Hockey Guy: So much for Halak's heroic return

2013-02-12T00:40:00Z 2013-02-12T08:56:05Z Hockey Guy: So much for Halak's heroic returnBy Jeff Gordon stltoday.com

Well, it was a thought anyway.

No. 1 goaltender Jaroslav Halak was set to make a timely comeback from his groin muscle strain.

He healed up just in time to face the Los Angeles Kings, the defending Stanley Cup champions. This was Halak's shot to save the day, to help his slumping teammates snap their four-game losing streak.

Expectations were high Monday night at Scottrade Center. Finally the turning point was at hand.

And then Halak failed to make it through his first pre-game warm-up without aggravating his injury.

That turn of events thrust beleaguered goaltender Brian Elliott back into the fray with unhappy results.

The listless Blues fell to the Kings 4-1, extending their losing streak to five games. Never on Ken Hitchcock's watch has this team suffered such a dramatic downturn.

Now the Blues head out onto the road, starting Wednesday night at Detroit against the surging Red Wings.

Uh, oh!

This debacle left fans wondering if the general manager Doug Armstrong needs to so something. (Since he was in Toronto watching the Maple Leafs and Flyers play, the rumor mill started churning for real.)

No contender has more salary cap space to work with right now. Does Armstrong need to give the team’s chemistry a jolt?

Does he need to add a another veteran goaltender, since rookie Jake Allen has given little indication he is ready to carry a load?

Something has to give. Hitchcock's message is falling on unresponsive ears. Suddenly the Blues aren't willing to play the 200-foot game for more than a few minutes at a time.

Elliott survived the first period with just a 1-0 deficit. He didn’t have much of a chance on the LA goal, since noted finisher Jeff Carter skated to the net unchecked to convert an odd-man rush with a deft redirection.

Later in the period Elliott got just enough of two Kings shots, one that also glanced off the post and one that trickled just wide. The first shot came after a Wade Redden turnover and the second came on a Kings power play, the result of a David Backes elbowing penalty.

Elliott kicked out his right leg to make a pad save on a Mike Richards’ power-play blast during the first minute of the second period. But a few minutes Carter blasted up the right wing, went around Ian Cole and scored the lay-up.

Midway through the second period a particularly bad Cole shift allowed the Kings to camp in the Blues zone and menace Elliott repeatedly.

A Roman Polak boarding penalty led to another Kings power play and a 3-0 second-period lead. (Backes did the alleged “boarding,” but Polak somehow got the penalty.)

This time it was defenseman Davis Drewiske finding the inside of the right post while two teammates screened Elliott. Again, there was not a lot he could do there.

At the other end of the ice, the Blues suffered some bad luck – such a Vladimir Tarasenko drawing iron instead of net after taking a sweet set-up pass from David Perron during the first period.

Alex Pietrengelo got a golden second-period opportunity trailing a Blues rush, but he couldn’t find a hole in Kings goaltender Jonathan Bernier.

Finally the Blues breakthrough came on a last-minute power play in the second period, with Alex Steen wiring his point shot past Bernier.

But the kill shot came 3 1/2 minutes into the third period when Kings center Jarret Stoll took a cross-ice pass from defenseman Slava Voynov and blasted LA's fourth goal into the open net.

Elliott made a few nice saves in this game and really didn't allow a bad goal. But still another loss still stuck to him, raising serious doubts about his readiness for the road games ahead.

Can he steal the Blues a game or two on hostile rinks to get them back on track? Can the Blues rally en masse and give Elliott a chance to "earn" an easy victory or two?

Or will the suffering continue unabated?

Follow Jeff Gordon on Twitter @gordoszone and on Facebook at Gordo'sZone.

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Jeff Gordon

This is the new home for STLtoday.com sports columnist Jeff Gordon. Here you'll find his columns on the Cards, Rams, Blues and more, plus his daily "Tipsheet" blog about who's in and who's out in the world of sports.



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