The St. Louis Blues needed to have a big game as the NHL playoffs began for real against the Vancouver Canucks. It still felt like a regular season game.
The St. Louis Blues came out and played something a lot closer to what we expect from Blues hockey in Game 1 against the Vancouver Canucks. Still, it felt more like a regular season game than a true playoff game.
Perhaps it was the lack of a crowd, which seemed to stick out a lot more than in other games. Maybe it was the lack of hitting right off the bat.
Or, just maybe, it was the referees calling the game as though it was an opening week game. Whatever the reason, it did not quite get that playoff feel even though there was a bit of nastiness.
The penalties continued to be a problem. Vancouver would score their first goal after a Blues penalty.
St. Louis would tie the game on the power play about 12 minutes later, with the period slipping away. The first period would end 1-1.
The second was much of the same. The officials kept blowing the whistle for any little thing and Vancouver would take advantage, regaining the lead at 2-1 at 8:37 of the middle frame.
That lead lasted just a little over a minute. A faceoff win for Vancouver actually sprang a breakaway for Jaden Schwartz, who made a fantastic move to score and tie it. The game remained tied into the intermission.
Then, the third period belonged to Vancouver. The Blues continued their poor third period play in this tournament and gave up two poor goals, falling behind 4-2 with just under 12 minutes to go.
St. Louis would get some good pressure late, but their game plan of going high on Jacob Markstrom backfired as they continually shot over the net.
Unfortunately, the pressure led to nothing due to missed shots and a fantastic save. A late phantom call on Alex Pietrangelo led to a Canucks power play goal for a 5-2 lead and the win.
Cons: Penalties kill you
The St. Louis Blues special teams was definitely something to worry about during the round-robin play. Their penalty kill was OK, but just OK.
The power play was pretty bad, but that’s another matter. The bigger problem, regardless whether the Blues killed off a penalty or not, was the fact they kept taking penalties.
It continued to haunt them at the start of this game.
Before anyone thinks I’m on this lame Justin Faulk blamewagon, think again. This was a penalty that needed to be taken because a very poor Vince Dunn turnover put Faulk in a bad spot, on his heels, trying to catch up to a powerful skater.
Faulk did all he could to disrupt the play without giving a penalty shot. You knew a penalty was likely to come.
Still, whether it was a necessary penalty to take or not, the fact is the Blues are allowing other teams to make them pay for penalties taken. It also disrupts what the Blues are trying to do.
St. Louis is a pressure team at even strength. When they are defending in their own zone, they don’t have the speed to attempt hitting people and their best scorers are also kept off the ice.
Adding to the frustration, even when the Blues managed to kill some penalties later in the game, they could barely clear the puck.
A failure to clear the puck was exactly what gave the Canucks a 1-0 lead. You should credit the defenseman for a great hold-in, but that puck needs to get out. It did not and Vancouver would score.
The same thing would happen on the Blues fourth penalty. It was an iffy call against Brayden Schenn to begin with, but, again, the Blues could not clear and then Vancouver would score
Offensively, the Blues have been extremely hit or miss. They scored a bunch against Vegas, but not enough in either of the other games.
The one constant, so far, has been David Perron. Perron scored a nice snipe on the power play, utilizing a Vancouver screen on their own goaltender.
— Bleedin' Blue (@BleedinBlueFS) August 13, 2020
That goal was Perron’s third in four games in the Edmonton bubble. He continues to be a strong playoff performer for the Blues since returning.
Perron now has eight playoff goals for the Blues in the last two postseasons.
The entire top line of the Blues had a solid game in this one, especially when you compare it to their recent performances. Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko all had their chances and they were very engaged.
Schwartz was on top of things though. He showed that when he tied the game 2-2.
The Blues lost a faceoff in their defensive zone, but Schwartz did not give up on the play. He outraced the defender to the puck, knocked it past him and went off to the races.
This is the kind of Schwartz the Blues need to see more often. Every player has their nights or off-nights, but Schwartz can disappear at random.
When he’s on his game, these are the goals he can provide. The ability to get the goalie to open up and then just barely chip it over the paddle is slick.
Maybe it is something to do with first rounds. Schwartz had a memorable first round against Winnipeg last year.
Cons: Third period woes
One thing that definitely continued from the round-robin portion of the tournament was the Blues lousy play in the third period. What the problem is is anyone’s guess.
St. Louis cannot be fatigued. They’ve had just as much rest as anyone and should be fully healthy, with the exception of missing Sammy Blais.
Missing one or two players cannot explain what happens in the third period. The Blues just leak like a sieve in the final frame.
St. Louis has now been outscored 8-0 in the third period in the games played in Edmonton. It is not a lack of hustle, but a lack of execution.
This was team wide too, not just the usual culprits.
On the goal that gave Vancouver a 3-2 lead, it was bad all around. Tarasenko had a chance to get the puck out of the zone and did not.
St. Louis allowed backside pressure, which was something they failed to pick up several times during the night. It was also a save Jordan Binnington just has to make. It’s a save he makes nine times out of 10, but this one was very costly.
Then, Vince Dunn got absolutely undressed on a play where the Blues looked to be in decent position. Once Bo Horvat got around him, he lined up Binnington’s blocker side, which was not strong in this game, and made it a 4-2 lead.
Even if those goals were not scored, or only one allowed, the Blues were just not good in the third. Everything was disjointed and sloppy. We heard a few things about the ice again, but both teams are playing on it and it only affects St. Louis.
This is a game that is hard to figure out. There were more positives than we saw in the round-robin, but the exact same result.
The Blues played a more team game, got a little more physical and looked dangerous at times offensively. However, St. Louis has never been a marksman like team, so trying to continually shoot high on this goalie (which they do need to do) is dangerous and leads a lot of misses.
But, the officials have to get something figured out. NHL officiating might be the least consistent in all of pro sports, but the entire officiating has been a joke and not just against the Blues.
I’m not quite sure if any of the penalties called against either team would have been stone-cold, for sure penalties in playoffs past. It is hard for teams to get into playoff mode when they’re being officiated like pee wees.
That said, the officials did not cost St. Louis the game either. Yes, Vancouver had three power play goals, but St. Louis has to defend better.
The Blues just have to figure their stuff out, and quickly. They are progressing, but they’ve only reached regular season stage.
The rest of the league is playing playoff hockey. St. Louis was playing exhibition hockey in the round-robin and now regular season hockey in the playoffs.
Vancouver doesn’t know any better. They don’t have any pressure on them and don’t have any media distraction either.
The Blues have to get their game in gear or this might be a short series and not the way anyone in St. Louis would want.