night in Minnesota was kind of the same thing. A rebound comes out and it goes right by me. It happens real quick, but somehow, you've got to get something on it."

Added Boyes, "Good teams find ways to win, and these were two games we could have gotten points out of. We didn't. Especially tonight was tough being in our building. I don't know what else really to say. We just didn't get it done."

Sound familiar?

The Blues have now only won one of their seven at home (1-5-1).

* NOTES -- After getting an assist on Steen's second goal, Patrik Berglund now has six points in four games after having only six points in his first 28 games. ... Forward Paul Kariya left the game after the first period with what the team is calling an upper-body injury. Kariya took an elbow to the head by Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta with 1:26 left in the period and did not return. ... Forward Keith Tkachuk also added an assist and now has 27 career points in 24 games against the Sabres. ... Buffalo's last win here was on Oct. 1, 1997, a 3-1 win.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Another lackluster performance in Blues loss to Lightning

Tampa Bay scores season-high six goals, snaps six-game winless skid against listless St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Christmas is not for another six days, but the Blues were in a giving mood Friday night.

Unfortunately, they continue to give away goals, give away points, give away room in the standings, and if they don't change something very soon, they'll give away their season.

The Blues were once again listless, they were poor in their own end and they turned an announced sellout crowd against them against a team that was a train wreck going downhill fast.

The Blues' 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning Friday before 19,150 fans -- many walking out of the turnstiles disappointed once again -- dropped the Blues back to .500 (14-14-5) and keeps the Blues at the bottom of the Western Conference.

Thirty-three games into the season, it's the same story when it comes to lack of execution that on the part of the Blues that made a winner of a Lighting team (12-14-9) that was winless in six (0-5-1) and one win in 12 (1-8-2).

The loss, painfully for the Blues, was reminiscent to ones suffered recently against Edmonton, in which the Blues blew a 3-0 lead, and the 3-0 loss to Chicago Wednesday.

"I would almost call this loss tonight dumb. It was a dumb loss," said a disgruntled Blues coach Andy Murray. "The goals we gave up ... to me, the game against Edmonton (Dec. 11) in the third period, in our own building, we got pushed around. Tonight, we just played dumb.

"I'm responsible here. I'm the head coach, and it doesn't sit well with me. We've got to talk about what we can do better as coaches as well. We've been pretty supportive of this group of players because in reality, these are the guys you have so you've got to get as much out of them as you possibly can. It's not like we're going to trade three, four guys. It doesn't work that way in the league now, so you've got to trust your guys. It's disappointing when we play like tonight."

The Blues, who got goals from Brad Winchester, T.J. Oshie and Keith Tkachuk, were sequestered in the locker room for a prolonged period of time and it seems to be something of a bad habit running free.

They allowed the Lightning to score a season-high six goals and on two occasions, they allowed goals seconds after they would get a big one themselves.

On each occasion, it was the next shift that cost the Blues precious momentum.

After Winchester's first of the season gave the Blues a 1-0 lead in the first, defenseman Roman Polak got caught on a pinch and Tampa's Alex Tanguay raced off on a 2-on-1, where Martin St. Louis tied the game 33 seconds later.

The Lightning had a 3-1 lead in the third when Oshie cut the deficit to one at 3-2 just 3:58 into the third period, but on the next shift a bad giveaway by Brad Boyes -- who had ample time getting a puck out of his zone along the right boards.

Boyes, instead of keeping the puck along the wall, threw a clearing attempt right into Tanguay's midsection. The puck stayed in the Blues' zone and Jeff Halpern scored the first of two goals just 14 seconds after Oshie's goal to make it 4-2.

"It shouldn't happen," Murray lamented. "We get a couple big goals and we gave up a goal right in the next shift. Bottom line is it shouldn't happen.

"Poor decisions, poor execution. You put trust in players, you put them on the ice to get the job done. We know what we need to do. We talked at great length about the idea that you have to be able to respond in key situations when you've scored a goal, or when the opponents have scored a goal, at the beginning of periods, at the end of periods, after power plays, after PK's. You have to be ready. That's a very important shift.

"We scored in both cases. They're going over it with the knowledge that it's a real important shift and we didn't get it done."

The Blues got within a goal again, as Tkachuk knocked in the team's second power play goal of the night -- they were 2-for-5 -- to make it 4-3, but another cough-up along the corner boards (Polak again) would up in the Blues' net as Halpern was on the doorstep of a Ryan Malone feed.

"The puck stayed on the wall and I just tried to hit it," Polak said. "We have to win those battles on the walls. I didn't and it ends up in our net."

Seems to be a Groundhog Day moment for the Blues.

"No loss is a good loss," said goalie Chris Mason, who stopped 18 shots on the loss with little or no help. "It just seemed like every time we got back in the game, they come back and score. For me personally, I've got to make saves at crucial times for our team. Tonight, I didn't really do that. Big shifts after we score goals are really important for momentum and things like that. I didn't get it done tonight and it resulted in a loss."

(Dec. 18) Lightning-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- A battle of conference cellar dwellers takes place tonight at Scottrade Center between the Blues (tied for last in the West with Anaheim) and Tampa Bay Lightning (14th in the East).

The Lightning, after a 10-6-7 start to the season, came into St. Louis 1-8-2 in its last 11 games and losers of six in a row (0-5-1).

The Blues (14-13-5 overall and 6-10-2 on home ice -- which includes a 5-10-2 record here at Scottrade) will go with similar lines from games past.

The forward line combos will looks like this:



The D-pairings will also remain the same:


Chris Mason will start in goal. He is 1-1 with a 3.53 GAA and a .865 save percentage in two career starts against the Lightning.

The Blues' healthy scratch is Patrik Berglund. Keith Tkachuk is back in the lineup after sitting out Wednesday at Chicago.

- - -

The Lightning, which dropped a 3-0 game at Detroit Thursday, will go with this lineup:

Malone-Stamkos-St. Louis

With Victor Hedman, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 draft, back in the lineup tonight after missing one game, the D-pairings will include:


Antero Niittymaki will backstop the Lightning in goal. He is 1-1 with a 3.01 GAA and a .909 save percentage in two career starts against the Blues.

Sorry, so tardy tonight! The Blues made a game-time decision as to who would be scratched.

Can benchings shake things up?

Healthy scratches of veterans could take effect for Blues, play host to Lightning today at 7 p.m.

