Coaching change magic doesn’t last very long nowadays, or at least it’s not strong enough to overcome the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Penguins, with the fourth-best record in the NHL and the most productive offense, made up for a 3-0 loss to the Blues in Pittsburgh just before the All-Star break with a 4-1 win over the Blues on Saturday in St. Louis.
“I know it’s been a long emotional week for everybody,” coach Mike Yeo said after his second game as head coach after Ken Hitchcock’s firing. “We had a good game (on Thursday) and this was not a good game. What I’ve said all along is, we need to continue to build our game. It has to be our focus. We’ll take out of this what did well enough and push forward.”
If the win over Toronto came with a boost of emotions after Hitchcock’s dismissal, the Blues got a reminder that turning things around won’t be easy.
“This should serve as a pretty good reminder,” Yeo said. “We’ve said that. We’ll learn from why we’ve had some success and we’ll learn from why we haven’t. We’ll go to the video and get re-energized for our next test.”
The loss cost the Blues two points, but another loss may sting for longer. Forward Robby Fabbri left with a lower-body injury in the first period and did not return. His slowness to get off the ice, and his very slow departure, with no pressure being placed on his left leg, raised the distinct possibility the young forward may be out for a while. Yeo said after the game that an update would come on Sunday.
“That’s never something you want to see and we’re wishing the best for him,” forward Jaden Schwartz said. “That’s a tough break there.”
“It’s really tough to see,” said Patrik Berglund, the center on Fabbri’s line.
The Blues lost Fabbri when he was checked into the boards in front of the team’s bench with 11:18 to go in the first period by Pittsburgh’s Carter Rowney. Fabbri was skating up ice and had just let go of the puck when hit, and made contact with the left side of his body. He went to ground, briefly reaching around his knee as he fell on his back before rolling over onto his knees and staying there.
He did not get up quickly and when he did, he put no pressure on his left leg as he left the ice and was helped down the hallway.
Fabbri is tied for fourth on the team in goals with 11, though his performance has been streaky. He went 12 games without scoring to start the season, then had 11 in his next 23 games. He went into Saturday’s game without a goal in 15 games.
But there were encouraging signs in his game. After not putting a shot toward the net, on target or off, against Minnesota in the last game before the All-Star break, he had six shots on goal against Winnipeg and three against Toronto. In his 2:05 of ice time before the injury on Saturday, his one shot attempt was blocked.
The team leaves on Sunday for a game in Philadelphia on Monday, and with only one extra forward on the roster, Dmitrij Jaskin, a callup from Chicago could be expected if Fabbri’s injury is as bad as it looked.
The game turned early in the second period, when the Blues couldn’t score on an extended power play that included 80 seconds of a five-on-three advantage. They could have tied the game with a goal but managed just one shot on goal (Vladimir Tarasenko, who saw his scoring streak end at three, hit a post) and the Penguins turned it into a 2-0 lead when it ended when Kris Letang came out of the box and took a pass for a breakaway and scored on Jake Allen.
“That’s a tough bounce,” Schwartz said. “That could have been a huge swing in the game. We had a few chances, we missed the net by an inch or two. That’s the way it goes some times.”
“It was tough,” defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “It was a tough break. Sometimes you come out of those when you don’t get a goal but for them to get a breakaway out of it, that’s tough. It was perfect timing for a play like that and we paid for it.”
Allen faced 30 shots for the Blues, gave up three goals and made some nice saves but he was no match for Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, who had a goal in the first period, an assist in the second and an empty-net goal in the third to round out the scoring. The first goal was classic Crosby, with him scoring on a backhand one-timer from his knee. Allen’s play, Yeo said, was “by far the biggest positive of the game.”
The Blues expected to get a tougher game from the Penguins than they got in the game in Pittsburgh, and they did.
“I think we played a different opponent tonight,” Shattenkirk said. “They’re a team that gets good scoring chances. They’re highly powered offensively, so I thought early on we had a decent foundation, a decent game in place but we know we’re not going to keep them to no scoring chances. The second period kind of got away from us.”
The Blues had just four shots on goal in the first period, all from defensemen, but then outshot them 12-7 in the second. But at one point late in the second, Pittsburgh had just three shots on goal in the period and had scored on two of them.
“On a nightly basis,” Yeo said, “we’re not generating enough scoring opportunities, enough shots at net. When we have an opportunity to, we need to take advantage of it.”