During an 82-game season, there are few games that are truly “must win” games. However, the St. Louis Blues still hoped to start the official second half of the 2021-22 season on a good note (no pun intended).
This was especially true given they were playing a New Jersey Devils squad that has almost no hope of making the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Blues are trying to keep pace with the Central Division, which hosts most of the best teams in the West right now.
Unfortunately, the break was nothing but bad for the Blues. Instead of looking like a team that was tired of practicing against one another and chomping at the bit to have another opponent, St. Louis had less energy than you’d see in a morning skate in the first period.
For whatever reason, St. Louis just has zero offense early in games of late and that’s both now and before the All-Star break. This trend continued as the Blues only had three shots on goal by the time 15 minutes had been played in the first period.
You expect to be a little off, but the Blues just looked sloppy and unwilling to move. Passes were missing, pucks were slipping off the tape and guys were just standing up straight.
The Devils took advantage of this twice. Their first goal was the result of a turnover right up the middle of the ice.
The giveaway put the puck on a tee for PK Subban, who smashed it home. The second was even worse.
The Blues allowed a player to skate by at least three, if not four of their players. Guys just kept reaching out with the stick instead of putting a body on him and the cutback from the goal line resulted in a goal.
The one good thing about the first was a quick response. St. Louis found Klim Kostin for a one timer in the slot and it was 2-1 at the break.
The second period saw something much closer to Blues hockey. Because of that, they tied it up just over five minutes in.
After a scramble in front, with bodies falling all over the crease, Brayden Schenn managed to scoop it in. The puck was was sitting on the edge of the crease for what seemed like forever, but Schenn found the equalizer.
The turnaround continued for the Blues as the period went along. The offense finally came to life, despite some hiccups here and there.
St. Louis took the 3-2 lead with just under five minutes to go in the middle period. Justin Faulk snapped a wrister that clanged off the post, hit the skate of the goaltender and crossed the goal line by a whisker.
The third seemed to be going pretty well in the grand scheme of things. St. Louis was still creating some good chances and limiting the quality of the shots against.
Once the game neared the midway point, it shifted a little. Jordan Binnington made a great save, but lost his goal stick and the scramble almost ended with New Jersey scoring.
The Devils would tie the game just over nine minutes into the third. A fantastic pass, combined with less than stellar defending, finished with a 3-3 game when the puck crossed the line.
After that, the Blues didn’t fall apart, but they were letting the Devils play their style instead of how St. Louis had grabbed control in the second. There were too many long passes allowed through the neutral zone and the defenders kept letting guys fly in with speed.
After a questionable call that put Niko Mikkola in the box as part of a matching minors situation, the Devils connected on another rush. It wouldn’t have been the easiest save in the world given the speed of the shot and Binnington was going post to post, but it was a save that needed to be made. That goal made it 4-3 New Jersey.
The wheels came off from there. The Blues power play looked as bad as it had all season, not connecting on any critical passes and barely holding the puck in the zone.
The Devils doubled their lead when a defenseman, Vesey, took on three players and scooped a backhander into the upper, blocker-side corner to make it 5-3. St. Louis cut it to 5-4 when Schenn got his second goal just a few moments later, but that lasted no time at all.
The Blues tried to dump it in and put it right at the goalie. John Gilies grabbed it, played it to his defender who tossed it the length of the rink knowing he had two forwards on the break and the Devils put it into an empty net for a 6-4.
New Jersey added another empty-net goal to add salt to the wound. A loss to one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference is bad enough, but to let them score five unanswered goals in the third, regardless of how many were empty netters, just is not acceptable.
Cons: Energy levels
Having been in radio and television broadcast situations, I understand you’re not going to lay into players. Whether you’re a neutral or working for the team, it just doesn’t happen much unless you’ve established that kind of thing like a John Tortorella or Don Cherry.
That being said, it gets tiring to hear the Blues analysts be overly rosy. Fans get tired of hearing about guys being tired for this reason or that.