ST. LOUIS -- It's a question that the Blues hoped wouldn't have to be asked 32 games into a season, but when they're laboring around the .500 mark and looking up in the Western Conference standings once again, chances are it'll come up a time or two.

Why are the Blues so inconsistent? Why are they good one night and poor the next? Why does the level of consistency jump from good to bad and vice versa?

"For whatever reason, we're up and down a lot," Blues center Jay McClement Thursday, a day after the Blues looked listless in a 3-0 loss at Chicago which was preceded by a 4-3 home win over Calgary Tuesday. "We come out with a great effort and the next night, it's kind of a disappointing effort.

"I wish I could put my finger on it, but you're not going to be a playoff team if you're not going to be consistent. Even sometimes when you play well, you may not win, but it's disappointing when you don't create much for ourselves, don't win a lot of battles. Those are the disappointing losses."

So again, it boils down to 60-minute efforts, which is blatantly obvious the Blues are not getting those on a consistent basis.

So what else can coach Andy Murray do?

Well for one, he can take the example of Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet, who will bring his Lightning into town for a 7 p.m. drop of the puck today.

Tocchet, whose team was 1-7-2 entering Thursday's game at Detroit, benched two of his veteran players Tuesday night in Nashville. Jeff Halpern and Alex Tanguay were both healthy scratches for that game and were made examples that nobody is safe when it comes to accountability.

"We've got eight (losses) in nine and I don't like the trend, certain individuals and as a team," Tocchet told Tampa reporters. "And that's probably my fault for letting it go the past three or four games. Sometimes you put the onus on the players and certain people to straighten it (out). But ultimately it's on my (rear end). Hopefully we'll have 18 or 19 guys going and not just 11 or 12."

Does Murray sit some of his veteran players, whom he obviously was disappointed with during Wednesday's loss to the Blackhawks? He's done it before, with defenseman Jay McKee being the most recent.

Don't bet against it.

"There's guys that are in our discussion group every morning," Murray said following Thursday's practice at Scottrade Center. "There's guys that were in our discussion group that we talked about this morning; do they deserve to play tomorrow night, and so on. We've got a discussion group, and you don't want to be in that one.

"We've done it here. We haven't done it so far this year," Murray added. "... You have to have alternatives. We're carrying an extra forward, which has normally been Cam (Janssen). You're somewhat limited in what you can do. Obviously, we don't have any extra defensemen here right now, so we're somewhat limited in what you can do."

Each locker room is different, and each react accordingly, so how would a veteran shakeup affect this locker room? Veteran Barret Jackman recently said, "If guys need to be sitting or if guys need to be smacked upside the head by a teammate, it's going to have to happen."

"For me personally, I've been around here enough and I've seen it enough," McClement said. "It's always an option, and it's always something, too, where you need to earn your spot in the lineup. Guys that have been around a while always mention it and it's brought to the other guys' attention that there's always (other) guys, whether it's extra guys here or its extra guys in Peoria. You need to earn your spot and you need to earn your ice time. You need to get results. It's the bottom line. We need to get results no matter how you get them."

Added McClement, "It's obviously disappointing for the guys that aren't in the lineup, but for the guys that are in the lineup, especially for the guys that are in those spots, the mentality is show them some respect and play as hard as you can. It happens a lot around the league. For us here, I know we've done it in the past. It means we need to start performing in the present."

One consistent for the Blues this season has been their goaltending, and had it not been for the solid outing by Ty Conklin, Wednesday's three-goal loss could have been even worse.

"There's nothing to feel good about that game (Wednesday) night," Murray said. "You can feel good about your goalie, but you can feel guilty as a teammate because of what you put that goalie through and the fact that he gave you a chance when it was 2-0 in that second period. If you get that next goal at any time to make it 2-1, it's maybe a different game ... because he's giving you a chance."

The Blues gave themselves little chance to get "that next goal" because their red and blue units were, according to Murray outchanced by their gray and gold units. And for the Blues, that's not where they're looking for the core offensive production to come from.

"We need them to play; we need them to play good," Murray said. "I don't want you to think that I'm unhappy with our roster status. I'm not. I have no issues with it. ... I guess you do it (bench players) if you think it's necessary. We haven't done it. We haven't sat one of them out yet because we haven't felt that that was the best thing to do. The lineup we've dressed every night is the one we think gives us the best chance to win."

Heading into tonight's contest, the Blues sit in a familiar position at 14-13-5, one they were in for many months last season before going on their 25-9-7 tear to make the playoffs. They are at the bottom of the Western Conference with 33 points, eight points behind eighth-place Detroit after the Wings knocked off these very same Lightning 3-0.

"It feels like we've had disappointing losses this year, but if you look at the standings, we just need to start having good efforts every night and start putting some solid games together and have a solid stretch," McClement said. "There's a lot of games to go, but that's not our mentality, that there's lots of time. We need to turn it around right away."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Blues cap off Brett Hull Night with victory

Oshie nets game-winner after Golden Brett compares himself to team's rising star

ST. LOUIS -- On the night the Blues honored one of their greats in Brett Hull, it was current Blue T.J. Oshie, who many tout will have the same kind of clout Hull once held in this city, that capped off a much-needed victory for the current squad.

And he did it Hull's way -- with a lethal wrist shot a goalie virtually has no chance of stopping.

With Hull watching up above, Oshie's goal late in the third period turned out to be the game-winner, something 'The Golden Brett' was quite accustomed to in his days playing here that gave the Blues a 4-3 win over the Calgary Flames Tuesday night in front of 19,150 at Scottrade Center.

"I went in and I saw T.J. Oshie and he reminds me of me when I was a kid and it just brought back a flood of memories of when I got traded here and walking into the old Arena and going, 'I'm going to show these guys what I got,'" Hull said earlier in the day. "That's the way he is."

Oshie was unaware that Hull made comparisons to him beforehand, but it was ironic that he would step up to the stage and net the game-winner with 4 minutes, 58 seconds left in the game off a terrific curl feed from Paul Kariya. Oshie waited out goalie Curtis McElhinney and snapped a wrister under the bar.

"Paulie just made a great pass," Oshie said of his sixth of the season. "I tried to find a hole, but there were a bunch of sticks and skates in the way. I'm not sure exactly how it went through.

"It was late in the period with a tied score, so I didn't want to get caught on the wrong side of the puck."

