Blues defensive game continues to struggle

Blues defensive game continues to struggle

Credit: UPI

St. Louis Blues goaltender Jake Allen makes his NHL debut taking over for starting goaltender Brian Elliott in the second period against the Nashville Predators at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on February 5, 2013. Elliott gave up four goals to the Predators. UPI/Bill Greenblatt


by Andrew Allsman / HockeyStL

Posted on February 10, 2013 at 3:18 PM

Updated Sunday, Oct 20 at 8:04 AM

(HockeyStL) -- Another game and another large quantity of goals found their way into the back of the Blues’ net. On Saturday, the Blues allowed five regulation goals for the second consecutive game, and have now been outscored 16-7 in regulation the past three games. All three games ended in defeat for the Blues, and despite some positives in Saturday’s game, the defense remains a glaring weakness.

The Blues’ defense, as a whole, has been bad of late. Last season the Blues were allowing, on average, less than 27 shots to be taken against them per game. This year, the Blues’ goaltenders are seeing slightly more than 22 shots per game. Yet, more pucks are finding their way into the back of their net.

After Saturday’s game, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock was not pleased with the way goaltender Brian Elliott has been playing. Elliott has been in net for the Blues the last four games while Jaroslav Halak recovers from a groin injury. Halak could be available to play as early as Monday against the Los Angeles Kings, but if he’s not, it won’t be Elliott that gets the start.

“(Elliott) is not playing very well,” said Hitchcock after Saturday’s game. “He would be the first to tell you too. He has to be better. If Halak isn’t ready, then we will play Jake Allen on Monday.”

“A goalie is no different from a defenseman or a forward. Guys come in and out of the lineup based on their performance. You can’t stay in the lineup if you don’t play well, I don’t care who you are. He’s got to play better.”

While Hitchcock put an emphasis on Elliott’s struggles, Blues defender Kevin Shattenkirk put the blame elsewhere.

“(Opponents are getting) scoring chances,” said Shattenkirk. “(Elliott) is getting hung out to dry. When you look at some of them, he is facing the first shot and there are guys putting in the rebounds. That is on us, not on him. I know he is frustrated, but we just have to work better for him. Those are things last year that we took pride in, and we just have to get back to it.”

Many of the goals that have come against the Blues in the last few games have been on second chances. Several have been on lucky bounces, that end up on an open opponent player’s stick, and ultimately in the back of the net. However, it doesn’t take much analyzing to realize Elliott’s confidence is low. On Saturday, after a soft goal that deflected off of his blocker, and into the net, Elliott’s reaction was one of frustration, and disbelief. Elliott has not been great, but the Blues’ defense has not helped out much.

Saturday’s game was one that the team needed in order to build up the confidence lost during their three-game slide. Though they only emerged with one point, the team felt it gave a strong effort in front of their home crowd.

The Blues’ defense was tasked with the always-tough job of containing the Anaheim Ducks’ star forwards, and after allowing only 24 shots on goal, the Blues were feeling that they had made some progress.

Ian Cole, who has been a healthy scratch in six of the Blues’ 11 games this season, has been solid when called upon. He had his own take on the Blues’ defense after Saturday night’s shootout loss.

“We came into this game needing a better defensive game, and I think we did better in general,” Cole pointed out. “There were a couple of times when we didn’t, and it hurt us. I think we are figuring it out, making strides in the right direction.”

Cole admitted that in order to succeed, the defensemen needed to trust one another to make the right play.

“We need to trust each other to make plays one-on-one, to defend one-on-ones and defend them well,” admitted Cole. “When we don’t, one guy gets open due to a lack of coverage.”

Despite only having one point in the last four games, Kevin Shattenkirk is convinced that the Blues will pull through. The level of optimism surrounding the team after Saturday was high as players saw improvements in their game. The positivity could build up momentum for the team as they try to get out of their current funk.

“We have to look at it positively,” said Shattenkirk. “We will go back and look at some of those goals, the breakdowns that led to the goals, but we need to stay positive.”