Through three games in the opening round of the 2022 NHL playoffs, it is not looking that great for the St. Louis Blues. After winning Game 1, they have been outscored 11-3 in the following two games.
Minnesota had two of those goals in three minutes. They’ve scored six of those goals in just over 40 minutes out of 120 played.
On top of that, the Blues are dealing with injury problems. Marco Scandella missed the first two games and the Blues have also lost Robert Bortuzzo, Nick Leddy and Torey Krug in the span of three games as well.
Scandella returned for Game 3, but the Blues lost Krug. At best that’s a wash, but St. Louis lost one of their best puck movers on top of the guys they already had out of the lineup.
It is looking pretty dire, right? Yes and no.
The bottom line is that if the Blues don’t get any of those defenders back, it will be incredibly difficult to win. Even if they did find a way to scrape by Minnesota, there’s just no way to slow down Colorado if you don’t have your best guys.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are things within the Blues power to change that can swing things back in their favor.
First, and foremost, they need to stop trying to destroy the Minnesota Wild. St. Louis had 39 hits in Game 2. They had 33 in Game 3.
The one game St. Louis won, they only had 23 hits. It wasn’t a physically punishing 23 hits either.
The Blues tried to knock the Wild out of their skates in the two games they lost. They were composed and playing their own style in Game 1 and the results show on the scoreboard.
It’s great that St. Louis wants to engage and be physical. They’re not built like they were in 2019 though and the injuries are showing that. It should be noted that Leddy’s injury was the result of a cheap hit, but the overall point is that the Blues are not built to play that way. They’re racehorses, not Clydesdales.
In addition to the physical play, St. Louis needs to find their composure. You cannot win the game in the first five minutes, so stop trying.
Game 3 was the biggest example of this. The Blues were absolutely flying and trying to get a goal in the first 20 seconds.
In doing this, they exposed themselves. When defense has been a liability all year, you can’t just have everyone flying all around the offensive zone because a quick chip out leads to a break the other way. St. Louis has allowed 12 or more odd-man rushes in this series alone. They’re a system defense and the system breaks down when you’re throwing caution to the wind.
You definitely cannot win the game in the first five minutes, but you can lose it. In Game 3, when you allow two goals in the first two minutes and change, you’re putting yourself behind the eight ball way too early.
Even in Game 2, the Blues just couldn’t put a cork in it. Minnesota didn’t score until the 9:33 mark, but got goals of fluke plays, such as a broken stick. The Wild got two more goals over the next 10 minutes and had a 2-0 lead within five minutes of the first goal.
The Blues just need to calm down a bit. They’ve had the first goal scored against them and not settled back down.
Clearly, in this series, scoring the first goal is going to be very important. While the sample size is small, the team that has scored first has not only won but run away by the end of the contest.
If nothing else, the Blues need their big guns to step up. David Perron did so in Game 1 and Ryan O’Reilly has been consistent. Other than that, there has not been much.
The team’s best line of Robert Thomas, Vladimir Tarasenko and Pavel Buchnevich has one goal and five points. Someone in that trio needs to get hot.
In an ideal world, the Blues need to be playing to keep the game scoreless through about half of the first period, if not the whole thing. Obviously that can change if you have more healthy bodies, but they need to let the emotional wave of the opening section go by and then settle in.
If you get a goal within that time, it’s icing on the cake. The Blues need to focus on team defense, making simple plays to get out of the zone and track the puck instead of the player on the forecheck.
The Blues need to be more interested in puck retrieval than pure hits. They need to just simplify their game.
Minnesota has some high-end talent, but they are not that much better than the Blues. They have looked like they are for two games, but all it takes is one win in Game 4 and it’s a different looking series.
We all have short memory spans, but the 2019 playoffs didn’t go that well in any of the series. The Blues looked like they were going to sweep the Winnipeg Jets in the first two games and then, just like now, they went for hits instead of plays and lost two in a row.
The Blues righted the ship then and they can again. It won’t be the same way they did against the Jets, but all you have to do is keep yourself in it.
Even at their worst, the Blues have still been in these games near the end. We can argue back and forth about the empty net situations, but the Blues have had a glimmer of hope to come back in both losses thus far.
Get an early lead and don’t leave it up to a comeback attempt is the easiest way to shift things. We’ll see how it plays out, but it’s never quite as dire as some would have you believe.