The Blues (14-12-5), who take on Chicago at 7:30 p.m. today at United Center, finally got some much-needed relief at home and improved to 5-10-2 here in this building.

They used the emotions of Brett Hull Hall of Fame Night to grab a pair of leads before seeing the Flames (19-10-4) go ahead in the second period but rallied to earn the victory.

With a tied score going into the third, the Blues did what they do best in winning the final 20 minutes and ultimately the game.

"The things that we talked about there in the last game, the willingness to battle 1-on-1, to win their confrontations, committed to get a win here tonight," Blues coach Andy Murray said. "That was certainly missing in our third period against Edmonton."

Andy McDonald scored a goal and added an assist -- McDonald's first goal in 15 games, David Backes had a goal and an assist and Brad Boyes tallied three assists in the game.

"When Brad Boyes moves his feet, he's a dangerous player," Murray said. "I thought Andy was skating tonight."

Alex Steen's power play goal late in the second period tied the game 3-3 when it looked like the Blues would be trailing going into the third.

"I think we were more mentally strong," Steen said. "I think we played throughout the 60 minutes. We kept our work ethic up. We're aggressive but still patient and played our game and we got the results. Great goal, great pass by Paulie to Osh and there's no question in Osh's mind it's going in so it's nice to see."

Backes won a battle near the Calgary blue line and worked it to Kariya, who brought the puck back into the slot from the left circle to an awaiting Oshie.

"I thought it was a great pass," Murray said. "I heard a little clink there, so he must have put it under the inside of the bar, right up top underneath. Good shot, good pass, good rush, execution, all the way around. Good pressure to the seam to the net that opened up the lane for Osh and Paul made a good pass."

The Blues scored just 3:56 into the game with Backes giving them the lead, as they used the emotions of Hull and all the past Blues greats.

"To come out and get the first goal was big," Boyes said. "... We wanted to play hard and play well obviously. I think the festivities helped us, but at the same time, it was a big game."

Calgary, which got goals from Rene Bourque, Daymond Langkow and Dustin Boyd, tied it before McDonald received a sweet pass from Boyes, flew down the right side and beat McElhinney with a snap shot with 1:09 left in the first.

"Before I got the puck, I kind of saw him take off and I saw their forward, who I assumed would have been with him, kind of played in the middle a little bit and I assumed the D-man would come up on me," Boyes said. "I just got it and tried to throw it up to him. Obviously with his wheels, he took that to the net and made a great play."

Langkow scored early in the second to tie it and Boyd gave Calgary a 3-2 lead 10:25 into the second, but Steen's goal with 2:37 left in the second made it 3-3 and Oshie, who acknowledged meeting Hull Tuesday scored the lone goal of the third.

"I met Hullie today and took a look at his stick," Oshie said. "I told him to critique mine a little bit. That was amazing meeting him."

When told of the comparison, Oshie laughed, "That's nice. No pressure.

"I don't know if I can get that many goals, but it was nice to be compared to him. ... It felt nice to get the game-winner."

Blues fans honor Hull for Hall of Fame induction

Flanked by former teammates, Golden Brett greeted loudly by sold-out Scottrade Center

ST. LOUIS -- As Brett Hull sat in front of a media throng Tuesday afternoon, he was as raspy, brash and colorful as he was when his blonde flowing locks peeked underneath his playing helmet.

Hull, arguably the greatest player to don a Blues jersey, has been through much since his playing days ended in 2005.

He had his No. 16 retired here in St. Louis, and in November, he was inducted into hockey's Hall of Fame.

On Tuesday night, the Blues brought 'The Golden Brett' back once again to honor him for his Hall of Fame induction, and they also invited a few of Hull's friends to help him bask in glory.

The cast included (those in attendance) Brendan Shanahan, Curtis Joseph, Wayne Gretzky, Garth Butcher, Phil Housley, Nelson Emerson, Al MacInnis, Bernie Federko, Tony Twist, Kelly Chase, Bob Bassen, Grant Fuhr, Geoff Courtnall, Sergio Momesso, Guy Carbonneau, Jeff Brown and coach Bob Berry.

Hull and a cast of 'Dream Team' members of past Blues players took the ice in a pregame ceremony honoring his recent Hall of Fame induction. And team minority owner Tom Stillman, on behalf of majority owner Dave Checketts, announced that a statue of Hull would go up in the future alongside those of Al MacInnis and Bernie Federko.

But on Tuesday night, Hull once again took the stage, as he has done many times throughout his 10 seasons as a member of the Blues, where he scored 527 of his 741 career goals and 936 of his 1,391 career points.

"I can't even put into words how great it is," Hull said Tuesday afternoon. "We went out last night and we had dinner. From Butchie, and Chaser and Twister and Shanny's here, Nelson Emerson, Wayne Gretzky came ... I can't even put into words how great a feeling it is because even though it's not the old Arena, it's home for me, and it'll always be a part of my life."

How unique was Brett Hull? He was part of the only father/son tandem to score 600 goals, 1,000 points and Hart Memorial Trophy recipients.

"Brett, he had it all. Shooting and smiling, I think he had the book," said Joseph. "He was always smiling and scoring and had the great personality and smart guy.

"He was the whole package. It was great to play with him. I'm glad I didn't have to play against him during those heydays. But certainly being a part of that and being a part of the circus and him being MVP was a great thrill."

Hull, who unwillingly departed as a free agent in 1998 and went on to win two Stanley Cups in Dallas and Detroit, admits his career would probably have taken a different turn had he not been traded to the Blues in 1988.

"I honestly don't think I would have (exploded onto the game like I did) if I wasn't here," Hull admitted. "From Susie Mathieu right to Mr. (Ron) Caron, I met one of my best friends in the world Kelly Chase here. You just don't have the success you have unless you're surrounded by great people, great fans, great city. This place ... St. Louis is indelibly etched in my life."

Hull, who won't hide his straightforward approach no matter what the issue was, clashed during his tenure here with Mike Keenan, still regarded as one of the most hated villains in St. Louis sports history.

"I saw Mike this summer and we've made amends," Hull said. "I'm way too old. I don't hold grudges. We had a great talk ... I always said this, I hated him as a coach, but he's a really good human being. We had a great talk and I've got no problem with Mike anymore."

But ...

