Last week, Carter Hutton revived a Blues team that was dead in the water. With two games left to play of a three-game west coast swing, the Blues were in dire straits.
The Kings had run Jake Allen from his second start in a row–things looked bleak. Hutton’s stellar play in consecutive games to finish the road trip not only held the team together, but helped earn the Blues four points they desperately needed.
It was but a short-term fix. Hutton, with the aid of some Patrik Berglund heroics, served as masking tape to patch the hole in the bottom of a boat constructed from a flawed blueprint. As it stands, it’s hard to imagine this Blues roster mustering an encore of last season’s postseason run.
In their return home Tuesday, the Blues showed the kind of flaws that would conceivably limit them come springtime. And though they gave up six goals, goaltending wasn’t the chief concern. Missed chances, foolish penalties and a lack of defensive crispness hindered the Blues in a 6-4 loss to the Senators, as the team squelched any and all lingering momentum from the road trip’s energizing conclusion.
“This is a frustrating loss,” Hitchcock lamented. “To mount a comeback, to come all the way back like that, it's a frustrating loss right now.
The Blues never led in the game, but climbed their way back into it multiple times. Notably after trailing 3-1 in the second, the Blues capped that period with a Kevin Shattenkirk goal and began the next one with an equalizer from Alexander Steen.
Right back in the mix, St. Louis proceeded to fall apart.
A backbreaking display of defensive timidity leading to Ottawa’s go-ahead goal characterizes a lot of the frustration with this team. The Blues had multiple opportunities to clear the puck–and the opposition did nothing to prevent them from doing so. Alas, the Blues dallied around. In seeking the perfect play, they committed a colossal mistake. Jaden Schwartz coughed up the puck in the defensive zone, and Mark Stone made him pay, beating Hutton for a 4-3 lead.
“He’s looking for the right play,” Shattenkirk said of Schwartz's costly turnover. “The play is–he has the time there–hit the weak side d-man coming up on the far side. That’s where all the room is. That’s where the room is to skate. It hits a stick.
“We talk about execution a lot. That’s what we all need to do. There are countless times during a game when that’s going to happen. It happened to be him tonight. It’s a tough one because when he gets the puck on the wall, we’re all pretty confident that he’s getting that puck out.”
Schwartz became the goat on that particular play as it gave Ottawa a lead they would not relinquish. But Schwartz wasn’t alone in his indiscretion during the sequence.
“The fourth goal was a killer,” Hitchcock said. “It was a killer. Had puck support there; left it, didn't clear it, had it on our stick three times. Forwards left the winger, turn it over and that's the game.”
The Blues lacked aggression in key moments. They lacked intensity. Off their first winning streak–if you count two in a row as such–in a month and a half, the Blues deflated. Again, Hutton didn’t top the list of grievances, but confidence in either goaltender for St. Louis will have to be conjured from thin air at this point. Particularly with the type of defense that showed up Tuesday, it's tough to expect Allen or Hutton to hit a prolonged stride.
While the goaltending controversy made for good fodder while the team was on the west coast, Allen will likely return to the net–his net–for the bulk of games, with Hutton spelling him occasionally. That’s fine, but it’s not really consequential.
The snare struck again on Tuesday. Somehow, the roster around the goaltender–whomever it may be on a given night–has to figure out a way to snap out of the pitfalls that have plagued it for over half a season.
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