What an odd season it has been thus far for the St. Louis Blues. Whether it is due to the calendar or just the scrutiny of a shortened season, these have felt like midseason games.
Oddly, this was only the 10th game of the 2021 season. Yes, technically, it should have been the 11th, but one extra game would not have made much difference.
The Blues were definitely in midseason form to start the game, but not in the good way. Typically in midseason, the Blues find ways to get things done with bad starts and that’s just what happened in this game.
St. Louis was slow out of the gate. Credit should go to Arizona for taking the game to the Blues and utilizing their speed.
However, St. Louis did very little to counteract that. They were not chipping pucks in to get on the forecheck or pressuring defensively.
They generated little to no offense, with their first shot of the game coming over five minutes in and wasting another power play. Defensively, they were decent early on, but still having far too many gaps.
The Coyotes would strike first around halfway through the first. Vince Dunn lost track of his man and Arizona cut right to the crease for a tap in on what was essentially a two on one.
A little over seven minutes later, Mike Hoffman showed why the Blues picked him up. He blew past the defender on the right side and then showcased that lethal shot, beating the goaltender over the glovehand shoulder to make it 1-1.
St. Louis took that energy into the locker room and made it last through intermission. Justin Faulk would give the Blues the lead just over three minutes into the middle frame.
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Faulk cut through defenders and then chipped one through the five-hole for a 2-1 lead.
St. Louis couldn’t make that last. Giving up another five-on-three power play, the Blues almost had it all killed off, but Arizona tied it with less than 30 seconds left in the final power play.
St. Louis kept at it though. Redeeming himself for the defensive mistake earlier, Dunn got to the slot for a nice goal to regain the lead, 3-2.
The Blues came out of intermission hot again. This time it was Ryan O’Reilly with the goal after a nice odd-man rush took the puck down for St. Louis.
That would prove to be the game winner as St. Louis allowed a late goal with the Coyotes’ goalie pulled. St. Louis always has to make it nervous at the end, but they got the regulation win, 4-3.
Jordan Binnington was not under siege in this game, but Arizona had a lot of chances. While the Blues were alright defensively, they allowed a good deal of pressure against their goaltender too.
Binnington was up to the task. Statheads will say three goals against is not very good, but it was the saves that Binnington had to make that were the difference.
After a broken play on a breakaway for Arizona, Binnington still had the agility to get back and stretch out with the left pad and glove to make an unbelievable save.
He made some other key saves down the stretch as well. Even though Arizona got one by him with their own goalie pulled, Binnington stayed calm through the storm and helped the team win it.
Cons: Power play
What is it with St. Louis and not being able to fix things. After winning the Superbowl, the Rams always had a makeshift offensive line. The Cardinals always have hitting or bullpen troubles and we fall for every bandaid fix they give us every offseason. The Blues continually have power play struggles – don’t come at me with that fools gold power play they had last year – and nothing seems to fix it.
It’s the same old story in 2021. The Blues brought in Hoffman and Torey Krug and, like the Cardinals, we thought they’d fixed all issues and this unit would be tops in the NHL.
St. Louis only went 0-5 on the power play. Their one goal that should have been a power play goal was O’Reilly’s, but that was taken away by a boneheaded penalty from David Perron while St. Louis was a man up. The Blues scored 14 seconds into the four-on-four.
Again, it’s not just a lack of goals. Many of the power plays fail to register a real scoring chance. Any shots taken are either blocked or easily seen by the goaltender.
The Blues are more than willing to work in front of the net at even strength. Give them an extra man and that crease front is vacant.
They don’t need to be a special teams behemoth, but give us some hope that you can threaten.
I do my best not to turn my articles into I told you so, but honestly, that’s the approach I have with Justin Faulk subconsciously. I will not pretend to have known he would morph into the team’s best defender, but I knew the offensive side of his game we are seeing was always in there.
He’s just doing everything right at the moment. Beyond his offense, he’s playing solid defense too.
Faulk led the team with three hits. He got a shot block in as well and only Krug had more ice time.
Faulk is not just ripping away like his old days either. He’s being selective with his offensive game, but in a smart way, not a sheepish way.
His choice to jump into the play on his goal was a prime example. He had stayed back to defend on some earlier plays when that was called for, but when given the chance, he channeled his inner Barry Sanders (as Chris Kerber put it) and juked through all the defenders.
We should not expect that much flair from Faulk every night. Knowing he has the confidence to do that, without sacrificing on the other end the way some other defenders do, is really encouraging.
Cons: Slow start
If this is a subconscious thing due to the Blues having too much of an idea of where teams are in the standings, it might be understandable, even if not acceptable. Whatever the reason, these slow starts for the Blues are annoying.
Yes, they won and we’re all happy. Yes, the goals eventually came.
That does not excuse coming out of the gates slow for the second game in a row. Do that against some of the best teams and you’ll find yourself in a world of hurt.
St. Louis got away with it because Arizona is streaky and Binnington found his groove early. If either of those things don’t fall the Blues way, they could find themselves down by two or three goals before they even have a chance to score themselves.
You can only get away with it for so long.
Another solid win with some good performances, but it’s just not quite clicking for everyone just yet.
While Hoffman finally scored off his own shot, the third line is still too hit or miss in general. While everyone is singing his praises, I still see plenty of flaws in Dunn’s game that are still getting exposed. For example, it was his failure at the blue line that sprang the breakaway that Binnington bailed him out on.
Offensively, the Blues were good in the first and third period, from a shot standpoint. Once O’Reilly’s goal put them up by two, they took their foot off the gas.
The Blues were outshot 17-6 in the final period. Still, you can’t deny that they got it done.
Whether it was coincidence or just self realization, the Blues felt like they knew how much they needed to put into this game and that’s all they gave and it worked. Two points is paramount, every time you can get them.
For as negative as I sound about this game, it actually was entertaining and reasonably well played. It’s just one of those things where the mistakes felt like they popped more than the good things.