"I'll go to my grave saying he didn't have a clue to what he was doing," Hull went on to say. "I never understood what he was doing, and it showed, I think, in what happened. If you look at the record and the people that went in and out and how things ended up, I think you'll see that."

Most of the Blues greats that were here Tuesday crossed paths with Keenan one way or another. They sometimes wonder what would have happened had they kept the core group together when the Blues were on top of the league in the early 1990s.

"Yeah, a little bit. We had some good pieces, but you just never know," said Shanahan, who went on to win three titles in Detroit after Keenan traded him in 1994 to Hartford for Chris Pronger. "I'm not going to get all dreamy and say we were on the cusp because you never know. Making yourself a contender is one thing, but getting to the championship ... it's really hard for all teams.

"We moved on. Ironically, I think we were all getting to the point where we wanted that. Three years after I left, I had already won two Stanley Cups. There was a part of us where we all wished we won one here. But it just wasn't meant to be."

Shanahan continued, "We were emotional, all of us. We all sort of left kicking and screaming. We were all pretty much heartbroken, but it's the business of hockey. Sometimes when new people come in, they want to have their stamp on the team and they don't want to have a team that another architect is responsible for. Sometimes change just happens. But we all just were talking about how much we cared."

Chase was among those that was dealt during his tenure here as well.

"There's a group of the guys where they were like, 'I don't really know what the reception will be because I didn't finish here,'" he said. "(Guys like) Cujo and Shanny and Gretz and I told them all the same thing. I said, 'You come into the greatest sports town. Nobody's booing you when you come here. You're coming here for Brett and you never left because you wanted to leave. Every one of you left because of circumstances you couldn't control.'

"The people here appreciate the athletes that were here. They're grateful that you played here. It's going to be awesome. I just think it's really neat that these guys all showed up for Hullie."

For all the great teams Hull was a part of, from winning his first Cup with Ken Hitchcock in Dallas to playing for the greatest coach in the game Scotty Bowman in Detroit, he says he'd put this cast up against any of them.

"Best ever," he said. "And think about the players we've had come through here. From the greatest player that ever walked the face of the earth -- Wayne Gretzky -- to Brendan Shanahan to Scott Stevens to Adam Oates to the two toughest guys I ever met in Chase and Twist ... good luck. They couldn't beat us."

Hull toured the arena and met current Blues favorite T.J. Oshie, whom Hull says reminds him of him. He says this group needs to do this more often.

"They're probably sick of seeing me, but I love being back," Hull said. "... You're going to have some of these great Blues now, they're going to be Hall of Famers, their jerseys are going to be in the rafters and hopefully, I came come back and be a part of their ceremonies.

"Right now, this is probably the last time I'll be on that ice and it's going to be a great feeling because I can't wait to be out there. It doesn't matter of you're scoring a goal or standing there in a suit, for them to cheer, it's the greatest feeling ever."

Hull is the Executive Vice President and Alternate Governor for the Stars and wants to win a Cup as an executive.

"Yeah, I wanna win a Stanley Cup as a non-player and hopefully that can happen in Dallas, but we'll have to wait and see," he said. "It's the hardest thing in sports to do. It's not like you can just say you're going to do it. Everything has to come. We have Joe Nieuwendyk as our GM now and I think he's a guy that knows what he's doing and we're going to get her done."

How about a move back here one day? He wouldn't rule it out.

"Would I give up those rings to be a part of the St. Louis Blues? It's hard to say," Hull said. "Winning a Stanley Cup is pretty special, but to be a part of this organization and this city, I think that is just special.

"I would never rule that out -- ever. It's a wonderful place. I'll always have a Bluenote on my heart forever."

"This is home for him," Chase said of Hull. "This is where he cut his teeth in the league."

(Dec. 15) Gameday news and notes

ST. LOUIS -- As the Blues prepare to play another hockey game Tuesday night, they had a chance to reflect on life’s changing moments.

Things were put into perspective when the players all visited area local children's hospitals as part of giving something back to the community.

Forget the Blues' home troubles on the ice. What they saw on Monday really puts what they do into perspective.

"I saw a child who was doing rehabilitation in his walker," goalie Chris Mason said. "For him to walk 10 steps, you could see the wincing and how hard it was for him just to walk to his wheelchair. We get to come here and play a game that we have dreamed of our whole lives. I realize how fortunate that I am to do this. You see those kids, and for them to be in the situation that some of them are in and they manage to smile and have fun, there's no excuse for us not to put it all out there when we're on the ice."

After a couple hard and rigorous practices Saturday and Sunday, Blues coach Andy Murray appreciates more than anything what the players did off the ice Monday.

"Hockey had nothing to do with yesterday," Murray said before Tuesday's game. "I thanked them on the ice at the end of practice for what they did. We've got some things that we're not happy about and there are some issues, but our guys went to the children's hospitals. To me, if that doesn't prioritize what life is all about and the fact that we're playing a game ... I told our guys that we're playing a game tonight. 'What you guys did (Monday) is special.' We have no issues compared to what those people are going through and those families and so on. That's what yesterday was about, and maybe the most important thing this year."

- - -

* Mason to play against Calgary -- Chris Mason will get the nod in goal, his first action since a 4-1 loss to Colorado on Dec. 7.

Mason, who comes into the game with an 8-9-4 record but his goals-against (2.44) and save percentage (.918) are among the league's best.

Needless to say, Mason is ready and refreshed and looking forward to the challenge.

"Obviously for myself, sitting out a couple games, you get hungry again and are eager to play again," Mason said after Tuesday's morning skate. "For the team, the last couple of days hasn't been too enjoyable. We should be ready to go tonight because there comes a point where enough is enough. You've got to start winning. Otherwise, you're going to see yourself on the wrong end of the standings again.

"I feel physically refreshed and ready to go. (Mentally), it's all part of it."

- - -

* Defending their turf -- Fans are getting on them, the pressure seems to mount with every passing day -- and loss.

But the way the Blues look at their 13-12-5 overall record and 4-10-2 Scottrade Center mark, they know there's nobody to blame but the ones in the mirror.

"It's tough, but we deserve everything we've got," Mason said. "We've done it to ourselves. At some point, it's good to stay positive but at the same time, you have to be realistic and it keeps happening time and time again. It's inexcusable. I think we really have to take it upon ourselves to get out of this. You can't keep making excuses for the play at home.

