The St. Louis Blues were hoping a return home and a new opponent would help wash the nasty taste from their mouth they acquired in the third period against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sadly, their opening against the Washington Capitals was more of a carryover from that Penguins game than anything.
The Blues looked lost at the start of the game. While their roster had some more tweaks due to more covid positives, it was no excuse.
The Blues were overwhelmed in the first couple minutes. It seemed as though the Caps had taken a one-goal lead on a two-on-one, but a poor shot and a good save from Ville Husso kept it out. That was short lived as they did score on the next shift.
St. Louis gave up four, easy back-door chances in the first five minutes. They were fortunate not to be down 3-0 or worse.
The Blues had a chance here or there, but not much to speak of. However, somewhat against the run of play, Torey Krug finished off a rush play and the game was tied.
St. Louis opened the second period a little better with more tempo. Craig Berube must have worked a little magic because they scored the next goal on a nice finish from Pavel Buchnevich, who had been a little cold of late.
The Blues were still sloppy with their passing, but they had gained more of a foothold in the game. Their increased pressure gave them a two-goal lead, this time being finished off by an Oskar Sundqvist tap in goal and a 3-1 score.
St. Louis continued to flirt with danger as the period came to a close. Another toe save from Husso in the final minute of the period kept the two-goal lead, which would become a three-goal lead on an Ivan Barbashev snap shot with 0.2 seconds left in the frame.
The interesting thing about this game was it felt tailor made for a Blues collapse. That is not to say they were playing that poorly, but with the Capitals generating the kind of early chances they did, you simply worried that the mistakes we saw in Pittsburgh would rise up again.
Instead, this looked more like a Berube-type team. They didn’t shut down and smother the Capitals, but they limited the chances against and let their goaltender see most of the pucks that did get through.
St. Louis did get outshot in the end, but 27 shots against was a far cry from how the game felt as though it would go. The Blues settled in, made the most of their opportunities and limited Washington to their fewest shot totals in the third period.
The Blues added a rare long-range empty net goal by Buchnevich late in the third, despite a penalty against prior to that. St. Louis finished off a nice win with a 5-1 score.
Cons: First period defense
St. Louis has become accustomed to hard nosed, stingy defense by the Blues. We got spoiled by that 2019 team that won the Stanley Cup because they got a lead and just hammered their opponents after that.
We have to accept that this team is not built the same. Nevertheless, they are still coached by Craig Berube and Mike Van Ryn is still in charge of the defense.
When you have the same systems and expectations of the system in place, it is discouraging when guys look totally out of it. We saw that late against Pittsburgh and early against Washington.
Theoretically, the Blues might have still won since they got four goals in game and an empty net goal, but it really could have and maybe should have been 3-0 Capitals in the first 10 minutes of the game. St. Louis was just out of it.
They had no awareness of where the backside forward was. They either lost them behind the net or did not track them down the wing and Washington had several backdoor looks they simply missed on.
The outcome was fine. How the Blues got there was not since they did not earn it in those early minutes.
Early in this game, the Blues seemed to really miss Vladimir Tarasenko. Despite him being the only regular forward missing due to the continued protocols, the roster upheaval seemed to disrupt the entire forward lines.
One bright spot early in the game was the continued pairing of Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou. While it was Krug to get that first goal, it was the set up by those two talented young players that made the difference.
The rest of the team kind of pulled themselves up to this duo’s quality by the end of the game. We’ve known their quality as individuals, but if they keep excelling together, the Blues may have their top-line duo for years to come.
While it has not been a ton of games to give us a good amount of evidence, it felt like Pavel Buchnevich was disrupted by the lineup change in recent times. He was a force when the Blues had the Russian three together, but when Tarasenko got moved to a line with Thomas and Kyrou, Buchnevich felt like he disappeared a little.
That is not to say he has played poorly, because he hasn’t. However, he kind of went all Carl Gunnarsson on us and just was not mentioned much either good or bad.
This game broke him out of that. He had a huge impact on this win for the Blues.
His first goal would prove to be the game winner. Not only did he score, but the goal doesn’t happen if he doesn’t work hard along the boards to keep the puck in. The finish was just clinical too, roofing the puck.
His second goal might have been an empty netter, but the Blues rarely score those and it’s even more rare to get a full-length shot to go in if you wear the Bluenote. Buchnevich got that and also got the primary assist on Barbashev’s late period goal.
Buchnevich picked up three points on three shots. He also recorded two hits and had a steal.
It was just a very solid game for him and a return to the form he had a couple weeks ago.
If we want to be nitpicky, St. Louis relied on their goaltender too much in the early going. 27 shots against was not overworking Ville Husso, but the Finnish goalie had to make some quality stops to keep the game from getting out of hand before St. Louis could settle in.
As the game went on, the Blues looked more themselves and kept the shot totals for the Capitals lower each period than the last. The Blues did not get a ton of shots, but that’s Berube’s style. They want to capitalize on fewer quality chances as opposed to just throwing everything at the net.
Offensively, the Blues were not swarming the offensive zone, but it was a good effort. They made the most out of their opportunities and the effort was there on more shifts than not.
Overall, this game felt like a mirror image of Pittsburgh. The Blues had their miscues in the first instead of the third and got better as the game went along instead of shakier.
Naysayers will point out the Capitals were missing some key guys. It doesn’t matter at this point.
The Blues have not had their normal roster all year. The Capitals still had the best goal scorer in the game and he ended up a minus-3 on the night.
The Blues simply got the job done. Similarly to how you just chalk the Penguins loss as one game, you just chalk this win as one game.
There wasn’t a ton you expect to carry over to the next one, so be happy with the win, work on the mistakes and switch the focus to the Dallas Stars because they’re waiting for a 1PM faceoff on Saturday.