Ducks prevail in six rounds; Hitchcock not pleased with goalie's performance
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues played better in a shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks Saturday night, but a staple to their team a season ago suddenly has more holes than a slice of swiss cheese.
And their coach is not too happy about it.
The Blues' 6-5 loss to the Ducks saw flashes of good play on the ice early, second-period breakdowns that got the Blues (6-4-1) behind after going up by two goals, then recapturing it in the third period. But in another less-than-stellar performance by Brian Elliott in goal has the Blues concerned, enough for Hitchcock to name Peoria call-up Jake Allen as his starter Monday against the defending Stanley Cup champs if Jaroslav Halak (groin strain) is not ready for action.
The Blues' T.J. Oshie (right) and Anaheim's Matt Beleskey battle for a
loose puck Saturday night at Scottrade Center.
"Not playing very good. Not much I can say ... not playing very good," Hitchcock said of Elliott, who stopped only 18 of 23 shots as well as allow four shootout goals on six chances. "He'd be the first to tell you too. He's got to play better. If Jaro's not ready, then we'll play Jake Monday."
Halak, who suffered a groin strain Dec. 1 at Detroit, was on the ice Saturday taking shots with goalie coach Corey Hirsch. His lateral movement looked strong and appeared to have no problems in any other area.
Hitchcock, who said if Halak was not ready Monday, "then Wednesday ... or at least sometime this week," has seen Elliott's numbers shrink by the game.
Elliott, who was part of the best goalie tandem in the National Hockey League last season with Halak when they won the Jennings Trophy, saw his record fall to 3-4-1 with a 3.51 goals-against average and .853 save percentage. This, after he was 23-10-4 with nine shutouts, 1.56 GAA and .940 save percentage.
"A goalie's no different than a defenseman or a forward," Hitchcock said. "Guys come in and out of the lineup based on their performance. You can't stay in the lineup if you don't play well. I don't care who you are. He's got to play better."
The Ducks scored on four of six shootout attempts, including Nick Bonino's first-ever attempt which was the game-winner, Saku Koivu, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf.
The Blues got shootout goals from David Perron, Chris Stewart and Alex Steen.
The Blues thought they had the game-winner with 22.2 seconds left in overtime when Ian Cole beat Ducks goalie Viktor Fasth, but the officials waved the goal off, calling Patrik Berglund for incidental contact with the goalie. Replays showed Francois Beuchemin give a bit of a push to Berglund, forcing the contact.
"I was pretty excited. I blacked out for a second ... I don't know what happened," Cole said. "I usually just score one goal a year, so that's it. I'm done now. You go from a pretty high to I guess shock almost. You're like, 'Wait, what just happened?'
"I didn't really see it. I didn't get an explanation. Obviously the refs didn't want to talk to me. I guess it was goalie interference. I didn't see it, but it is what it is. We still tried to get one there in the last 20 seconds."
Hitchcock thought Berglund was shoved.
"Yeah, I thought he was pushed," Hitchcock said.
Ryan had a four-point night including his third and fourth goals, the ageless Teemu Selanne had a goal and three assists, Koivu collected a goal and an assist and Beauchemin picked up a pair of assists as the Ducks overcame a two-goal deficit. Fasth, after a tough start to the game, stopped 26 shots to pick up his fifth win in as many starts to begin his NHL career, tying San Jose's Norm Schaefer (Oct. 26-Nov. 5, 2005) for best start to begin an NHL career.
The Blues, who allowed five or more goals in four straight games for the first time since Oct. 25-Nov. 4, 2005, got a goal and an assist from David Backes, Steen and Stewart, Perron and T.J. Oshie also scored goals and Kevin Shattenkirk and Andy McDonald picked up a pair of assists.
"We played a heck of a hockey game," Hitchcock said, citing the first and third periods. "What are you going to do? We played a heck of a hockey game and we got only one of the two points.
"If we can build on this, this is a really good sign for us. And what I said to the players, 'When you lose, it takes a while to build it back.' We've got a ways to go to build it back, but there were some great steps today."
Hitchcock was looking for a better start from his team and got one, as the Blues jumped on the Ducks with relentless pressure and took a 3-1 lead.
Steen netted his first of the season, as the Blues improved on their league-leading power play that came in 13-for-39 on the season, ripping a slap shot through Fasth's five-hole 6:21 into the game.
But for all the good play the Blues got in the game, Anaheim equalized on arguably the worst goal Elliott has allowed in his tenure as a Blue.
Ryan got the Ducks even with a soft wrister from the high slot that squirted through Elliott and trickled behind him. It was Anaheim's first shot of the game at the 11-minute, 9-second mark.
Backes scored the Blues' first 5-on-5 goal in the last 182:26 when he collected a deflected shot at the top of the circle and snapped a wrister top shelf with 4:30 remaining in the period.
Perron got his third of the season when he collected Shattenkirk's point shot and fired into an open side after a Fasth save with 34 seconds left to give the Blues a two-goal lead.
It was the kind of start the Blues wanted ... and needed.
But the ice tilted heavily in favor of the Ducks in the second, who got goals from Selanne, Andrew Cogliano and Ryan in a span of 1:41 to erase a two-goal deficit.
Selanne netted his 667th career goal when Koivu's shot from the slot deflected off a Blues defender to the side of the net, where Selanne won't miss many open sides at 12:40 to cut the deficit to 3-2.
Cogliano tied it 45 seconds later when his shot from a bad angle went in off Elliott's left skate as the Blues netminder was moving post-to-post, and Ryan picked up his second of the game off broken coverage, and Ryan roofed a wrister at 14:21 to give the Ducks their first lead of the game.
"We went from playing well to not-so-good and then we finished well," Steen said. "There's not much more to say. We got a point, but we need to play better through 60 minutes.
"We just made mistakes again. We went back to what we were doing the last couple games, straightened it out again in the third."
Instead of wilting, the Blues got the equalizer from Oshie, who pursued Ducks' defenseman Toni Lydman and poked the puck through traffic with a heavy forecheck that sneaked past Fasth to tie the game 4-4 3:21 into the third.
Koivu gave the Ducks a 5-4 lead when he one-timed Ryan's pass high into the goal past Elliott with 6:19 remaining, but Stewart popped home a puck at the side of the net, a Steen shot through traffic on the power play again with 4:34 to play to tie the game 5-5. Fasth had given up only five goals in his previous four starts.
Alex Steen (left) maneuvers past Anaheim's Sheldon Souray Saturday night.
Steen had a goal and an assist as well as a shootout goal but the Blues fell.
"We start well, finish well," Steen said. "In the middle of the game, we let them back in and they actually take it over."
And in the shootout, Perron scored to send things into sudden death. Stewart and Steen each scored and just needed a stop from Elliott on one of those attempts, but he allowed Perry and Getzlaf to beat him to prolong the shootout before Berglund fired high and wide to set up Bonino's winner.
Hitchcock was asked if he ever considered pulling Elliott in the game. He paused before replying, "No, I wanted to see if we could fight through this. I was really impressed with the way we fought. I was really impressed with the third period. We've played some really good hockey as of late and not being rewarded ... could have really won the game.
"I was really surprised they didn't count (Cole's overtime) goal. It's too bad we didn't get that save when we needed it. Could have won it in overtime, but overall, these are big steps we made today. We really competed for 45 minutes at a very high level, which is a good sign."
* NOTES -- The Blues also announced during the game that veteran wing Jamie Langenbrunner will be sidelined indefinitely. Langenbrunner, 37, will have surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip. ... The Blues honored defenseman Wade Redden for his 1,000th career game in a pregame ceremony.