"I don't really know why because last year, this was a tough building to come in and we're not making it tough on teams right now."

- - -

* Berglund a healthy scratch -- Blues center Patrik Berglund, who has three goals and three assists in 26 games this season, will be a healthy scratch against the Flames, being replaced by Cam Janssen in the lineup.

"Some of our veterans haven't played well enough, so we're in a battle for points. Young guys like that, you can't have the patience you'd maybe like to have at times," Blues coach Andy Murray explained Tuesday morning. "... He's learning on the job; he would struggle this year a little bit, and I don't think it's unexpected. All of our young guys would be a little bit off (to a slow start) at the start of this year. I don't think that's unexpected, but what is unexpected is the production of our veteran players and that impacts those young guys like that because you're battling for points every night and these guys have a proven track record. You naturally give them the benefit of the doubt.

"Patrik needs to play better. He knows that. He knows what he needs to do. He's a bright, perceptive kid that gets it. He's a pleasure to coach. ... He's going to be a good player."

- - -

* Flames-Blues meet again -- The two teams met here on Nov. 5, with the Flames taking a 2-1 overtime decision on Dion Phaneuf's game-winner.

Calgary comes in 1-2-1 in its last four and in a foul mood after a 3-2 loss in Colorado Sunday.

"We outchanced them in that game, outshot them pretty bad in that game," Murray recalled. "They beat us in overtime. Their goalie (Miikka Kiprusoff, who stopped 30 shots) is OK."

The Blues, as they'd like to forget, are coming off that nasty loss Friday to Edmonton in which they squandered away a 3-0 lead and lost 5-3.

"You've got two ugly teams," Murray said. "They weren't very happy with their last game, last two games I understand which I watched both. We're not very happy with our last game, so two ugly teams. ... We always seem to get the Flames when they're ugly. That's most nights."

(Dec. 15) Flames-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- After today's morning skate, as the Blues prepare to face the Calgary Flames on Brett Hull Hall of Fame Night, Andy Murray's lines should look something like this:


The D-pairings will stay the same:


Chris Mason will be back in goal tonight, his first game since Dec. 7. I will have more on Mason in a bit, as I was able to talk to him today.

Janssen will replace Patrik Berglund (healthy scratch) in the lineup.

The Flames, who are 19-9-4 overall and 11-4-3 on the road -- one of the best in the NHL along with the Blues -- are expected to play the following lines:


D-pairings will include:


Instead of Miikka Kiprusoff in goal for the Flames, Calgary will go with backup Curtis McElhinney. McElhinney will be making only his fifth appearance of the season. He's 2-1 with a 2.91 GAA and .903 save percentage.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Blues hope to shake home funk on night honoring Hull

'Golden Brett' and other greats on hand for pregame ceremony; Calgary in town for 7 p.m. faceoff

ST. LOUIS -- While Blues fans will enjoy a blast from the past when the franchise honors Hall of Famer Brett Hull, who will be flanked by a teammates from his days with the team, the current squad will have will have their focus elsewhere.

Like trying to figure out how to get out of this home funk.

It seems like a broken record, and one the players and coaches are tired of being asked about but it's difficult when the Blues (13-12-5) bring a paltry 4-10-2 record into today's 7 p.m. game against the Calgary Flames.

There will be a pregame ceremony praising one of the greatest, if not the greatest players to don the Bluenote. There will be some big names in the house: Shanahan, Joseph, Courtnall, MacInnis, Federko, Housley, Fuhr, Butcher and more. There have also been reports that 'The Great One,' Wayne Gretzky was seen in St. Louis Monday night.

"We had a great young team that created lot of buzz and excitement because at the time, we had the Babe Ruth of hockey," said Shanahan of Hull, who played together here from 1991-1995. "Brett was brash and colorful, basically the same way Babe Ruth had captured people's attention in baseball. Every time Babe hit, he hit a home run. Every time Brett shot it, he scored a goal."

If the current version of the Blues don't get jacked up for what they will see in pregame festivities, it'll be hard-pressed to see what else can get them going.

But they better be careful, the last time Hull was honored here in 2006 with his No. 16 retired to the rafters, the Blues laid an egg in a 5-1 loss to Detroit, which was the beginning of the end that eventually cost head coach Mike Kitchen his job.

"Obviously, he's one of the biggest sports figures in St. Louis," Blues veteran Keith Tkachuk said of Hull. "He's really put St. Louis on the map for hockey and what he did. It's going to be a nice night for him. The building's going to be electric and we're going to have to take advantage of that. We're playing a tough team in Calgary, who's been probably the best team on the road this year. We've got our hands full. They play hard, and with all the atmosphere going on with Brett Hull Night, we better be ready to go."

The Blues also must find a way to get back their fans' trust, because for the first time this season, they were booed off the ice following Friday's 5-3 loss to Edmonton in which the Blues blew a 3-0 lead.

"I wouldn't have been surprised if management was with (the fans), the coaching staff was with them, maybe Conks and Mase (goalies Ty Conklin and Chris Mason) too because those guys put their efforts in and we needed more in the third period," forward David Backes said. "There's no question. We need more on a consistent basis and need to finish that game out. It just needs to happen. You can talk about it until we're all sleeping here, but it's just something that has to get done and we need to find a way as a group of 20 guys in here."

Calgary (19-9-4) comes in 11-4-3 on the road, but the Blues know all about playing solid hockey on the road. They have the least regulation losses (two) of all 30 teams in the NHL on the road, where they're 8-2-3 this season.

"We've got to find a way," Tkachuk said. "We're letting each other down here at home, leaving precious points on the table especially when we're out of the playoffs right now. In order to be a good team, a playoff-type team, you have to take care of your business at home and we haven't done that.

"I don't know what it is, but we've got to find an answer pretty soon."

But before the puck drops at 7, Blues fans will have the building charged up when they see Hull and Co. take the ice to honor a player that came here as a young golden-haired kid in 1988 and left 527 goals and 936 points later in a Blues uniform. He was known as 'The Golden Brett.'

Hull would finish with 741 career goals and 1,391 points with Calgary, St. Louis, Dallas, Detroit and Phoenix.

"I know what Brett means to St. Louis, and I know that St. Louis is in Brett's heart," Blues President John Davidson said. "St. Louis Blues hockey, one of the reasons it is where it is, is because of Brett Hull. That's simply said, but that's the simple truth."

