The St. Louis Blues came into the 2022 Winter Classic on a decent roll. Despite having games postponed and an almost endless supply of names for the covid list, the Blues had won six out of their last eight and one of those losses was in overtime.
They brought that energy into the first period of a game played in frigid temperatures. The thermometer said -6 degrees to start and it went down as the game went along, but the Blues looked comfortable in it.
St. Louis had the first seven shots on goal. While they were not grade-A chances, they had the better of the looks and control of the game. If not for a few too many passes, they might have had some extra shots as well.
Defensively, the team looked good in the first. They limited Minnesota to just six shots and almost all of those were from the perimeter.
Unfortunately, thigs got weird after that. The Wild’s second power play of the game literally came when they tripped one of their own guys and the ref put Logan Brown in the box. They would not score, but it was part of an odd end to the period.
Minnesota tied it on a similarly strange play. Kirill Kaprizov drove down the left wing and flung it in front from near the goal line. The puck got across the crease and banked in off Niko Mikkola. So, the Wild’s lone goal of the opening frame did not even come off a statistical shot on goal.
The Blues put that disappointment behind them early on in the second. In the first 20 seconds, they generated an odd-man rush and O’Reilly was stopped. On the ensuing play, Jordan Kyrou fired one in front that got tipped in. Initially, it looked like it went in off of Vladimir Tarasenko, but it was deemed to have gone off the defenseman. Regardless, it was 2-1 Blues.
Minnesota started getting a little more into the flow of the game as the second went on, but that just opened up more ice for the Blues. The second time around, there was absolutely no doubt that Tarasenko scored. This time Vladi snapped the Brett Hull-style one timer from one knee and made it 3-1.
The Blues kept on their toes. Despite passing way too much, they still managed to nab a late power play goal.
With just seconds remaining, Kyrou rammed one off the rock-hard pad of the goaltender. Ivan Barbashev shoveled it in and the Blues were up 4-1.
The goals kept pouring in. The Blues went up 5-1 when Kyrou roofed in his second of the game.
The Blues put their foot down quickly. Not even a minute after Minnesota had some jump, Torey Krug wristed one in from the slot to restore the four-goal lead.
In the third, St. Louis seemed to take their eye off the prize just a little. Ryan Hartman scored on a beautiful two-on-one to make it 6-3, for what felt like a feel good goal with the Wild actually scoring a legitimate one.
However, this time, the Blues didn’t really recover properly. After killing off another penalty, Marco Scandella puzzlingly went below the goal line, leaving a man open right in front of the net and Minnesota made it 6-4 with over five minutes left.
A nightmare scenario almost ensued. A bad bounce off a partition came right out in front and almost banked in off Binnington.
St. Louis kept it interesting right until the end. They continue to feel like one of the worst teams at converting empty net goals and they repeatedly failed to clear their zone.
Nevertheless, they held on for a 6-4 win and first place in the division.
As if Blues fans did not have enough reasons to love Jordan Kyrou, he came up with even more on a national stage.
Kyrou restored the Blues lead in the second period, scoring an unassisted goal. While I still think Tarasenko got a little touch, it doesn’t matter. Kyrou showed how strong he is by slipping through a check, retaining possession and having the wherewithal to get the puck to the net.
Kyrou had the primary assists on both the Tarasenko and Barvashev goals. The helper on the Barbashev goal was a shot, but Kyrou was smart enough to keep it low where it would bank out front.
The roof job for Kyrou’s second goal was just pretty.
Kyrou set a record for most points in a Winter Classic. The most anyone had prior to 2022 was three and Kyrou got four points in one period.
Cons: The first two goals against
Given the fact the Blues won, you take everything in stride. However, you would rather have seen legitimate goals scored by the Wild as opposed to the nonsense we got.
The broadcast crew gave Kaprizov credit for bull rushing down the wing and he did showcase his speed. That was not even a shot and barely a pass and went off an awkwardly positioned Mikkola.
The second goal was even worse. Again, a play that did not even result in a statistical shot, hit a defensive stick, the goalie’s mask and went in.
For all I know, I could be wrong. Perhaps a goal absolutely must be counted as a shot no matter the circumstances. However, given my understanding of what a shot is, those would not have been counted as shots and the Wild still got two in.
Minnesota did score two real goals later on, which made the game closer than it should have been, but at least that gave their fans something to be excited about.
Pros: Penalty kill
Though the Wild’s third goal came immediately after a penalty kill, the Blues kept all the goals to even strength.
Minnesota was given four power plays and never really looked like scoring on any of them. The Blues were some of their most fluid on the ice when they only had four guys out there.
Maybe it was because they knew they had to keep their feet moving, regardless of any hindrance from the layers under their uniforms. Whatever the reason, the penalty kill looked as good as it had all season.
Cons: Third period
Nobody will ever admit it – maybe it was a subconscious thing – but the Blues thought the game was over after the third period. St. Louis just didn’t come to play in that third period.
Give credit to the Wild since they did. However, it was not as though Minnesota had a shut down defense out of nowhere. The Blues simply mustered absolutely no offense, only getting four shots on goal against a goaltender that had sat in the freezing cold for two periods.
The Blues suddenly lost the ability to get the puck out of their own zone. In the last six minutes, the Blues had double-digit times where they could have cleared the puck and either didn’t or the Wild kept it in, which ends in the same result.
St. Louis was out-shooting and out-chancing the Wild going into that third period. By the end of the contest, the Blues got outshot by Minnesota 32-31.
There is an argument to be had about the quality of chances across the entire 60 minutes, but overall it was not a good period.
This was not the best of games, nor the best Winter Classic. It was entertaining to watch, though you had to actually watch the entire thing since the TNT broadcast crew barely wanted to talk about what was actually going on. You’d have thought it was a baseball game with the amount of outside stories they kept chucking in there.
Overall, it was good to see the Blues come so ready. Despite a few recurring naysayers, Tarasenko had a great game. Kyrou was fantastic.
Ryan O’Reilly wasn’t on the score sheet other than an assist on the first goal, but he led by example. It was a quiet game for a few players, but everyone made their mark, even if only for one moment in the game.
Defensively, you’d like to have seen things be cleaner. Parayko and Mikkola were not taking care of the puck at all in the early portions of the game. What Scandella was doing on that fourth goal is beyond me.
However, when you strip all the gripes away, it’s a win over a team near the top of the division. The Blues are still in first place in the Central, even if Minnesota has games in hand, and St. Louis is now 2-0 in Winter Classics.
This one was not nearly as special as the one in St. Louis, but it was never going to be for those of us in St. Louis. It’s cliché, but it’s never the same as your first.