All year, the St. Louis Blues have played with a perfect balance of physicality and finesse. In one instance, Ryan Reaves could pummel a guy into the boards, and the next line would have passing between TJ Oshie, David Perron and David Backes look as smooth and silky as a high-quality kimono.
Last night, we saw plenty of that same skill: Oshie tipping in a shot from Kevin Shattenkirk, Vladimir Sobotka’s sick drop pass to Jay Bouwmeester which led to the Backes goal, etc. Yet, for all that skill, the Blues lost. By the end of the third period, they didn’t even look like they deserved the win, getting completely dominated in every aspect of the game.
The tally in the “L” column came from a combination of two things: the Kings stepping up their own physical, hard-hitting play and the Blues sacrificing their own physicality for more goal-scoring attempts.
On paper, the Blues won in the hits department by a slim 46-42 margin, but in this case, the stats are a total red herring. the Kings often got two forwards deep on the forecheck and made key hits that stopped the Blues offense from ever getting started. Gassed by the time they got to the opposing blue line, St. Louis often had to peel off and start making substitutions for the next wave of Kings’ offense. Los Angeles forced the Blues into that defensive mindset after the Blues took a promising 2-0 lead.
Ken Hitchcock, for whatever reason, also broke up his CPR line (Adam Cracknell, Chris Porter and Reaves) that had proven a formidable force unafraid to make big hits. He sat Cracknell in favor of Vladimir Tarasenko, who has struggled to make plays since he exploded early in the season. Tarasenko’s a lot of things, but he’s not a heavy hitter that could replace Cracknell in terms of enforcing the Blues’ checking. Tarasenko also had the least amount of playing time last night (5:51), so if Hitchcock put him on the roster to make goals, he showed little confidence in putting him on the ice so he could do so.
Reaves and Porter had the next fewest on-ice minutes with 7:55 and 8:38, respectively. Although that’s more playing time than each of them has seen in any one game of this series, giving those big hitters more opportunities to get out there and lay down the law against the Kings will go a long way to giving players like Tarasenko, Andy McDonald and Perron more room to maneuver on the ice.
The veterans have to step up to an extent though, as well. Roman Polak missed his coverage, which led to the third Kings goal. He got caught looking at goaltender Brian Elliott, instead of LA’s assistant captain Anze Kopitar who had a clear shot from maybe ten feet out. Perron has to stop letting himself get bullied in front of the Kings’ crease. McDonald needs to play less scared when he has good chances.
Still, all of these games have been close and there’s a lot to be optimistic about, especially as the series comes back to the ScottTrade Center. Youngster Jaden Schwartz has played some of the best hockey of his young career in the last week, Oshie looks stellar coming off of his injury, and even though four went past him last night, Elliott still makes a great brick wall in front of the net.
And now, a parting message from Olivia Newton-John to the notes. Let’s Go Blues!