"Most of us were young kids and we were riding the ride," said former defenseman Jeff Brown, a teammate of Hull's from 1989-1993. "It was unbelievable ... I don't think any of us realized what we were experiencing. We were just young and fun and enjoying it. It was pretty incredible, the following of Brett.

"He made all of us better players by seeing his work ethic. He worked tirelessly on his shot. I had the greatest years of my career because he was standing on my flank on the power play. People had to cover him. He gave the rest of us a lot more room to do our thing. Truly the greatest goal scorer to play the game, that's how good he was."

The Blues can only hope to show 'The Golden Brett' a little more than the team did the last time he was honored.

Time to park it

After pair of tough practices, Blues turn attentions towards Calgary

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Sundays are supposed to be a day of rest. It's the one day of the week with such a designation.

For the Blues, after a rigorous practice Saturday at the Ice Zone in St. Louis Mills, Sunday would likely have been a welcomed day of rest.

But there was still a little matter of blowing a 3-0 lead that culminated into a 5-3 disheartening loss to Edmonton on Friday.

And under coach Andy Murray, the message typically is to park a game -- win or lose -- once it's done and look forward to and begin preparing for the next opponent.

But there was the sense that the Ice Zone the past two days the team is in a foul mood, and some necessary tough love was needed from the coaches down to the players involved.

Practices were exhibited at full tilt, and players were served notice that the time is now to get this 13-12-5 record well above the .500 mark.

"We felt there were things that we needed to work on and we've used these last two days to emphasize it," Murray said. "Obviously, hard work is the first thing that was emphasized (along with) the compete level, the battling 1-on-1, making sure you put your team in a better position because you're winning the 1-on-1s. Obviously, the overall conditioning element was enhanced. I think there was certainly a message given, and I think it was received well by the players. They worked extremely hard and I think they felt that it was needed."

Saturday, it was veterans Keith Tkachuk and Barret Jackman pounding on each other, something typically not seen among teammates. And on Sunday, there were some purposeful 1-on-1 drills that saw Roman Polak and David Perron banging on one another, along with Jackman and Andy McDonald.

"It's the right message that's being sent to your young players," Murray said. "Look at how hard these guys are working, and if they can work that hard, you guys have to suck it up, no matter how tired you are. You've got to find a way to get through this practice."

And now, the Blues will channel their attentions to another challenge Tuesday when the Calgary Flames come calling.

It's time to officially park Friday night, curtail those negative thoughts and feelings from the loss to the Oilers. It's history. Done. Can't do anything about it now. Focus on the next foe.

"It would have been nice if we played the next night, I'll tell you that much," Tkachuk said. "That wasn't the case. ... You have to park it. There's too many big games coming up here and you have to let it go, but you have to learn from it also. ... So we had a bunch of days to watch video and some tough practices. We'll be ready to go Tuesday night.

"(But) these were some well-deserved kind of tough skates. We needed it. We knew the way we played they were going to be like that. We deserved it. ... Guys were getting on each other's skins (the last couple days), so that's a good sign."

Jackman has been the most vocal since Friday's debacle, and he took it another step on Sunday.

"Obviously talking isn't getting through to our team," Jackman said. "We're a very vocal group in the locker room, talking out problems, but it's just not working. Maybe we have to be more of the bad cop and start calling guys out individually, even if it is going to hurt their feelings or make them upset. It's a business now and we have to get this turned around or there's going to be changes made and nobody wants to see that happen."

Jackman made his points clear following Friday night's loss. His frustrations were clearly outlined on his face, when he talked about "if guys need to be smacked upside the head by a teammate" in order to shake things up within the walls of the locker room.

"When you were growing up, you're parents always gave you a little smack on the side of the head when you were mislaying," Jackman said. "You bring in the old-school approach and get guys going."

The Blues were in the old-school type of practices, and in order to stay away from those in the future, repeats of Friday's performances need to be strictly prohibited.

"I'm disappointed how (Friday's game) turned out. We're all frustrated," Tkachuk said. "We all know what a letdown game that was, but it's over with, you learn from it. We had some tough practices and we're ready to go Tuesday night."

The Blues must find a way to alleviate a 4-10-2 record inside Scottrade Center. All eyes will be on them as well, because the team is honoring recently named Hall of Famer Brett Hull in a pregame ceremony.

"We worked hard in practice for a reason, because we haven't gotten the job done in certain situations at home. We need to be better," Murray said. "They did the work in practice here. The most important thing is how they perform Tuesday night against Calgary. We'll see if there's a reciprocal effect from the two quality practices."

Friday, December 11, 2009

Inexplicable third period leaves Blues reeling

Team blows 3-0 lead, sees Edmonton score four third-period goals in 5-3 loss

ST. LOUIS -- Colossal collapse is the most appropriate term to describe the Blues' third period Friday night.

After playing what forward David Backes called "some of the best hockey we've played" in the first two periods against the Edmonton Oilers, the Blues reverted to some poor habits that saw the record-seeking Oilers sneak in and sneak out with a gift-wrapped two points and leave an announced sellout crowd and the Blues stunned.

Edmonton overcame a three-goal deficit and scored five unanswered goals -- four of them in the third period (three of them in a span of 5 minutes, 21 seconds) -- to leave the Blues dumbfounded with a 5-3 decision at Scottrade Center that left one leader wondering if the players needed to hold each other more accountable for what's sending a playoff team a season ago astray.

"We can't let each other off the hook," Blues defenseman and alternate captain Barret Jackman said. "It's got to come from within the room. It's got to be guys holding each other accountable.

"If one guy is not going to buy into the system, we have to give him a kick in the butt and get him going. ... We talk about it so much in the dressing room, but it's just not translating to our game. We've got to reel it in. If guys need to be sitting or if guys need to be smacked upside the head by a teammate, it's going to have to happen."

The Blues (13-12-5) were looking to snap Edmonton's five straight wins on the same trip. Instead, The Oilers finished it 5-1 and the Blues limped out of their own building looking for answers once again on how they fumbled away another lost two points on its home ice, where they are now an abysmal 4-10-2 here (5-10-2 overall at home with a "home" game in Sweden).

"The first 39 minutes and 45 seconds were some of the best hockey we've played," said forward David Backes, who picked up two goals in the loss. "We kept it simple (and) we played our game. It's tough to give up a goal in the first minute or last minute of a period. But we have to deal with that sort of thing.

