The St. Louis Blues played another big game Friday night and picked up another HUGE 2 points, beating the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-1 at Scottrade Center on goals from Chris Stewart, David Backes, and Patrik Berglund. Jay Bouwmeester collected 2 more assists in his second game with the Blues and Jake Allen made 26 saves in his first meeting with Columbus to earn the victory. The win left the Jackets out of the top 8 in the Western Conference standings, now 3 points behind St. Louis for the 8th and final playoff spot.
Friday night ended in a good way for the Blues who, for the second straight game, did not play their best 60 minutes of hockey yet skated off with a win. The only part of their game that didn’t look shaky was the goaltending of Allen. He seems to be playing with confidence, technical skill and looks very relaxed and comfortable in the crease. He’s getting better each time he plays and it showed again against the Jackets. With Jaroslav Halak injured and out indefinitely, Allen’s play is going to make it tough for Coach Hitchcock to choose between him and Brian Elliott. It’s not necessarily a terrible problem for Hitch to have.
The rest of the Blues could take some cues from their rookie goalie. They still look tentative out there and are going to need a much more aggressive, courageous style of play to finish the season strongly enough to make the playoffs. Going deep into the post-season, well, that’s going to take another level altogether from everyone in the St. Louis locker room. I still see them making too many plays in the wrong direction as they try to bring the puck out of their own zone up move it up the ice. If you watch the great teams, they’re making 1-2 passes across their blue line and through center-ice. St. Louis makes 3-4, working back against the grain of the rush too often, disrupting the positive flow of play. The hard-to-play-against teams are always moving North and South, not East to West. Bouwmeester is very good at quickly moving the puck up the ice and I think the more games he plays for the Blues, the better they will all be by association. His impact has been felt immediately.
The newcomer has injected some life into the Blues on the power-play as well. Thanks to his play with partner Alex Pietrangelo in the offensive zone Friday during the 1st period, Stewie was able to put the Blues on the board first. The Blues have been struggling with the man-advantage, and it was nice to see them moving the puck so well.
Columbus tied the game late in the 1st but again, as they did Thursday in Chicago, the Blues rallied instead of deflating. Could this mean more of the team is getting on board with the program? If you’re looking for guys who have quintessentially “bought-in” to Hitchcock’s system and all the talk about playing a team game, look no further than the Captain, Backes. After failing to light the lamp in 15 previous games, Backes has 2 in his last 2, and has provided a spark for this team. I really think you can see the hunger in his face out there. Where’s it been all season long? I can’t say, but better late than never. He put the Blues back up only 9 seconds later with a goal he scored from the seat of his pants.
Despite giving St. Louis 3 more power-plays in the 2nd period, and perhaps as a result of killing them all, Columbus really pressed the Blues over those middle 20 minutes, and at times the Blues looked very tires, physically and mentally. Both teams were playing the second of back-to-back games, and neither had shown much success in those previous match-ups. We saw extended shifts and flat feet by the Blues at times in their own zone. The Jackets had a bit more pep in their step but again, St. Louis fought and clawed and banged their way to a win. The only thing the Blues had more of Friday night were goals, and in the end that’s all that matters. Bergie added an empty net tally as the final horn sounded, and the Blues kept pace with the Red Wings who needed overtime to beat Colorado. St. Louis remains 1 point behind the Wings heading into Sunday’s tilt in Detroit.
Each game down the stretch is big in one way or another. Every night the Blues will be battling with teams also desperate for points. The West is still a log jam from 4th place to 8th, and even 9th through 13th is tight with all five of those teams still technically in the hunt. St. Louis is going to need to dial up their game even further, and tomorrow against the Wings should give us an idea if they’re ready or willing to do the work, earn those points, and live up to the high expectations the fans all have for the team.
GO BLUES! Long Live the Note!