The last few seasons, the Blues have had decent season openers with the exception of the year they raised the banner. There’s months between games in that situation.
Why is a few days or a week or so a bad thing then? This is not the first time and won’t be the last, but the Blues actually seem to play worse if they’re not playing around every other day.
This game was just really bad. The first period was just awful.
The amount of guys just standing straight up was worrying. You should be well rested and ready to get deep into that squat and fire those legs around. Instead, they looked like they thought they were playing beer league players.
The third period was not quite as bad, but the mistakes just mounted. I get that time off will take away some sharpness, but then don’t go for cutesy passes and just be overly direct and rely solely on fundamentals.
The Blues didn’t do any of that. They kept trying to go to the well and play as though this was not their first game in awhile and it never really paid off.
Pros: Second period
The second period was much more of what you’d see from the St. Louis Blues. They were on their toes offensively and they limited chances against.
That does not mean they did not allow shots. St. Louis still gave up nine shots in the second period, which was the least amount allowed in a period, but it was the quality of the chances that kept the Devils quiet.
With the exception of a handful, most of the Devils shots were coming from low percentage areas. This was allowing Binnington to get set and in position to make the stops – basically the opposite of what we saw in the first and third.
Offensively, the Blues really got a good push and got in close. In reality, they were probably unlucky to not have more than the two goals they got in the second.
St. Louis was creating things tight to the net. Only Faulk’s goal came from distance. Every other goal for the Blues, second period or otherwise, was from the slot or closer.
Cons: Passes allowed
Look, New Jersey is a fast, young team and that is hard to defend. The one thing I will give the Blues a small pass on is having to go against that speed when only Jordan Kyrou has been doing anything competitive within the last 10 days.
However, the Blues are still a defensive minded team and scheme can at least slow down speed. Scheme means taking away certain areas of the ice, not allowing the key passes that set up the high quality chances.
The Blues just did not do that in any sense. They allowed tons of stretch passes through the neutral zone.
If they didn’t allow the pass, they still allowed the Devils to fly into the zone, unmolested, and then got caught puck watching. The back checkers did not do enough to thwart anything, so this led to easy drop passes with the trail attacker and either goals or good chances.
In addition to the neutral zone, the Blues backed off far too much. This allowed passes to connect right in front of the net.
We can blame Binnington all we want and, subjectively, there were a couple goals he had a chance to save. However, when you’re allowing passes to connect horizontally about two or three feet in front of the crease, that’s simply a defensive breakdown.
At that point, I don’t care if you have to try to grab the puck with your hand. You don’t let those passes across.
This is one of those games that is frustrating, but maybe shouldn’t be. Maybe?
The reason maybe it should not be is because it’s just a non-conference game. There’s still 37 games to go after this one, so plenty of chances to get wins.
The reason it is extra frustrating is because this is a bad opponent and these are points that may cost you seeding or even a playoff spot in a tightly packed Western Conference.
Don’t give me this stuff about every team in this league deserves respect and what not. The Devils score a decent amount of goals, but in the end, there’s a reason they’re at the bottom of their conference (technically second last in their division based on points, but Philly has games in hand and fewer losses).
The Blues had no business losing. Once you’re ahead, you clamp down and crush them. Instead, we saw first period Blues return, playing like they thought it would be smooth sailing.
I highly doubt St. Louis finds a way to miss the playoffs. The teams around them, i.e. Minnesota, Nashville and Winnipeg, are just as likely to fall apart in the second half as they are to remain status quo.
Even so, you cannot lose winnable games when everyone except the top team is separated by a couple points, give or take. You need to win all the games against the bottom feeders and grab as many points as you can against the top teams.
We can chalk this up to a poor performance after a long layoff, but this was also mistakes we’ve seen throughout the season, regardless of layoff. St. Louis keeps showing up unready to go when the initial puck drops. They leave their goalie out to dry, forcing great saves or allowing goals. They don’t slam the door shut enough.
Those were all problems in the first half. They cannot continue to be problems because you only get one, maybe two games after a break where the break is the excuse.