Aside from stringing together three impressive wins, the Blues were putting their playoff pieces in place last week. Their scoring was back, a gritty veteran line combination was developing, a decision to change their defensive pairs showed promise and their new goaltender gained traction in his adjustment process.
Then a 4-2 loss to Dallas on Saturday night at Scottrade Center undid all of that.
“It’s frustrating,” Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “You really start moving things in the right direction and then you kind of take a step back. But we’ve got a couple of days here to figure that out and move on to the next one. All we can really do is prepare ourselves and get ready to play on Tuesday.”
The Blues will return to the ice Tuesday to take on Philadelphia, a team that clubbed them 4-1 just 10 days ago, before they went on their three-game winning streak. On Sunday, the Flyers battled Boston, the top team in the NHL standings, before falling 4-3 in a shootout.
So the Blues expect to have their hands full in the first of eight games remaining in the regular season before the start of the playoffs.
In Saturday’s loss, the Blues outshot Dallas 35-27, outhit the Stars 29-19 and won the face-off duel 59-41 percent. But the team fell as a result of relying too much on its top line centered by David Backes, witnessing breakdowns in the defensive zone and watching a subpar outing by goalie Ryan Miller that may have left some wondering if he’ll live up to his billing in St. Louis.
“It alarms you, but you’ve just got to get back to work,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “What we really needed (Saturday) was for other people to step up and didn’t get it. That’s what we needed. We’ve counted on one line for a good portion of the time; now we needed other people to step up — didn’t get it.
“That’s what worries me. We need other people to grab the rope here a little bit. The Backes line isn’t going to be perfect every night, but this was a real opportunity for other guys to really step forward, really help us. That’s what we need.”
Alexander Steen scored both of the Blues’ goals Saturday. Although each came on the power play, it extended a run in which 11 of the team’s last 13 goals have been scored by Backes, Steen or T.J. Oshie.
The veteran cast of Steve Ott, Derek Roy and Brenden Morrow combined Saturday for no shots on goal and a plus-minus rating of minus-5.
The line of Chris Porter, Maxim Lapierre and Ryan Reaves had two shots and was a minus-3. That group was on the ice for Cody Eakin’s back-breaking goal, which gave the Stars a 3-1 lead just 25 seconds after the Blues had trimmed their deficit to 2-1.
“What we are right now is too inconsistent,” Hitchcock said. “We’ve got too many players who are having good games and then are following it up with poor games. Right now, we can’t afford to do that. Have to send a few messages here in the next couple games and see if we can get everybody’s attention.”
The defensive pairs didn’t look as strong Saturday as they had since a recent change. Barret Jackman and Roman Polak, who had been solid after being reunited, were a minus-5.
“I thought we were quiet on the ice — a little quieter than normal,” Pietrangelo said.
Miller allowed four goals on 27 shots, dropping to 9-3-1 with the Blues and seeing his save percentage fall to .912 in 13 appearances.
“He was like our team, really average,” Hitchcock said.
Miller labeled the game as “pretty disappointing” and acknowledged that while he’s going through an adjustment period, “learning or not, I’ve got to come through.”
Pietrangelo said that Saturday’s defeat was a case of the Blues, not Miller, failing to come through.
“(Dallas) scored some good goals,” Pietrangelo said. “We didn’t really box out and we gave up breakaways. We brought him in here for a reason. He’s been great since he’s been here. We’re kind of leaving him out to dry.”
Although Hitchcock pointed out that the Blues were guilty of “just throwing our sticks on the ice” Saturday, the players insisted they’re not looking too far ahead to the postseason.
“I mean, listen, we all knew in February that we were probably going to be there,” defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “So I think we’ve been dealing with it for a while. But to be honest, the mood in the locker room isn’t, ‘Let’s just get to the playoffs.’ We really want to win the Presidents’ Trophy, and that’s what we’re really driving for right now.”
Added Pietrangelo: “Sometimes you just don’t play the way you need to play. I don’t think (Saturday) was a case of looking too far ahead. We’ve got something to prove. We want to finish first and you’ve got to win hockey games to do that. We know where we are in the standings, we know the situation, but we’re not jumping ahead here.”