Missed chances haunt Blues in loss at first-place Anaheim

Center Paul Stastny joined forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Jori Lehtera, the Blues' most prolific scoring duo, for the first time in Anaheim.

Gary A. Vasquez/Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Blues played their preferred aggressive style of hockey in the offensive zone for long stretches Friday night in Anaheim.

More shots on goal and more time spent around the opposing net are surely encouraging signs, especially on the road against the Western Conference’s top team. But none of that really matters when St. Louis can’t capitalize on opportunities, which proved fatal in a 4-3 loss.

"I think tonight we can be a little happier with the effort we put forward," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk told FOX Sports Midwest announcers John Kelly and Darren Pang on the Blues Live postgame show. "We really let Nashville the other night dictate the third period, but tonight we felt like we came out, played a much better game as a team."

An outstanding 44-save performance by Brian Elliott on Tuesday still nearly netted St. Louis a positive result in Nashville, where the Blues lost 3-2 and failed to reach 30 shots on goal for the sixth time in their past seven games. They forced Anaheim goaltender Frederik Andersen into action a lot more with 42 shots, well above their season average of 31.

He proved up to the challenge to deny goals on multiple occasions, but the Blues will likely have some regrets when they review the film. Dmitrij Jaskin nearly tied the game at one when he faked a shot and sent a puck dribbling across the goal line on a wraparound during a power play in the first period, then Alex Pietrangelo and David Backes both missed the net on golden opportunities right in front during a frantic second period.

Those 20 minutes included three Blues goals, and they didn’t even need half of what would have been an 80-second five-on-three power play before Alexander Steen fired a hard one-timer past Andersen from the right faceoff circle. Still, St. Louis went just one-for-five on the power play and has converted only two of its last 17 chances.

"It’s not about trying to make pretty plays," Shattenkirk said. "It’s shooting pucks on net, getting a dirty goal and staying out of the penalty box."

The Blues could never take the lead and didn’t follow those final two steps in the first and third periods when they committed three penalties, including two in the final eight minutes. It takes better execution to win, especially on the road against top teams, and St. Louis had no response when Anaheim took advantage of a giveaway near the red line to score the game-winner with 9:05 remaining.

Fixing some ongoing defensive flaws will continue to be a major focus, but this game could still have been won by simply finishing a few otherwise great plays. St. Louis worked hard to create plenty of chances — many of them high-quality — and a critical confidence-building win slipped just out of its grasp.

STASTNY JOINS LEHTERA, TARASENKO

Coach Ken Hitchcock found yet another new linemate for his most prolific scoring duo.

Center Paul Stastny joined forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Jori Lehtera for the first time in Anaheim, forcing Lehtera to make his debut at left wing. Steen, Jaden Schwartz, Chris Porter and Patrik Berglund are among those who have played alongside the young Europeans, who have combined for 30 goals and 36 assists.

Injuries to both Porter and Schwartz have forced Hitchcock to get creative in finding a linemate who must play physical and create space for two of the team’s most talented puckhandlers. Stastny’s elite passing skills appeared to make him a good fit, and he got an assist on Shattenkirk’s goal after Lehtera’s solid check forced a D-zone turnover in the second period.

It’s also somewhat of a well-deserved reward for Stastny, who has four assists in his past four games since a slow start in St. Louis. He’s spent most of the season on the third line and certainly put up numbers in Colorado that would indicate he’s capable of much more production if paired with the right teammates.

With that in mind, Hitchcock might face a tough decision in the next few days when Schwartz returns from a foot injury that kept him out of the past seven games. Reports say he could be back as soon as Saturday night in San Jose, and the 22-year-old’s 27 points in 31 games are evidence he fit in quite well on the STL line earlier this season.

STREAK STUFF


St. Louis’ losing streak in Southern California reached 18 games Friday night at the Honda Center.

The Blues haven’t won there since beating Los Angeles on March 17, 2011, and they haven’t even earned a point in Anaheim since a 5-0 win on Oct. 17, 2009. St. Louis has been within a goal on three separate occasions, only to fall short in nine consecutive games against the first-place Ducks.

Other top teams have given the Blues trouble on the road as well, especially this season, when they’re just 2-5-2 against the Western Conference’s top eight, including 0-4 against the top three. It’s a troubling stat for St. Louis, which remains in solid position in fourth place but has lost seven of its past eight playoff series.

Road tests against the league’s best are as close as the Blues will get to a playoff atmosphere in the regular season, so finding a way to win would be a huge benefit. But considering how things have gone so far, St. Louis might be relieved to not have any more trips to SoCal on this season’s schedule.

But upcoming trips to San Jose and even Arizona could be concerning for a team that has earned just one point in its past four road games, falling to 9-9-2 away from the Scottrade Center. Meanwhile, the Blues have proved capable of beating anyone at home while posting a 13-4-1 record, which includes a gritty 2-0 win over Anaheim in October with both Backes and T.J. Oshie sidelined by injury.

You can follow Luke Thompson on Twitter at @FS_LukeT or email him at lukegthompson87@gmail.com.