The St. Louis Blues may not have eased many fears with their performance north of the border. However, for a first game after a bye, the end result was good enough.
The St. Louis Blues opened up the second half of the season in decent fashion. Mathematically, they began the second half before the bye week, but the NHL has about 50 things you can point to as the middle of the season, so I digress.
Coming out of their bye week, they faced the Toronto Maple Leafs. While the Blues have a pretty good record against Toronto ever since the lockout, you always wonder if this game or that will be the one to end a streak.
Things were tight from the beginning. Although St. Louis dominated most of the offense in terms of shots, neither team could really get a firm grasp on the game.
We witnessed a scoreless affair until the third period. Then it became a free-for-all once the first goal went in. It was a back and forth game from there on out.
Fortunately for fans who stuck it out for the entire thing, the good guys ended up on top. It did not look like that would happen for a good while, but at this point it doesn’t matter how you get there as long as you get there.
The Blues defended well.
In any game, you’re going to have lapses. So, there are almost no times when a team defends perfectly for an entire game, even if you get a shutout.
Thus, some people will not agree that the team defended well. However, they did their job for the most part.
They held Toronto to only seven first period shots and 31 shots in total. If not for the usual second period problems, where they allowed 12 shots, Toronto’s offense was kept in check for the most part.
We’ll get into the issue that led to the goal, but overall the Blues were on top of things. They were physical enough in the opening stages, with Chris Thorburn even getting into a scrap. The defenders took away enough passing lanes to keep the shots from reasonably safe positions as well.
There were a few issues here and there. For not having played in a week, though, the Blues looked sharp overall.
The Blues allowed another shorthanded goal.
St. Louis has given up five shorthanded goals now. That’s slightly above the league average.
It feels like all five have come in the last few weeks. Of course, in reality, it is only the second one since November, but it is two games in a row after having given one up against Florida.
The problem is that the Blues truly terrible power play has sprung into problems the other way. It seems like game after game they allow breaks and odd-man rushes down the ice when St. Louis is the team on the man advantage. The same thing happened to lead to the Toronto goal.
Regular readers know that I try my best not to single out individuals. There are usually enough things that happen in a game where individual moments don’t truly alter a game. For Alex Pietrangelo, it almost did.
All the blame for the play can’t go to him. The passing on most of that power play was not crisp and forcing a lot of recovery. However, Pietrangelo needs to find a way to keep that puck in.
Instead it bounces by him and leads to a break. While it is understandably hard to get up to full speed after being flat footed, Pietrangelo compounds his mistake by vainly diving and swatting at the puck. If he stayed on his feet and played the defender, there is much less room to make a move.
Instead, the team’s captain took a bad play and made it worse. Maybe you take a penalty there, but diving as he did was basically useless and he would have been better served to stay on his feet.
The Blues actually scored while their net was empty.
I’m sure there is a website somewhere that keeps track of truly obscure stats, but I could not find it. However, you know things are pretty bleak when everbubbly Darren Pang mentions that the Blues rarely score when pulling the goaltender.
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Oddly enough, like the shorthanded goal against, it seems to happen with regularity now. The Blues actually got one against Florida, despite it being in a losing effort.
They got another one with :57 left on the clock in regulation. In addition, the team scored by placing a man in front of the net, which is something else they’ve failed to do with regularity.
Alexander Steen scored the goal by putting himself in the right spot. Who knows if he even knew where the puck was, but he was in the right spot at the right time and took advantage of the situation.
Those are the kinds of goals Steen needs to get right now. We know he has the talent to snipe one here or there, but he needs to grind out more goals and not rely on this idea of being a great two-way player alone.
On top of the goal, credit goes to Vladimir Tarasenko. In recent days, I’ve seen fans call him lazy and overrated. I’m not here to change opinions, even if I disagree, but if not for him that play never happens. Tarasenko made it happen by pinning himself to the boards, keeping the puck in the zone and keeping it away from the Toronto forward. That was a big effort play that the team had to have in that moment.
The Blues required more goaltending heroics to win.
As we’ve seen throughout this article, this game seemed to have a lot of repeats. One of those was requiring another breakaway save in overtime to keep the team in the game.
Fans can talk up a goaltending controversy all they want. Carter Hutton deserves to play right now because he’s on top of his game, but he is not a starter and will not be a starter. That said, he’s winning games right now and did it again in OT.
Now, that should be a positive, but this is about more than Hutton’s save. It’s the idea that the Blues continually let pucks roll over sticks or make bad passes that allow teams to shoot down the ice.
Hutton bailed them out this time, but you cannot rely on that so much. The Blues seem to like playing Russian roulette and eventually you come up empty handed in those scenarios. It also plays into why I don’t like the 3v3, but that’s another matter.
The Blues won it and an unlikely source got the goal.
If you told me how this game would unfold and then said Vince Dunn would score the winner in overtime, I’d have said you were crazy. It is not as though Dunn is not talented, but he would not be your third or fourth choice, much less the first.
Firstly, he hasn’t proven himself enough to normally even be in that position. Regardless of how we, as fans, feel about his skills, you don’t usually see rookie defenders in a 3v3 scenario where there are usually two forwards.
Secondly, you would not usually expect the defender to be the one leading a two-on-one break either. Both happened and it worked out for the best.
What was good to see, regardless of it being Dunn or any other player, was the willingness to shoot the puck. Normally in that scenario, there would be at least one pass and maybe another, as the Blues like to do.
Instead, Dunn semi-feinted a pass and then just ripped away. We’ve seen stars pass that off and instead this kid just took the shot and it paid off.
It had to be a special moment as well. Not only to get the game winner but to do so against your childhood team, makes it all the more exciting for a player coming through the ranks.
It was not perfect, but we need wins.
The Blues had plenty go wrong in this game. They were 0-2 on the power play and the faceoff circle went back to being an enigma for all who entered.
However, though there is still plenty of season left, we are back to a point where only wins matter. Make it ugly, make it pretty, just make it to that final buzzer with more goals. That’s what the Blues did.
They were not sharp for the entire 60 minutes, but we saw flashes. The team was physical when it needed to be, but limited the penalties, only giving up one power play.
They still have not let Auston Matthews score on them as well. Like Sydney Crosby, eventually the kid will end the streak, but it’s a nice little carrot to have to say one of the league’s best has not scored against you.
The Blues left things until a little later in the game than you’d like, but they won. Sometimes you can build more character by earning a win in this way than breezing through. Now the Blues know they can gut one out instead of thinking things will come easy.