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Blues not in the zone, fall to Jets

Blues not in the zone, fall to Jets

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St. Louis Blues v Winnipeg Jets

Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien (left) competes for the puck against St. Louis Blues center Jori Lehtera in overtime Tuesday. Photo by Chris Lee, clee@post-dispatch.com

The Blues’ offense has been slumping for some time, and while fatigue was mentioned as a factor before the All-Star break, the effort seemed to be acceptable.

That wasn’t the case in Tuesday’s 2-1 shootout loss to Winnipeg, in which the Blues managed just 22 shots on goal and came up with their only goal on the power play.

“I don’t think we competed in the offensive zone at all,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We didn’t compete for the puck. Our goalie was our best player again, played great. We didn’t compete for the puck in the offensive zone. Pretty simple. Lots of opportunities to do it and when you don’t have the puck you can’t score. We didn’t have the puck. Pretty simple.”

That said, even when the rules gave the Blues the puck — in the shootout — they couldn’t do anything with it. Two of their four shooters, Alexander Steen and Jori Lehtera, never even got their shots off. Brian Elliott stopped Winnipeg’s first three tries, but on the fourth, the Jets’ Mark Scheifele put the puck past him for the Jets’ first victory over the Blues in four tries this season.

A crowd of 18,323 saw the Blues wrap up their three-game homestand with a record of 1-2. The club will head to the Sunshine State for two against Florida and Tampa Bay beginning Friday.

As Hitchcock alluded, Elliott was the Blues’ best player. He allowed one goal on 33 shots, and though the one goal was a bit deflating, it was the fifth time in his past seven games that he’s allowed one goal or fewer. He’s 3-2-2 in that stretch with a 1.27 GAA and a .958 save percentage.

But once again, Elliott had little offensive support. The Blues have scored one goal or less in five of their last six games and have just three five-one-five goals in the last 322 minutes, 3 seconds of regulation play.

“The puck is part of the game,” Hitchcock said. “There’s a reason you score goals five on five. There’s a reason you create multiple chances. You have to work, you have to compete when you have the puck and not be discouraged because you’re getting checked. There’s a reason why we’re scoring just one goal. Pretty simple. We’ve needed the power play the last two games, thank God, but we just don’t, we don’t compete when we get checked in the scoring areas near as hard as we have to.”

The Blues have scored five goals in their past two games, and four have been on the man-advantage. They had another Tuesday, after Winnipeg opened the scoring.

In their first game without injured defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, saddling Kevin Shattenkirk with 27:54 of ice time, the Blues fell behind 1-0 just 15 seconds into the second period.

Shattenkirk fanned on a chance to clear the puck from the defensive zone. Dustin Byfuglien then put a shot on net that deflected off Shattenkirk’s stick and popped in the air toward Elliott. The netminder camped under the puck like an outfielder waiting on a fly ball, but after he got a glove on it, it dropped in the crease and lay free.

Bryan Little and Steen were the closest to the puck. Steen seemed unaware of its whereabouts, allowing Little to pump it past Elliott for his 16th goal this season.

“It was spinning up in the air and you kind of lose it up in the lights and stuff,” Elliott said. “No excuses; they capitalized on it. It’s frustrating that that’s the one they get ...”

The Blues answered with a power-play goal by defenseman Colton Parayko.

Late in the team’s man-advantage, Lehtera dropped a pass back to the point for Parayko, who teed up one of his blistering slap shots. It sailed past goalie Connor Hellebuyck for the rookie’s seventh goal of the season and first in 21 games.

“I had an open lane right down the middle,” Parayko said. “Can’t really pass up those opportunities on the power play.”

The Blues’ power play, which had gone 24 consecutive chances without a goal, had its fourth goal on its last eight opportunities. Meanwhile, their penalty-killing unit snuffed out all five Winnipeg power plays.

But while special teams have offered their support lately, the Blues’ even-strength offense has not pulled its own weight.

“We just need to find ways to create more offense,” Shattenkirk said. “I think that’s just something we have to go back to the drawing board and figure out how we’re going to do that. It’s little things, it’s details, it’s getting pucks in, good passes, it’s getting out of our defensive zone clean, which we didn’t do tonight. I think that falls on us. Game planning, that’s something we’ll talk about as a team with the coaches and try to figure something else out.”

Added Hitchcock: “It’s up to us to fix it. Pretty simple fix, quite frankly. We all talk about line combinations and chemistry — you’ve got to play harder than this. A lot harder than this. You’ve got to compete at a lot higher level than this, bottom line.”

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Jeremy Rutherford is the lead Blues beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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