After blowing a 2-1 lead in Montreal in the final eight seconds, the St. Louis Blues hoped a new night would give them a new result. Facing the high-powered offense of the Toronto Maple Leafs was going to make it difficult to wash that taste out of their mouths though.
Adding to the worry was the fact the Blues were without Vladimir Tarasenko. The Blues hot forward apparently picked up an undisclosed injury in Montreal and needed the night off.
Even so, Tarasenko’s linemates kept up the pace. After the Blues took some early pressure, it was a quick rush by Jordan Kyrou down the right who shot it off the right shoulder and Pavel Buchnevich finished off the play for the 1-0 lead.
Robert Thomas picked up an assist, giving him points in four straight. Buchnevich’s goal gave him points in five straight.
The next few shifts for each team ping ponged back and forth. Each team would generate a chance or two and it would go the other way for the same on the other end.
St. Louis seemed primed to capitalize on Maple Leaf turnovers, setting up some odd-man rushes. They did just that when a loose puck set up a break out where Klim Kostin sent an absolute laser beam to the stick side, giving St. Louis a 2-0 lead.
However, you knew the game was not going to be that easy. The Maple Leafs cut the lead in half at 15:33 of the first.
St. Louis was going to take a penalty, with a trip coming right at the blue line. Instead of a power play, the Leafs went down on a two-on-one and William Nylander slung a wrist shot to Ville Husso‘s blocker side to make it 2-1.
Opening up the second period, both teams were a little stifled. The play continued to go zone to zone, but the chances weren’t coming through.
That didn’t last long. Toronto tied the game with another Nylander goal on a partial odd-man rush.
St. Louis regained the lead 29 seconds later. Brayden Schenn was initially denied on a two-on-one, but kept his stick there and chipped in his own rebound before he crashed into the end wall.
Despite a pretty good period, overall, the Blues did not finish the 40 minutes with the lead. Toronto scored off an actual zone possession instead of a breakout and, due to a screen in front, a shot from the point beat Husso for a 3-3 game.
The seesaw battle continued at the start of the third. The Blues came out with good energy and retook the lead.
The passing to set up the goal was fantastic with Ryan O’Reilly splitting the defense and finding David Perron on the left side of the net. Perron waited the split second to draw the defense, twisted the pass for Brandon Saad who put it into an empty net for a 4-3 lead.
That line did for the Blues what Thomas’ line did earlier in the game. A shot from the point deflected off O’Reilly and the Blues were back up by two, 5-3.
The Maple Leafs did not go quietly into that good night. They came with a lot of pressure late in the game, forcing some good saves by Husso and some blocks by the defenders.
The game would be put on ice basically the way it started. Thomas forced a breakout and tapped a puck toward Buchnevich who reached out and swatted it into the empty net to make it 6-3.
St. Louis didn’t really allow any top-notch chances after that. It was a solid, well played road win and more than enough to wash that taste of the Montreal loss away.
Husso did not have to stand on his head during this win, but that’s not always the marker of a good goaltending performance. Sometimes, it is just being the steadying force.
Husso was just that. He made all the stops he was supposed to.
I’m sure there are some online that will say he could have done better on a couple of the goals. The two-on-one against Justin Faulk, technically Husso could have come out a smidgen farther. However, that’s hindsight. In the flow of the game, it’s hard to completely commit to the shot when the pass is still very available, even with your defender in the way.
Also, your typical online troll will say he should have had the third goal. Nevermind that he was screened and the puck just snuck past his skate and the post.
The bottom line is Husso was on it against a team generating odd-man rushes, facing some of the best scorers in the league. He made some big saves too.
In the end, he turned away 34 shots. That’s not a bad night.
Cons: Odd-man rushes
Sometimes you have to adjust to the flow of the game and the Blues did that in this contest. You would really say they capitalized on the breakouts more than Toronto.
That said, giving up several odd-man rushes to any team is simply not a recipe for winning a lot of games. The Blues offense has been excellent in 2021-22, but you cannot count on six goals every night.
When you’re going up against an offense the caliber of the Maple Leafs, you want to limit their rush chances as much as possible. The proof of that was Toronto scoring two of their three goals on odd-man rushes.
You’re not going to prevent every turnover and you can’t predict every stick in the lane that springs something. Even so, in the general sense, it was a little worrying that St. Louis gave Toronto some grade-A opportunities on the rush.
Fortunately, Husso was up to the task and some decent backchecking denied a few plays too.
Pros: Double your pleasure, pick your poison
It’s not too often that you can get six forwards all humming at peak performance in one game. Some games, you struggle to get two guys.
Other games, you’re lucky if you get an entire line clicking. In this contest, the Blues had two forward lines playing at their absolute best, in addition to some good performances by a few other guys.
The Robert Thomas line did not miss a beat, even without Tarasenko. Jordan Kyrou just slid into that spot and they kept right on keeping on, scoring the first goal of the game with a play as sooth as butter.
As good as that line was, the O’Reilly line was just as good in the third period. Like the Thomas line, this line also combined for two goals. They didn’t have the luxury of one being an empty net either. Their passing was just on point to a degree that it makes you wonder where it’s at in other games.
Cons: Zone time
This is a minor gripe. You score five goals during play and one empty net goal, there’s not a lot to gripe about.
However, seeing the final stats, the Blues had under four minutes of possession in the offensive zone. Comparatively, Toronto had closer to eight minutes of puck possession in the Blues zone.
On one hand, this shows the Blues ability to defend since they only surrendered 15 scoring chances compared to 37 shots against. On the other hand, it also shows the team’s inability to give their defense a breather by keeping the puck on the other end.
Basically all the Blues goals came from rush plays of one sort or another. Not all were your classic odd-man rushes, but there was little set up play and cycling going on for St. Louis.
Part of that is what Toronto was doing. Another part is simply a trend where the Blues don’t hold the puck enough and absorb a lot of pressure, even if they do a good job of it.
That’s all well and good for now. In the playoffs, you can only let teams just come at you for so long before you break.
Hopefully it does not seem like I am down on this performance. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
While we focus on the top two lines because of just how good they were, the Blues really got all four lines to click here. Schenn scored after some great play by his line. Kostin’s goal was the culminating result of several good shifts from the fourth line.
That’s when the Blues are at their best. When all four lines are doing their job, no matter what that is, and also generating chances, it’s an impossible team to defend.
When all four lines are going, you have the skill to score on the rush, the grit to score in close and enough skill elsewhere to get stuff in those in-between plays. Defensively, there were gaps, yes, but you also have to remember the quality of the players St. Louis was facing.
The Thomas line is not thought of as a defensive, shut down line, but they went against the Toronto top line all game long and held their own. Husso was strong and keeps proving why Craig Berube should give him the net.
Now, the Blues can return to the States happy with their overall Canadian trip. If you told us ahead of time that they’d take two of three and get five points, you’d take that in a flash. Most people simply would not have thought that the game you dropped points in would be Montreal, but winning in Toronto in regulation makes up for it.