Falling behind is something the Blues have gotten very accustomed to lately, though that hasn’t necessarily made them any better at dealing with it.
The Blues’ funk continued Tuesday night at Scottrade Center, and the game looked a lot like the other games on the homestand, most of which ended badly. The Blues fell behind early, fell behind further later and, more serious than just being behind early, they were behind at the end when the final math was done.
The Blues lost to Eastern Conference-leading Montreal 5-2 to finish a decidedly unspectacular four-game homestand with a 1-3 record, netting two fewer points from those games than they got on the two-game road trip that preceded it. They now spend most of the next month on the road, which can’t be any worse.
The Blues lost just four of their first 26 home games in regulation this season, but they have lost four of their past six. With Nashville winning Tuesday, the Blues are nine points back in the Central Division with 22 games to play and three points up on third-place Chicago. Goalie Jake Allen had his six-game winning streak snapped and lost for the first time in 2015.
The Blues were behind 1-0 early, and it fell apart when they gave up three goals in the second period, one on a shot from a tight angle, another on a 2-on-1 after an ill-advised pass and the final one on a bad-timing breakaway. If one of the goals of Monday’s teaching session was to hold down an opponent’s odd-man rushes, the Blues didn’t get that done. It seemed like every minute or so, the Canadiens had a 2-on-1.
When the game ended, defenseman Alex Pietrangelo fired the puck down the ice in disgust, and after the game Coach Ken Hitchcock’s frustration with the recent turn of events was evident.
“What we’re doing is not paying any respect to checking,” he said. “We’re not paying any respect to defense, to managing the puck, to managing the proper way to play. I don’t care what the shots on goal are. When you give up as many odd-man rushes as we gave up in the last two games, we’re showing no respect for what matters in the National Hockey League at this time.
“And in the offensive zone, the sense of urgency that we’re not playing with, that we’ve played with all year, is not there. That’s why we don’t score, that’s why we don’t get second and third chances, that’s why we don’t win the front-of-the-net battles. Those combinations are lethal the wrong way. You have no control over the hockey game because of the scoring chances you give up off these odd-man rushes.
“We’re a team that’s made a lot of great inroads on playing a certain way and now we don’t want to play that way, and we’re not interested in playing the way that’s been successful here. We want to play a different way right now and it’s really, really hurting us.”
“It’s not just saying it because I’m a goalie,” Allen said. “If I was a forward, I’d say the same thing: You can’t give up that many odd-man rushes. That’s where they live and die. It’s almost playoff hockey time now, time to go back and tighten things up a little bit.”
The Blues did generate more offense with their rejiggered lines, with more shots on goal than in either of the previous two games, but if chances were up, goals remained down and the power play was shut out for the third time in the past four games. It’s the kind of play that leads to rejiggering of more than just lines.
“Proof’s in the pudding,” Hitchcock said. “It’s something we need to address now.”
Montreal was outshot in the first period 7-6 but had the better chances and had the only goal. With 6:38 to go in the first, P.K. Subban, whose brother Malcolm lost to the Blues as a goalie for Boston on Friday, took a shot from the blue line that Alex Galchenyuk got the blade of his stick on to redirect past Allen for the goal.
The Blues have now given up the first goal in their past eight home games and have scored just one goal in the first period of the past seven home games.
“It’s never good to play from behind,” Pietrangelo said, “especially when you’re playing a top team like they are. It wears on you throughout a game playing from behind.”
Montreal went up 2-0 just over three minutes into the second period. Galchenyuk got the puck low in the circle to Allen’s right and found a narrow gap between Allen’s arm and the near post for his second goal of the game and one Allen certainly wishes he had another crack at.
The Blues got one back less than three minutes later at the end of some nice passes. After another penalty to Subban had just ended, Alexander Steen fed T.J. Oshie up high, who passed to Vladimir Tarasenko down low, who this time used his considerable patience to hold the puck until the defense came to him and sent the puck to David Backes in front of the goal to score. It was the 20th goal of the season for Backes, who has scored 20 in each of the past four full NHL seasons.
The Blues threatened a few times to tie but couldn’t beat Carey Price and Montreal scored twice in 1:17 to shift the game the other way. With the teams playing four on four after roughing penalties on Ryan Reaves and Montreal’s Michael Bournival, Tarasenko tried to leave a drop pass for Jay Bouwmeester but missed. Brendan Gallagher got the puck on a 2-on-1 and kept it himself, finally beating Allen for the goal.
The penalties ended just as Montreal got control of the puck, and, since it was the second period, Bournival came out of the penalty box behind the play. Galchenyuk flipped the puck ahead to Bournival, who was in alone on Allen with Reaves in pursuit, and he went into the top right corner for his third goal of the season and a 4-1 lead that pretty much put the game to rest.