After ending an eight-game losing streak with a win against the San Jose Sharks, the St. Louis Blues hoped to start a mini-winning streak. However, they were going against one of the hottest teams in the league in the Vegas Golden Knights.
Despite the mismatch in the standings, the Blues came out and looked the better team in the early going. Vegas had the shot battle in the first couple minutes, but the Blues were getting to their game.
St. Louis had the forecheck going and were physical. They outhit Vegas 15-10 in the first period alone.
The Blues also got the opening goal for the second game in a row. After a puck win in the corner, the Blues got the Vegas defenders twisted around with good puck movement. Brandon Saad then sent a laserbeam into the top-left corner over the blocker shoulder for a 1-0 lead.
It should have resulted in a great push for the Blues, especially given they were awarded a power play not long after the goal. The bad Blues showed up for a shift on that power play though.
After a poor pass led to a shorthanded rush, the Blues negated the initial chance. For whatever reason, three of the Blues players went after the puck carrier, leaving the middle of the ice open and another uncontested chance for Vegas, which they buried to tie it 1-1 with a shorthanded goal.
The Blues looked good out of the gate in the second period. However, the way this season has gone, it just won’t go the Blues way.
Phil Kessel won a battle in the neutral zone and used Justin Faulk as a screen. It was a shot that Jordan Binnington needed to stop, but it’s just been a terrible year for Blues luck so far in 2022-23.
The Blues did their best to turn the luck around though. They kept battling and managed to make it pay off.
Brayden Schenn made a good steal and fed it out front to Ivan Barbashev who scored to make it 2-2. Not long after, O’Reilly scored his second in three games as the captain gave his team a 3-2 lead with just over three minutes left in the frame.
St. Louis got two early power plays in the third period. Unfortunately, they did next to nothing with them. The second one was better than the first, but they still didn’t trouble the goaltender much.
The Blues were basically holding on for dear life for much of the third period. One of their best offensive chances came on a two-on-one with under four minutes left, but Noel Acciari couldn’t settle in and shot the puck wide.
Pavel Buchnevich missed an empty net from center ice and that would be the last good look for St. Louis. Despite several icing calls, they got some big saves and bigger blocks to hold on for a 3-2 win.
Cons: Power play
There’s a reason that Vegas is one of the best teams in the league this season and it’s because they have talented players. Talented players are often good on special teams.
So, you can’t expect the Blues to score a bunch of goals against a pretty good defensive corps. However, the power play was just not good.
Not only did they fail to threaten most times, but it’s just a listless couple minutes more times than not. They completely change their game when they have an extra man.
Instead of moving the puck quickly, they often dust it off and then pass to a partially covered man. The cross-ice stuff is so low percentage that it’s mind boggling they even try it.
The passing is often poor for the entire game for the Blues, win or lose. However, it’s particularly off on the power play.
So many passes go to guy’s skates instead of their sticks. If they hit the stick, it’s a hard pass to a guy that’s three feet away and he can’t do anything with it.
Ryan O’Reilly still doesn’t look quite right, but he’s getting there. The thing that is bothersome is he’s upping his game by playing with lesser talent.
No offense, but the current version of Brandon Saad does not have the upside of Jordan Kyrou. In an ideal world, Josh Leivo is not the winger for one of your best centers on the team.
However, with all that in mind, O’Reilly looked much more like himself. He made several strong defensive plays, poking the puck loose before the forwards for Vegas could get going.
He also kept his offensive resurgence going, picking up two points. He set up the first goal of the game and his goal proved to be the game winner too.
Cons: Too much defending
I don’t believe anyone on the Blues bench told the players to sit back and defend for the last 10 minutes of the game. That’s pretty much what happened though.
Binnington faced 22 shots in the third period alone. It used to be that teams might get 22 shots in an entire game and Vegas had that many in one period.
These were not just run of the mill looks either. The Blues allowed too many chances by not clearing pucks or turning it over in bad areas too.
You can’t argue the result since they won. You can point out that you won’t win many games holding on by your fingernails though.
Binnington has been under siege by both the Blues opponents and his own fans. Social media is littered with garbage hot takes about how the Blues regret keeping him and letting Ville Husso go when that’s not even a fair comparison given the team in front of each goalie is playing completely differently.
Regardless of that off-ice nonsense, Binnington stood up tall in this game. He was sharp, well positioned and quick to react even when he gave up a rebound.
Though the Blues actually had the shot lead through 40 minutes, it still felt like Binner was making bigger saves than Hill. It was the same story where the Blues turnovers often put them on their heels and giving up quality chances.
In the end, Binnington made 34 saves on 36 shots. Binnington was one of the stars of the game, which makes total sense since he was a big reason the Blues even won.
When your team is still attempting to get out of a franchise worst kind of streak, you take the small wins. So, a win is a win regardless of how you get it.
The Blues were still not anywhere near where they need to be, much less where those that believe in this team know they can be. So, getting a victory against the team with the most points in the NHL currently is a big win.
Failing to get anything on the power play was disappointing, especially since the Blues got those opportunities at points when an extra goal would have really helped. The amount of defending they did and how much they handed right to Vegas was still worrying.
On the flip side, you still have to do things right to beat a team like Vegas. The Blues were physical, getting 29 statistical hits.
Though they still weren’t clean with the puck, they only had seven statistical giveaways, which is one of the lowest amounts all season.
Though the Blues did too much defending, they actually did it pretty well. St. Louis blocked 23 shots, which was important since they allowed 36 shots to actually get through.
This was a good warmup performance. The next test will be the Colorado Avalanche who, while the record doesn’t show it, are still a deeper team than even Vegas.
We’ll see how the Blues do there, but at least they picked up a big win in Sin City.