The St. Louis Blues were one of the hottest teams in the entire NHL to start the season. As we approach the quarter-season mark, they have run extremely hot and cold.
For every game they score a bunch of goals and look like world beaters, there is a game where they look entirely outmatched, regardless of the quality of the opponent. We saw a little of all of the above against the Vegas Golden Knights.
St. Louis failed to show up in the opening minutes of the game. Consequently, they allowed a goal in the first minute of the game, failing to mark up defensively.
The Blues have struggled late in periods, so this was a little new to struggle so early in the contest. It did not get any better as Vegas was afforded a breakaway and took a 2-0 lead with less than seven minutes played.
Despite getting outscored and outshot in the early going, the Blues had some very good chances. They failed to capitalize on them, often failing to even generate a shot.
Then, the switch flipped. After missing an easy tap in, Ryan O’Reilly got the team going with a shot that snuck in off the pad and into the net.
That goal from the captain seemed to settle the team down. They started converting opportunities into actual shots and then Tyler Bozak tied the game less than two minutes after O’Reilly had struck. It was a timely goal and finally got Bozak off the goose egg for goals this season.
Speaking of finally, Justin Faulk finally got his 100th goal of his career. A good tip out of the zone led to a Faulk breakaway and the defender made no mistake.
There was still almost eight minutes left in the period when the fifth total goal had gone in. Luckily nothing more happened because the Blues started getting sloppy again.
The worry, as always, was that St. Louis would continue that sloppy play in the second period, where they have struggled this year. They put an ease to that worry early.
Drawing an early power play, they doubled their lead with the man advantage. Brandon Saad continued his run of good form, refusing to give up on a play in the slot and eventually chipping it over the shoulder and in for a 4-2 lead.
The third period seemed as though it would pass as a mundane 20 minutes. As it wore on, the Blues started finding their game once again.
Cons: Not ready early
I saw all sorts of reactionary posts on social media when the Blues were down 1-0 and then 2-0. Of course, most people took the lazy route and blamed the goaltender.
I’m not sure what Jordan Binnington is supposed to do against a player alone in front of the crease and then a breakaway, but I forgot that Binnington is not a good goalie because he doesn’t get a shutout every night. Regardless of what reason you sided with, the bottom line is the Blues were not ready.
That’s not to say they weren’t prepared or didn’t have some energy. However, both goals were the result of mental errors.
Things happen throughout any game that lead to goals, but you really should not relinquish a goal in the first minute of a game. It’s one thing if it’s just a fantastic play, but the Blues fell asleep.
I’m not saying you need to play a man-on-man defense, but it does not look good to fail to clear the puck and also have no awareness that Chandler Stephenson had come off the boards. It was a bang, bang play, but someone has to be close enough to at least attempt a poke.
A goaltender stands little chance against a player with time right in front of the net. The same was true of a breakaway for the second goal.
The overall excuse is that the Blues defensemen are offensive minded. That’s true, but both of them cannot rush forward at the same time and continually allow players in behind them.
You can say if there was no turnover it would not have mattered, but the Blues aren’t the best at holding the puck. Therefore, at least one defender needs to be aware of who might break the other way. That did not happen and a stretch pass up the middle led to a goal.
Pros: Clicking once on
As bad as the Blues were in the first five-plus minutes, they were as good later in the game. Ignore the shots against, which shows a fairly even game.
The Blues were the better team for the majority of this contest. The final of 5-2 was a fitting score and the Blues choked on several chances as well, meaning St. Louis could and perhaps should have had even more.
A certain group, mainly on Facebook, likes to blame Binnington. The reality is that he played very well in spite of those early goals.
Instead of morphing into the goalie that swings sticks at people, Binner calmed down and came up big when needed. Though the game was essentially in hand, he made some great saves down the stretch, including a diving blocker save late in the game.
O’Reilly finally looked like the player the Blues have missed and needed. Hopefully he has finally shaken off his sickness and will return to normal, both skill wise and from an endurance standpoint.
Tarasenko was a little snake bitten as far as goals stood, but finished the night with two important assists. Offensively, the team worked hard to earn their five goals. As mentioned, frankly, they should have had more but those are the breaks sometimes.
This was not a perfect 60 minutes by any stretch of the imagination. It does have to be mentioned that Vegas was missing players due to their own covid protocol situation.
Nobody shed a tear when the Blues were missing players. We should not give any benefit of the doubt to the Golden Knights for the same reason.
They still had guys that have played for Stanley Cups on the ice. Regardless of who they were missing, the Blues whooped them once they found their own game.
The Blues could easily have folded and just said it’s not our night. Instead, they persevered, got the ship righted and won their 10th game of the season.
From a mental standpoint, this was a big win. Vegas might be middling right now, but they owned St. Louis last season.
To have two wins over the Golden Knights this early in the season gives the Blues their own mental edge for later in the year. It also helps their confidence heading into some rivalry matchups.
Vegas is slightly down right now, but the Blues showed up and did their job. They will need similar performances against Detroit and Chicago coming up.
Both teams are not as as good as the Blues, but you cannot take anything for granted. Not taking things for granted against Vegas can be a blueprint for wins in the next couple games too, if the Blues follow it.