The St. Louis Blues were coming off a huge, motivating win over the Colorado Avalanche in their last contest. As usual, with the Blues, the worry was whether that was sustainable or just another blip on the screen before they imploded again.
Going against a team that can put up six goals any night and score at will on the power play is tough, even for a defensive minded team like the Blues. Additionally, even when the Avs lose in regulation, which has been a rarity, they still force their opponent to score a lot of goals to do so.
Given St. Louis’ offensive struggles, getting another five goal night as well as keeping the Avs off the board too seemed a daunting task. The Blues seemed to find their groove early and got to work.
After winning 5-3, despite falling behind 2-0, the Blues were determined not to come from behind again. They got onto the right foot by scoring a power play goal from Vladimir Tarasenko, 9:25 into the first period.
Beyond the goal, the Blues were playing a stifling style, slightly similar to what we saw in the 2019 playoffs (minus the big-time punishment on the boards). The Avs looked visibly frustrated by the Blues willingness to take the body to throw them off their game.
Due to that frustration, the Blues struck again quickly after the first. Just slightly over four minutes later, Brayden Schenn would strike after a nice setup from behind the net.
St. Louis allowed a little pressure late in the period, but there’s only so much containing of the Avs you can do. Nevertheless, Jordan Binnington was there to fill the cracks when they rarely appeared.
The second period has been abysmal for the Blues throughout the year, allowing nearly 20 more goals than they have scored in the middle frame. Again, St. Louis seemed determined to get that monkey off their back.
They were playing smart hockey, strong defensive hockey and making the most of their opportunities. David Perron deflected a shot from the point to get his 14th goal of the season and the team’s third of the game.
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The Blues took one too many penalties, however, giving Nathan MacKinnon one too many cracks at the power play. Despite holding the Avs off the board the first time around, Colorado kept up their power play dominance with a goal and cutting the lead to two.
Instead of buckling, the Blues just got back to work. Robert Thomas regained the three-goal lead, with a nice shot, oddly after blowing two-consecutive breakaway chances.
The Blues buckled down in the third period. Unfortunately, the offense disappeared, only getting three shots on target, but the defense kept solid. Binnington made some great saves when needed, but it really didn’t feel like the Blues were being swarmed and just holding on. It was a great showing in all three zones and a fine 4-1 win.
Scoring goals, especially four, is always a great thing, but they can come about by so many different ways. In this game, the Blues got many of their goals by being especially decisive with the puck.
On the power play, we have seen the Blues defer and pass up great chances, simply because they either want someone else to get their mojo going or they just want that other person to take the responsibility of the shot. In this game, the Blues got their power play goal because they knew exactly what the opponent was doing and made quick decisions instead of hemming and hawing.
Mike Hoffman, while a great scorer, has been terrible at getting antsy and making poor passes back to the blue line even when the defender is covered. Here, he quickly realized his shot options were thin and made the quick decision to find a seam pass across the slot to Torey Krug who found Tarasenko just as quickly and the goal came after.
Instead of Hoffman dishing back to the point man or Krug peeling off, they made quick decisions based on instinct Their teammates rewarded those decisions by being in the right spot and Tarasenko rewarded it all by finishing off the play.
Similarly, on the second goal, the Blues saw the play develop before it actually did.
After a puck battle at the blue line, David Perron rimmed it around behind the net. While waiting for the puck to come, Ryan O’Reilly gave a glance out front and knew Schenn would be there. This early vision allowed him to snap the pass out front quickly before the defense could react and Schenn buried it.w
The pass to find Thomas was quick. His decision to actually shoot paid off too.
NHL regular seasons have always been more penalty ridden than the playoffs, but this season just feels so different. Beyond the frequency of the calls, the quality of the calls is just not there.
Yes, the game is faster than it’s ever been and guys are stronger, blah blah etc. etc. The bottom line is refs are getting duped. The high sticking call late in the first period on Hoffman, if his stick hit anything, it was likely the visor. But, the refs saw the stick came up, assumed there was contact and put the arm up.
Similarly, the Blues second power play was somewhat gifted to them. They didn’t score, but that killed off two minutes of the game during an important stretch.
The 2021 playoffs are going to be an interesting beast. Guys seem like they’re finally acclimating to the ridiculousness of today’s officiating, but in a normal playoff year, the calls become less and less as things go on.
This did not have the feel of a game that the Blues goaltender stole them a win. St. Louis played a well structured contest for three periods and outhustled their opponent for the most part.
Nevertheless, you still need your goaltender to come up large against an offensive behemoth. Binnington was up to the task again.
Not all of the 31 saves he made were of the spectacular variety, but making the saves you should can be just as key for a team. Making the saves you shouldn’t just gives your team an even bigger boost.
Binnington is not your uber-athletic, sprawling save goaltender, but he’s got some leg strength and will when needed. Here, like the forwards who scored, he read the play early and reacted appropriately, while pulling off the old-school double pad stack.
If only the Blues could be this sound every game. You’re not going to win every game, even when you’re at your best.
However, in 2021, it feels like the Blues have given so many away by taking their foot off the gas or having mental gaffes at the worst times. This game, coupled with the previous one, has proven that the Blues can hang with the big boys still.
Colorado fans will be quick to point out the players they are missing and there is no denying the talent they are lacking. However, the Blues were playing with 11 forwards and missing two of their key defenseman as well, so this was not a full squad for either team.
The bottom line is that a diminished Blues team took it to a diminished Avs team and beat them in almost every area of the game. While it’s never good to give them that many opportunities, even the penalty kill looked solid against Colorado.
Like the last game, we can’t get overly excited. We got sucked in by the whole “We’re comin'” thing during the last win streak and then it all crashed down.
It could easily spiral downward in the next game. For now, it seems like the Blues have found their groove again.
If nothing else, it’s fun to watch again, which is something we have not been able to say the entire season.