Preview: Blues return home to take on Islanders
The St. Louis Blues return home after facing a pair of tough West Coast opponents and losing consecutive games in regulation for the first time.
The prospects for a quick turnaround seem high Thursday night when they meet the New York Islanders, one of the NHL’s worst road teams.
The Blues (18-5-3) lost 3-2 at Los Angeles on Monday after Friday’s 6-3 defeat in San Jose. They fell behind 3-0 early in the second period against the Kings and 4-0 in the first versus the Sharks.
“I think there’s lessons to be learned,” defenseman Jay Bouwmeester told the team’s official website. “Both games, right from the start, we got outcompeted. We’re a team that prides ourselves on our work and being able to grind teams out, and we kind of got a taste of our own medicine, I guess, the last couple of games, and we didn’t respond well.”
That hasn’t been the case for the Blues at home. Their 24 points there tie them for the most in the Western Conference, and they’ve won four straight at Scottrade Center.
Jaroslav Halak allowed all three goals against the Kings after giving up four in winning his previous four starts. He will start again after going 5-1-1 with a 1.41 goals-against average and .955 save percentage in seven games against the Islanders (8-15-5).
Kevin Shattenkirk and Vladimir Tarasenko scored third-period goals Monday for the Blues, but it wasn’t enough to compensate for the slow start.
“Outplayed significantly in the first period, outcompeted, not ready for the tempo,” coach Ken Hitchcock said. “That’s our responsibility. Players and coaches, we’ve got to get ready for the tempo of the game. We revved it up halfway through the hockey game. We can’t play like that.”
The last-place Islanders embark on a daunting five-game road trip against the West. Already riding an 0-5-2 skid, there’s the potential for things to get ugly as they face five of the top eight teams in the West.
The Islanders are 3-9-0 on the road, with those six points ranking last in the league.
“My frustration is the same as what the players are feeling because we’ve all been there,” coach Jack Capuano said after Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime loss to Pittsburgh.
Kyle Okposo scored a pair of first-period goals for the Islanders, but they were unable to hold a third-period lead for a second straight game. John Tavares assisted on both, and his 32 points have him among the league leaders.
New York has scored more than two goals once during the seven-game slide and three times during a 2-10-2 stretch.
The Islanders are 4-2-2 when leading after two periods, and their 17 third-period goals rank 28th.
“In the third period I didn’t think we had the same jam,” Okposo told the team’s official website. “We didn’t get at them like we did in the first two periods. We have to do a better job of closing out games.”
Doing a better job of closing out opponents’ power plays would also help. The Islanders allowed two power-play goals against the Penguins, and their 71.4 penalty-kill percentage is among the worst in the league.
“It came down to special teams again,” Capuano said.
The Blues’ 23.9 power-play percentage ranks among the best in the NHL.
They’ve won three of four over the Islanders, including 5-1 in St. Louis in the last meeting Feb. 16, 2012.