"(It's a) 3-1 (lead) going into the third period, your goaltender's playing well, you feel pretty good. The whole third period, we didn't do the things that made us successful in the first two period. We didn't get pucks in the zone and play in their end, we were turning pucks over. They've got some firepower that made us pay. They make plays through the neutral zone, make plays on the cycle and made us pay tonight for taking it easy, kind of preventing ... playing that prevent defense rather than continuing our attack game in the third."

The Blues played in the Edmonton zone, they won loose pucks, won the 1-on-1 battles, they outworked their opponent -- like Backes said -- for nearly 40 minutes.

But there was a sudden hush in the crowd when Edmonton's Gilbert Brule put the Oilers on the map with a goal with 10.9 seconds left in the second to cut the Blues' lead to 3-1 and snap Ty Conklin's shutout streak at 133:55.

"We said all the right things in between periods," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "When we got on the ice, we didn't do them. I think that's been the theme all year. We know what we need to do. It's just when we step on the ice, we're not doing it. Whether it's us being individuals, or just when we get to plays, we panic, or just maybe make the wrong plays. It's something that's been going on way too long and if we don't clean it up right now, it's going to be a long season clawing our way from behind again."

Brule's goal was the beginning of the end, only the Blues didn't know it at the time.

They were hit with an avalanche of Edmonton skaters that outhit, outhustled, outworked, outbattled a team that coach Andy Murray says doesn't have the same will to win as their opponents do.

"The one thing you never want to have on your plate is the will to win seems to be stronger on the part of your opponent," Murray said. "That's something for a coach and for a team is something that is unacceptable. The guys discussed that after the game against Colorado (Monday, a 4-0 loss) and we talked about that before the Detroit game (Wednesday, which the Blues won 1-0) that our will to win needed to be higher. To me, in the third period, the will of the Edmonton Oilers was stronger than ours. Again, (it's) unacceptable."

The Blues held serve for half of the third period and traded minor barbs with Edmonton, a team that was playing without one of its top offensive-defensive weapons in Shelton Souray, who received a game-misconduct penalty late in that second period.

But a costly turnover in their own end eventually led to Brule scoring his second of the game in the high slot that made the score 3-2.

There was a sense -- particularly in the crowd -- that bad things were happening.

Unfortunately for the Blues, it was the start of an absurd stretch of play.

"I called a timeout when they made it 3-2 that there's an 11-minute hockey game to play," Murray said. "'The things you guys talked about the other morning, this is where it comes into play. You can't talk it, you've got to walk it here now.'

"I asked them to play with composure, play with the puck, stay assertive, play in their zone, be hard on (the puck), win your 1-on-1 battles. We didn't win enough 1-on-1 battles down the stretch, obviously."

Edmonton hit the Blues with the tying goal from Sam Gagner at 11:19, the eventual game-winner from Shawn Horcoff at 13:52 and an insurance goal from Dustin Penner at 17:03 for good measure.

In fact, it was the Penner-Gagner-Brule line that bruised and battered the Blues for nine points and a combined plus-12 rating.

"It's unacceptable," Jackman said. "Right after they got that goal at the end of the second period, it seemed like we flipped a switch and we were on our heels and just weren't doing the things that got us success in the first two periods. We weren't skating when we got the puck, we were standing still. Those little chip plays that got us into the zone, we weren't doing, we weren't executing is embarrassing. I think we lost a lot of 1-on-1 battles in the third period that cost us the game."

Those same fans that were cheering every solid play and effort by their hometown players, were booing loudly as the Blues gingerly skated off the ice.

"I wouldn't have been surprised if management was with (the fans), the coaching staff was with them, maybe Conks and Mase (Chris Mason) too because those guys put their efforts in and we needed more in the third period," Backes said. "There's no question. We need more on a consistent basis and need to finish that game out. It just needs to happen. You can talk about it until we're all sleeping here, but it's just something that has to get done and we need to find a way as a group of 20 guys in here."

Brett Hull Dream Team

ST. LOUIS -- In honor of his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Blues are celebrating the career of Brett Hull in a unique way. The franchise has invited Brett back to Scottrade Center along with 24 of his hockey peers to be part of Hull’s “Dream Team,” a collection of Hull’s former teammates and coaches personally picked by “The Golden Brett.” After much deliberation by the Blues all-time leading goal scorer, Brett has chosen his ultimate lineup:

Brian Sutter
Bob Berry

Brett Hull
Bob Bassen
Rod Brind’amour
Guy Carbonneau
Kelly Chase
Geoff Courtnall
Nelson Emerson
Bernie Federko
Doug Gilmour
Wayne Gretzky
Sergio Momesso
Adam Oates
Brendan Shanahan
Tony Twist

Jeff Brown
Garth Butcher
Steve Duschesne
Phil Housley
Al MacInnis
Chris Pronger
Scott Stevens

Grant Fuhr
Curtis Joseph

Dec. 11 Gameday news and notes

ST. LOUIS -- As much as been said of the Blues' struggles at home, they face the challenging task of preventing the Edmonton Oilers from setting an unprecedented road mark.

Think of all the greats to play for the Oilers, including the Great One himself, Wayne Gretzky. From Messier to Kurri to Anderson and Coffey, Fuhr ... the list goes on and on. And as awesome as those Oiler teams from the 80s and 90s were, they never won five consecutive road games.

The Oilers of 2009-10 will be looking for a record fifth straight road victory when they drop the puck at Scottrade Center at 7 p.m. today.

"To think of all the great teams the Oilers have had, and here tonight, they're going for the fifth (consecutive) road victory in a row," marveled Blues coach Andy Murray at Friday's morning skate. "It's almost hard to believe. It's tough to get that many wins in a row on the road obviously. You just have to take your hat off to the Oilers and how hard they're playing."

This is the last leg of a six-game trip for Edmonton, and they're 4-1, opening with a 7-3 loss in Vancouver before winning at Detroit (4-1), Dallas (3-2), Florida (3-2) and Tampa Bay (3-2).

"The only unfortunate thing is we couldn't play the Oilers two weeks ago," Murray said. "They're playing very, very well right now (6-3-1 in their last 10 games). They're playing the Oiler style of hockey that everybody has come to appreciate for years. ... Whenever it gets back to the basics, that's what you see from the Oilers is their hard work, their forecheck and how assertive they're playing. We're going to have to be at out best to beat them. I don't care if they've won four in a row or 10 in a row, we need to get two points tonight."

