The St. Louis Blues are now playing a dangerous game as the season begins to wind down. After leaving fans with little hope, they are now starting to raise a few expectations once again.
The St. Louis Blues played one of their best games of the season against the Los Angeles Kings a couple nights ago – at least one of their best games in months. How they would respond against a thorn in their side like Anaheim was up in the air.
The Blues could have folded up once again and returned to their losing habits of not playing hard and not earning some good breaks. Instead, they kept the momentum rolling in the right direction with another good performance and a win.
Coming into this game, the win was the only thing that mattered. The fact that they deserved it and looked like their old selves for the second game in a row was some nice butter-cream icing on top.
The Blues played a solid defensive first period, only allowing seven total shots. It seemed as though it would stay scoreless through 20 minutes, but Robert Bortuzzo managed to break the deadlock with 2:30 left in the period.
Similarly, the Blues managed to get an early score in the next period, just as they had in Los Angeles. Ivan Barbashev scored his second goal in as many games to give the Blues a bigger lead.
Anaheim did score to cut the lead in half, but just as they did against the Kings, the Blues rebounded and put it back to two. They earned a bit of luck as Vladimir Sobotka’s goal probably should have been stopped, but went in.
Unlike L.A., the Blues could not keep building on the lead, but those offensive outbursts are uncommon even for the best of teams. The Blues still managed to get another goal from Patrik Berglund to rebuild their two goal lead and an eventual 4-2 win.
The Blues are getting all the things missing for so long.
One of the biggest reasons the Blues were so hard to beat early in the season was their defensive scoring. While we knew it was unsustainable for an entire season, the Blues got so many goals from their d-men in the early going. Now, we are seeing the same thing again.
Bortuzzo’s opening goal was his second in as many games and a career-high third of the season. It was a goal scorer’s goal as well, getting the goaltender to bite glove side and shooting to the stick side.
Beyond just the scoring, the defenders are all jumping into the play again. Alex Pietrangelo had two assists in this game.
In addition do the defenders getting in on the offense, the Blues are finally getting secondary scoring as well. All season long, the Blues have not been able to lean on their bottom six forwards. That has changed the last game or two.
Barbashev, Sobotka and Berglund all had goals and nice ones at that. Nikita Soshnikov, currently on the fourth line, chipped in with an assist.
The pessimist will say the top lines are in a bit of a slump. The realist and optimists will realize that this is what good teams have. You can roll out four lines and feel confident that any of them have the possibility of scoring.
St. Louis is also paying the physical price. They had 22 hits and 20 blocked shots too. They’re finally doing the little things that are necessary to win these games.
St. Louis continues to have a few too many key turnovers and failed clearances.
This one might seem nit-picky, given that the Blues only had nine giveaways in the game. The problem is that they came in some key times of the game. The Blues almost allowed one to completely change the game as a turnover let Ryan Getzlaf in on a breakaway early in the game. Thankfully Jake Allen stopped it.
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On top of the turnovers, the Blues started getting hemmed into their zone too often. Credit has to go to Anaheim for keeping some difficult clearances in the zone, but the Blues needed to be more aware at times.
There were several pucks kept in that had other options of getting out of the zone. Every team has some failed chances to leave the zone, but the Blues just make too much of a habit of it. Luckily, it did not cost them in this one.
The Snake is awake.
Say what you want about his future with the team or how much blame he shoulders for some of the losing streak, the Blues have Allen rolling now. The Snake is back and he is a big reason the team has looked so good.
When Allen is on his game, he is confident in his movements. He makes saves look easy, he comes out of the crease to play pucks and he uses his athleticism to make saves. All of that was on display in Anaheim.
Allen had to be on point early in this game too. The aforementioned breakaway tested him early and he made a potential game altering save on it.
Allen did not have to make too many acrobatic saves, but that is what you want some nights. You don’t always need your goaltender to be superhuman.
Allen kept the door shut though, including a big glove save about three minutes into the second period. You’d love to have a shutout, but there was nothing Allen could do on the Ducks’ two goals.
Allen has really come up big when the team needed him most, given Carter Hutton‘s injury.
The Blues got on their heels too much in the third.
A win is a win and the Blues scored in the third period to snuff out all hope. However, they spent way too much time in their defensive zone in the third period.
With a two goal lead, the Blues allowed Anaheim to take some serious momentum, scoring just about seven minutes into the third. St. Louis also failed to get a shot on goal in the third until after Anaheim scored that one.
The Blues only had a total of four shots on goal in the final period, which is not going to get it done too much. If you were at least passing it around and controlling the puck in the offensive zone it is one thing. The Blues were trying to park the bus a little too much though. You cannot do that consistently and not be made to pay for it.
The Blues almost did pay for it too. Fortunately the held on, but there is just too many nervous moments in the final minutes of games like these.
Kyle Brodziak has been reborn.
Brodziak has 10 goals on the season and 23 points. That’s the most he has scored in St. Louis and the most he’s had since 2013-14.
We’ve always known he was a solid player that would give you effort on every shift. However, he seems to have an extra jump now playing on the team’s second line.
If you told me, going into the season, the Blues would have Brodziak on their second line, you could guarantee that something had gone terribly wrong. Instead, it seems to have been just the right decision.
He’s winning faceoffs, acting as a calming presence, winning faceoffs and just doing all the little things.
He’s quickly becoming a player the Blues need to offer a contract for next season with his recent play.
For the love of all that is holy, the empty net seems to have force fields over it.
The Blues have scored on empty nets, so any statement otherwise is mostly hyperbole. That said, this team might have more trouble scoring when there is no opposing goaltender than any we’ve seen.
The Blues failed to score on an empty net once again in Anaheim, even though they had well over two minutes to attempt it.
Despite all the praise for Brodziak, he screwed up an open chance pretty badly. After the Blues absorbed a lot of pressure, they broke out and Brodziak had an open chance from the blue line on the right side.
Instead of a 5-2 finish, the Blues had to sweat out the final minute because Brodziak missed wide. It did not cost the Blues in this game, but we’ve seen too many games go south because St. Louis failed to hit an empty net and saw it go in on their own end.
Now they just need to sustain this.
Normally, we try to focus on the game in this section, but it’s hard not to look beyond. St. Louis has to find a way to sustain this level of play for the next few weeks.
It is almost impossible they’ll go unbeaten down the stretch, but they need to string together wins and playing the way they did in Anaheim is just the way to do it.
St. Louis has not won more than four games in a row this season. Breaking that streak would go a long way to getting them into the postseason, but they need to keep the focus on each game in front of them.
Scoreboard watching is exactly what we are all doing. The Blues have to just win and let the chips fall where they may.