It’s been a very long time since St. Louis Blues fans got to see Sidney Crosby against the Bluenote. These two opponents had not seen one another, outside of video highlights, since December 4, 2019.
Though you never quite know what to expect when the Blues play an Eastern Conference team – sometimes, the game is oddly physical and other times it’s a more boring matchup of teams that couldn’t care less about the jersey across from them – this game ended up being a defense is optional track meet at the start.
The offense didn’t flow in the first minutes, as both teams kind of felt the other out. However, once everyone settled in, there was basically no play in the neutral zone.
The first period ebbed and flowed a lot. St. Louis had the better of the early chances, getting a quick six shots.
Unfortunately, that was where the offense stopped for the Blues. Despite a few good pushes into the offensive zone and some odd-man rushes, the Blues were scoreless and only managed those six shots in 20 minutes.
Conversely, the Penguins got on their toes at the end of the first. After a slower start than you’d expect for a team that had won eight straight, the Pens were buzzing in the last five minutes. They probably felt disappointed to not have a lead after one, but it went into the locker room 0-0.
Showing that an intermission, and a late first period power play, make all the difference, the Blues struck first in the second. Not even 30 seconds in, Brayden Schenn snapped one over the glove side for a power play score and a 1-0 lead.
The Blues settled in their defensive zone a little too much on their next handful of shifts. While the Penguins didn’t get great chances on goal, they were still getting good looks.
However, the Blues pushed back against the run of play and scored again. This time it was Jordan Kyrou to keep his hot streak going and push back toward the top of the team scoring lead.
After this, the game opened up quite a bit again. Pittsburgh kept pushing and the Blues eventually caved.
The Penguins scored on a rebound chance with Bryan Rust scoring on the power play to cut the lead in half. That 2-1 score didn’t last long.
Colton Parayko jammed one in to restore the two goal lead. A couple minutes after that, it was a one-goal difference again as Rust got his second with 4:07 left in the second.
The third period got pretty testy. The physicality was not off the charts, but there was some extra curricular activity after the whistle as both teams tried to dig in.
Pittsburgh got a gift of a power play about five minutes into the third when Niko Mikkola was called for goalie interference, even though he was pushed into the netminder. The Blues killed that off, thanks to a couple big saves from Jordan Binnington, who continued his hot play from the first period.
Unfortunately, the Binnington fortress couldn’t save the day. Eventually, the Blues miscues cost them.
The final eight minutes of the final period just went to hell. The Penguins racked up three goals, including two in 12 seconds.
The game got tied on a garbage Crosby goal. By the definition of the rule, it was technically not goalie interference, but it just felt like Binnington should have the right to reach out and grab the puck with his glove and not get spun around because of it.
However, his arm was out of the crease, so Crosby banged in the rebound and the Blues went to the box for challenging the play and losing. A couple quick passes in the zone and the Penguins took the lead on the power play.
St. Louis got trapped in their own zone too much after that. They looked discombobulated and the Penguins eventually connected to an open man on the back door for a 5-3 lead.
Despite pulling their goaltender, the Blues never truly threatened. They had one or two decent looks, but the game had passed them by.
It was a terrible end to a game it felt they had in hand. It’s only the team’s second regulation loss in 11 games, but it came in disheartening fashion to get somewhat overwhelmed in the third like that.
I don’t care how many goals got past him, if you watched the game, you know that Jordan Binnington was on point during this contest. While earlier I said it felt as though the Blues had the game in hand, the only reason for this was because Binnington was keeping them in that kind of position.
The weird thing is the Blues were not awful defensively. However, to start the game, it was too much back and forth and then the Blues just lost their bearings in the second half of the third.
Binnington will likely say he didn’t have a great second period, where two goals got by him. Still, 15 first period saves (or 14, depending on what stat site you look at) and another 13 in the third.
Several of these were key saves, giving the Blues every opportunity to win.
This one is a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, the Blues were far too undisciplined, totaling 22 penalty minutes in this contest. On the other hand, the quality of the penalties was nonexistent, meaning they were mainly garbage calls.
The penalty given for delay of game was correct by the rules. I disagree with a challenged play leading to a penalty, but I understand the idea to make teams more hesitant to use it.
Some of the others were trash. Tyler Bozak‘s penalty for holding was ridiculous and, if nothing else, should have included an embellishment penalty since the Penguins player took a good two strides before falling to the ice.
As mentioned, Mikkola was bumped into the goaltender. Even being a goaltender, I don’t agree that Mikkola had every opportunity to not make contact and the contact also had no bearing on the play. It’s not as though the Blues scored and the call was needed to negate a goal.
The counter argument is that, if you know the referees are making snap-judgement calls based on reactions, then you simply cannot engage in activity that will give the the refs any reason to call something. This is easier said than done, but a necessary adaptation.
Pros: Tarasenko anger
This had no bearing on the outcome of the game, but I especially liked seeing Vladimir Tarasenko really pissed off.
Some people will say Tarasenko didn’t have a good game, but it’s not as though the entire lineup was on fire. Tarasenko kept his hot offensive play going, getting an assist on Kyrou’s goal.
Even if he did not get that point, I liked the fire we saw on that misconduct. The naysayers and haters still accuse Tarasenko of not being part of this team or not sticking up for his teammates.
This continued to prove them wrong. Tarasenko was upset at the referees and sticking up for his teammates, whom he believed had not done anything wrong.
Just like a manager getting kicked out in baseball can be a good thing, it was great to see Tarasenko do this for the Blues. It was too late to impact this game, but don’t think the guys on the bench didn’t realize what was being done.
Cons: Third period defense
The defense was incredibly inconsistent in this game. They relied on Binnington a lot in the first and third periods, but it was even more pronounced in the third.
It has to be said that the Penguins are the hottest team in the NHL, currently. Even so, there are certain fundamentals that were not on display.
The Blues spent too much time in their own zone defending. Their failure to clear the puck led to sustained pressure for Pittsburgh.
That led directly to the fifth goal of the game. Maybe the Blues score a fourth or maybe they don’t, but if Colton Parayko is never put in a spot where he is absolutely gassed, facing his goal, trying to backhand swat the puck out, then maybe the Blues have a shot late in the game. Instead, that failed clearance went right to a Penguin and they finished it off.
The Blues made lots of failed clearances, which is something they’ve been guilty of a lot lately and simply gotten away with. They need to be better at their puck placements and decision making.
On the surface, this was just one of those games. You’re not always going to get a great 60 minutes and you can’t win them all and all sorts of cliches.
However, this was somewhat the culmination of some bad habits the Blues have had in their last few games. Think of the Winter Classic. The Blues should have won that 6-2 or 6-0, but failure to clear the puck and poor defensive decisions caught up to them a few times too many.
We saw that on display again against Pittsburgh.
Similarly, while this is just a random game against an Eastern Conference opponent, it was also a winnable game that not only ended with no points, but was out of reach before the Blues could really even mount a true comeback.
The odd season for Binnington continued as he has been brilliant for the eye test, but gets no support and thus has poor stats.
Offensively, the Blues had a decent night. Three goals on 29 shots is pretty good, but the offense was too sporadic.
They did enough to make the Penguins change their goaltender, but could not really challenge Tristan Jarry.
This is just a learn from it and move on kind of game. Nothing in this game is much to worry about since it can, and likely will be cleaned up.
It’s just disappointing when this was a winnable game if the Blues just stayed within themselves.