- - -

* PK on a roll -- Much has been made of the Blues' penalty killing unit, which certainly is on a roll right now.

They've killed off 27 straight penalties on the road and have not been scored upon this season in 5-on-3 situations, which is remarkable in itself.

"When you can get on a roll and get aggressive on teams, it's going to make them hesitate a bit," forward B.J. Crombeen said. "Obviously that first and second PK are important because (the opposition) is coming out with confidence, they're coming out with the plays they want to make. We're usually real good in preparing and knowing what their tendencies are. ... Any time you can make a power play hesitant, it obviously favors you."

But at home, the Blues have only killed one of the last five opportunities, which is another leading contributor to a less-than-stellar home mark, among many deficiencies.

"We've got a great road record and if we can translate that to home, we'd be at the top of the standings," Crombeen said. "It's something we've got to figure out here. We've talked about it and we feel it's as simple as our game plan, doing the things well, getting pucks deep, finishing our checks, going to the net. On the road, we keep things real simple."

So what has been the key to the Blues' recent PK success? Take a look at the welts on some of the bodies that partake in the PK unit. How about taking away the shooting lanes, or more importantly, saves by your goaltender.

"Your goalie's your best penalty killer," defenseman Mike Weaver said. "The forwards have done a great job of supporting us.

"Being a penalty killer, you don't get too much ink in the papers. We block shots, we do the stuff that needs to get done and we've been successful in the last little (while). Every team goes through their ups and downs in the penalty killing. Right now, I think our goalie makes the first save and we're able to get the rebound out of there and get it down the ice."

The Blues are tied for first in the league with eight power play goals allowed on the road and have the second-best PK percentage on the road (87.3 percent).

"You look at any great PK, the goalies have been great," Crombeen said. "We try to talk a lot out there and limit the quality of chances. They're obviously going to get shots, they're going to get their chances but try to get pressure when they're shooting. Make sure it's from the outside and not a backdoor tap-in play."

- - -

* Home sweet home -- So what do the Blues do with their home mark? It can only get better, and the way to get things rolling in their building is to play like they're away from home, according to Weaver.

"Play a road game at home," he said. "Just do the little things; get it in deep, it doesn't have to be fancy. That's what we have to do at home, too, instead of trying to be too skillful.

"On the road, we're simplifying the game. It's not rocket science out there. That counts for every single time we're on the ice. It doesn't matter whether you're home or away."

Murray calculates that 15 home losses is the norm for a season, so, "Out of 41 games at home, you should expect to lose about 15," he said. "That's how I'm going to look at it, we're probably going to only lose six the rest of the way. We've got our nine losses out of the way at home and we're maybe willing to accept a couple more but certainly not tonight against the Oilers. We play to win the rest of the home games."

(Dec. 11) Oilers-Blues Gameday Lineup (updated)


The very informative Chris Kerber let me know that the lines are different tonight. They will look like this, with Murray making a few changes:



D-pairings will stay the same:


Conklin in goal

Janssen and Pietrangelo healthy scratches

The Oilers will throw together a lineup that looks something like this:


D-pairings will include:


Deslauriers in goal as Khabibulin (back) remains out.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Blues must become stingier hosts

They play host to Edmonton tonight with worst home mark in West

ST. LOUIS -- It remains the biggest mystery in all of hockey: how can a team be among the league leaders on the road -- where it's even more difficult earning points -- yet be so putrid at home?

That's the defining question the 13-11-5 Blues face as they entertain the hot Edmonton Oilers (14-13-4) at 7 p.m. today (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).

After Wednesday's thrilling 1-0 win in Detroit over the Red Wings, the Blues improved to a scintillating 8-2-3 road mark. Judging by that mark, one would think the Blues sit pretty in the standings, right?

Well normally, one's home record is better than it's away mark. But not in this case.

The Blues' 5-9-2 mark at home, including 4-9-2 on Scottrade Center ice (they played Detroit in a "home" game in Sweden) is the worst in the Western Conference. Only Toronto and Florida (four) game fewer home losses, but taking away the Blues' "home" win over Detroit in Sweden, they're all dead-even in home victories.

"We have to pick up our home record," forward Brad Boyes said.

Yes, it's unthinkable. But more than anything, it's unfathomable.

"We've definitely got to fix this home thing, no question about it," forward Keith Tkachuk said. "It's just a matter of being mentally stronger and playing harder. I'm not saying (Wednesday night) was our best game, but the bottom line in this league, it's all about results."

And right now, the Blues are getting the results on the road, which has not been the case in recent seasons.

Even thought it's still early in the season, the Blues have not finished with a better than .500 mark is when they went 18-13-7-3 in 2002-03.

"It's no different (on the road)," forward David Backes said. "The ice sheet is the same, the crowd is a lot louder when you score at home. It's time to show our fans what we've been doing on the road and bring a good effort."

One reason the Blues can't seem to win at home? How about the last of finish. And even though they didn't burn the lights out at Joe Louis Arena Wednesday night winning 1-0, as Tkachuk said, the results is all that counts.

"We've just got to go out and play," Tkachuk said. "You can't worry about whatever situation it was. We've just got to build. We've got to get a 60-minute game. ... We've got to get everybody on the same page. We have the players here to do that. We've just got to go out and show it."

Are the Blues doing anything differently on the road as opposed to at home? That question was posed to a number of players here in recent weeks. Do they change anything when they come back to the home confines? Not so, according to defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo.

"Structurally, we're doing a lot of things well. We're creating a lot chances, so there's really not much you can change," said Colaiacovo, who assisted on Boyes' goal 1 minute, 56 seconds into Wednesday's game. "We're creating a lot, but we've got to grip the stick a little harder and bear down a little more and make sure they go in the back of the net and make sure we get more than they do."

That has been an issue here.

Of the Blues' 16 games at home (including one in Sweden), they've lit the lamp 33 times, but only 28 in 15 games at Scottrade Center, which rounds out to 1.87 goals-per-game.

"In this building, we've struggled getting points and finishing teams off," said defenseman Barret Jackman. "Right now, it's a battle every night and we don't expect it to be any different than that. Coming off the success we had last year, teams are playing even harder against us because they expect that from us and we expect that from ourselves."