The St. Louis Blues were not given a lot of love coming into the 2021-22. They were not picked by anyone to win the division and were listed by many prognosticators as a borderline playoff team.
Thus, they came into their season-opening game against Colorado with a chip on their shoulder. While the Colorado Avalanche were missing several, key players, the Blues showed they did not care in the first period of the season opener.
The Blues had a ton of jump and played with an edge. Just minutes into the game, Brayden Schenn dropped the gloves with Nazem Kadri as payback for an illegal hit that knocked out Justin Faulk in the 2021 playoffs.
St. Louis kept their foot on the gas, buzzing with good pressure. They would check into the game officially with a goal from Justin Faulk to grab a 1-0 lead.
The Blues failed to score again in the opening period, but it was not for lack of trying. They outshot the Avs 11-5.
Despite the names missing, the Avs had no intention of using that as an excuse. They showcased their depth with an early push in the second period.
Colorado made Jordan Binnington look a little shaky. If not for a post and a defensive stick on the rebound, the Avalanche would have tied the game in the first four minutes of the second frame.
Despite the puck slipping past him early, Binnington made several key saves to open the second. Colorado had four quick shots and several more chances in the first six minutes.
The Blues absorbed the pressure well and re-found their footing. As the game closed in on the halfway point, Schenn came up big again.
With the puck around the blue line, Schenn made a little drag past the defenders and sniped a smooth shot past the goaltender to make it 2-0. The Blues wasted little time adding to their lead.
David Perron found a lane on the right wing and sniped a beauty from the circle to make it 3-0. The Blues were definitely taking advantage of the situation after the Avs lost a forward and were already shorthanded.
The good vibes wouldn’t last forever. The Avlanche got on the board later in the period. They connected on some quick passes in the zone and buried a one-timer from the right side past a sliding Binnington.
Despite the goals, the Blues had a quite poor second period overall. All things considered, they were fortunate to leave with a two-goal lead.
The third period was more of the same in terms of pressure from the Avalanche. In the first five minutes, Binnington had to stand on his head several times, including an unbelievable glove save on a cross-ice one-timer.
Binnington kept the team in the game – bottom line.
But, the Blues tend to be a team of shifts. One shift, or a handful of shifts might be poor, but it only takes one or two to turn things around.
St. Louis finally had a few good shifts and, after killing a penalty, got a power play of their own. They threatened several times on the first shift, including a good shot by Tarasenko. Then, on the second shift, Perron sniped a second goal to make it 4-1.
Things can never be quite so easy for the Blues. Following a penalty call, the Avs got a lucky break on a knuckling puck that fooled everyone. The score made the game 4-2.
That did not last very long as the Avs scored another one mere moments after. It was another lucky goal as the man on the back side went skate to stick after a deflection for an easy tap in and a 4-3 game.
The Blues only held onto that one-goal lead for more than a minute because the Avs were denied the tying goal due to a kicked-in puck. Ryan O’Reilly would finish off what became a nail-biter, scoring an empty-net goal for a 5-3 win.
Pros: Tarasenko’s opening defensive effort
It will go mostly unnoticed, but Vladimir Tarasenko had an excellent first period from the defensive standpoint. Naysayers will say that Tarasenko was simply doing his job, but not all scorers have any interest in playing any defensive style. There are plenty of stars that never did.
Granted, this was just one period of the first game out of 82, but the effort for a full 20 minutes was impressive by Tarasenko. He was engaged in all three zones and backchecking quite well.
Showcasing his effort was a diving block of a cross-ice pass late in the first. If that connected, it would have led to a one-time shot for Colorado and a potential tie game.
Cons: Second period
A quick glance at the boxscore after the game will not indicate much wrong with the Blues in the second period. In fact, the simple stats say it was good.
The Blues outscored the Avs 2-1 and went into the second intermission with a 3-1 lead. Nevertheless, it was a poor 20 minutes of hockey by St. Louis.
The puck control was visibly bad by the Blues. They did not end up with a lot of statistical turnovers, but their poor puck management led to several Colorado chances.
Additionally, the forecheck all but disappeared. The lack of pressure from the Blues emboldened a Colorado squad that still had a lot of speed, even with the players they were missing.
St. Louis was outshot by a decent margin in that middle frame. They should have felt lucky to have a two-goal margin all things considered.
If not for some timely saves by Binnington and a few shot blocks, this game would have had a vastly different outlook after 40 minutes.
Everyone raves about Ryan O’Reilly and the deal that brought him here and rightfully so. However, there are times we forget how good and what a leader Schenn can be.
While many worry about his health, the bottom line is that this is a guy with top-line talent and he is willing to drop the gloves to send messages to opponents. Schenn seems to particularly like fighting with Avalanche players too, but picked a great opponent by taking Kadri to task for that hit last season.
After that, Schenn showed his skill after giving us his toughness. While the pass from Jordan Kyrou was fantastic, it needed a quality finish by Schenn.
He scraped it past the defenders, got the goalie out of position by making it look like he’d shoot back across the grain and then pushed a smooth shot past the near post.
It was just more examples of what we already knew – Schenn leads by example. If only he had one assist, he would have had the Gordie Howe hat trick.
Not a whole lot to be said that was not already mentioned. Perron had himself a heck of a game.
The French Canadian scored two goals and they were some pretty ones. You might chalk the first one up to poor goaltender positioning, but it still needed a rocket to get through.
The second one was just a pure snipe. For the second goal in a row, Perron went high to the blocker side and gave him and the team an excellent start.
While it was disappointing that the Blues absolutely needed both of Perron’s goals given the end score, it was great to see him hit midseason form in the opener. His second goal ended up being the game winner.
Cons: That ending
While the Blues pull off a win AND get an empty-net goal, it’s just too early in the season for all this stress. You have a three-goal lead and it just about evaporates into nothing.
To give the Blues a little credit, there was not a ton they could have done. The Avs did generate pressure, but they also got a lot of bounces that won’t go their way 100% of the time.
Some of those bounces off the end wall go a completely different direction or hit the back of the net 60-70% of the time. Instead, they found a Colorado stick each time and the Avs capitalized.
Nevertheless, it’s just another example of the Blues not being able to withstand the pressure when the opposing goalie is pulled. They got the job done in the end, but there should not have been that much nerves involved.
Much the same as we see against the Avalanche in many regular season games, the Blues had a great start, a mediocre middle and almost a nightmarish end. The worrying thing is that the Blues really only strung together 20 solid minutes of this contest.
St. Louis was just OK in the second. They took their eye off the prize and got a break with two quality goals and some great goaltending.
In the third, the Blues got themselves back into a bit of a flow, but seemed to back off too much late in the game. They relied on spectacular saves by Binnington again and simply did not have enough sustained possession in the offensive zone.
They lucked out that the Avalanche kicked in their potential tying goal.
The Blues got fantastic individual efforts from Schenn, Perron, Binnington and a handful of others. As a team, there was just a little let off the gas and that’s a bit worrying.
Ultimately, the Blues get the win and two points against a tough Avalanche team, regardless of who was available. That could be an important win later in the year.