The St. Louis Blues had a tough transition from playing bottom dwellers to the Colorado Avalanche, the top team in the conference. Facing a possible second round opponent was a test.
However, it’s good to get a taste of what you might be facing later on at the end of the year. Colorado proved to be everything the Blues could handle.
The first period went back and forth, just like you’d expect from two Stanley Cup contenders. The Blues had a good early push, then Colorado took the control through the middle portion.
St. Louis regained the shot lead later in the first period. Overall, the first period went by with no result.
Each team had opportunities. Frankly, the Blues should have scored, but got robbed by some great saves by Darcy Kuemper.
Jordan Binnington made a few good stops too. Still, the Blues needed to crack that egg and failed to on the power play, nor in the period overall.
That proved costly as the Avalanche came out with fire in the second period. It proved to be a shaky/disastrous first five minutes for Binnington.
He was partially screened on a long shot, but should have been better positioned for the first goal. He got caught in the middle of the net while the shot went to his right.
The second goal was just as puzzling. St. Louis failed to clear the puck and Binnington got sucked out of the net to his left. Former Blues defender, Erik Johnson tucked it into an empty net for the 2-0 lead.
After a faceoff win, the Avs made it 3-0 with just over eight minutes played. Josh Manson fired one over Binnington’s shoulder and, again, he didn’t really react.
Just when it seemed as though the Blues were going to get blown out of the water, they found an answer. After a few good shifts, Brandon Saad finally broke the zero on the board to make it 3-1 with a power play goal and 6:59 left in the frame.
Unfortunately, the Blues couldn’t mount much more of a comeback. They nearly scored a couple shifts after their goal, but only managed a total of four shots in the period.
The hope was that second period goal would give the Blues some momentum into the third period. That was squashed very early.
Nine seconds into the period, Binnington failed to get the pass cleanly around the end boards. He couldn’t get his stick right when he got back into the crease and the Avs were able to beat him through the legs to make it 4-1.
Ryan O’Reilly came close to cutting the lead in half with about seven minutes left. It would have been a shorthanded goal and a huge momentum swing, but Kuemper made the save and St. Louis had to settle for the penalty kill.
The Blues caught a break late. Jordan Kyrou took a shot with 4:15 left and it went off O’Reilly’s knee to make it 4-2.
St. Louis pulled their goalie immediately after that. It worked out.
The Blues looked shaky at first, but O’Reilly charged in on the net. Pavel Buchnevich drove in on the left wing and behind the net, only to find the captain with a great pass and the game was suddenly 4-3.
Though St. Louis got a good push with it five-on-five, they still pulled their goalie with over two minutes left. They nearly scored on a deflection with just under 90 seconds left, but hit the crossbar.
That would be the final nail. The Blues won a late faceoff, but the puck just sat behind O’Reilly and the Avs rushed out of the zone and scored in the empty net to win 5-3.
Cons: Second period
While I don’t believe in the broadcaster curse, it was hard not to notice that ESPN praised the Blues second period play right before the second 20 minutes began. They merely discussed how they were one of the best second period teams in the league and had a better goal differential in the second period than 24 teams have as their overall goal difference.
Sadly, that praise was short lived. The Avs got two goals five minutes and three in eight minutes.
I was not pleased with Binnington’s play. He lost his stick at least twice and was not solid positionally.
He didn’t get much help though. You can’t score much on four shots and nobody was clearing the traffic.
St. Louis was fortunate to get the goal, though they did deserve the score during that particular power play. Overall, they just didn’t have an answer for the Colorado swarm.
Cons: Power play
Don’t let the one power play goal fool you. The failure to capitalize on the power play was a big reason the Blues were not more successful.
Maybe they would not have won anyway, but Colorado went shorthanded four times through 43 minutes. St. Louis needed at least one more power play goal, if not two.
Statistically, that’s unlikely. 25% on the power play is usually a good night, but the Blues have one of the better power plays in the league and they needed them to step up.
If St. Louis got some pressure and failed to score, it would be one thing. They didn’t really generate much buzz other than the shift that scored the goal.
St. Louis just couldn’t get the luck they had in Anaheim. It was not for lack of trying for the Blues captain.
He single-handedly led his team right back into this game. O’Reilly scored three points and had two, huge goals.
He was unfortunate not to get the hat trick. O’Reilly was a man possessed in this game.
If only the rest of the team, particularly the defenders, played like their captain did.
O’Reilly did his part with some big faceoff wins too. Unfortunately, his teammates did not and the Blues lost the faceoff battle.
This loss was a kick to the groin in several ways.
First, you lost to a rival that you’re trying to prove you’re as good as. The national pundits are all on their knees in front of the Avs, so it would have been nice to get a late season shove it back in their face, but it didn’t happen.
Secondly, the Blues failed to capitalize on a Minnesota miscue. The Wild lost to the Arizona Coyotes in a surprising result, so St. Louis could have leap frogged them and taken control of the home ice.
Lastly, and least importantly, the Blues lost their point streak. St. Louis had not lost in regulation in 16 games. Of course they were going to eventually, but even the OT point could have been huge.
It also robbed a lot of confidence from Binnington. I rarely blame the goalie and his teammates didn’t do enough in front of him.
That said, the goals he let up were killers. Even if you are generous, Binnington was at fault for at least two goals and most would argue four goals were his doing.
The real gut punch was that goal in the third. An argument can be made that the defender didn’t get back to take the pass, but that’s still not a good play by Binner. He basically handed the Avs a goal on a silver platter and it proved to be the game winner.
If he doesn’t make that pass or just sends it up the wall, the game ends up 3-3. Instead, it’s a loss.
Binnington is not the only reason the Blues lost, but he wasn’t the reason they were going to win either.
St. Louis turned it on late, but that second period was also a knife to the chest. You can’t rely on your ability to come back in games against top tier opponents.
St. Louis kept the big guns for Colorado quiet, but they let everyone else beat them.
St. Louis is forced to win against Vegas to end the year and hope the Minnesota results go their way.