The St. Louis Blues feel like a doomed team in this very moment. While facts tell us that they were worse off in 2018-19, this just seems different.
Even when they play better, things don’t seem to go their way. Instead of finding ways to win, they find ways to snatch a loss from the jaws of victory.
Things started off very well for the Blues against their division rival, the Colorado Avalanche. They had an excellent first shift of the game and nearly scored, putting the puck just a bit wide on their first look toward goal.
Still, when the team has struggled to get going, you take that as a good sign. It’s the little things that you have to build off.
Interestingly, it was sort of a slow first period. Both teams seemed to be trying to find their footing.
It should be no surprise since the Blues have been so streaky and are trying to find their game and the Avalanche were dressing as many as nine AHL players in recent games. It’s hard to find consistency with that kind of upheaval for either team.
Still, the Blues focused on keeping things tight and simple. Colorado outshot them, but only due to a late flurry of activity. The Blues kept the shots from manageable ranges and few odd-man rush chances.
The second period was a different beast. While statistically the Blues outshot the Avalanche, the Blues had their typical rough second period.
Everything seemed focused on just getting to the third period. The line changes came almost every time down the ice.
How the Blues mustered 11 shots, given the fact they always seemed to need a change when they were entering the offensive zone, is beyond me. Eventually, it cost the Blues.
The top line was on the ice for nearly 90 seconds, which is roughly the length of three shifts. Some will blame Vladimir Tarasenko since he was the player to leave, but Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas needed to do a better job of holding the puck in the offensive zone.
Instead, Kyrou lost the puck rather softly and Torey Krug got caught pinching down low on an aggressive play. Josh Leivo was flat-footed since he was just off the bench when the puck came by and Colorado had a two-on-one attack and Miko Rantanen sniped it for a 1-0 lead.
Even after the goal, there wasn’t much push for the Blues in the second. They wanted to get to the third period only down a goal, and given their history this season, that wasn’t a bad idea.
The Blues started digging in and working again. They earned a double-minor when Kyrou got hit in the face with blood.
The power play has been awful of late, so the hope wasn’t too high, but the Blues made quick work of it this time. Just nine seconds after the power play began, Ryan O’Reilly fed Tarasenko and Vlady scooped it over the goalie from nearly the goal line. It was an unbelievable shot that should remind fans of the talent he has.
The Avalanche pushed back and the Blues were starting to defend a little too much, almost wanting to just get the point. Then, a late-period penalty on Brayden Schenn sucked the life from the building.
The Blues penalty kill had been good, but this seemed the opportunity where it would fail. Instead, it did something completely unexpected.
Not only was the PK still doing a good job, but they sprang a shorthanded breakaway. Brandon Saad managed to outmuscle the defender and then cut the shot back across the goaltender for a 2-1 lead on the blocker-side shot.
Now, it was about holding on. For almost the entire part of the end of the game, the Blues did that, but not quite long enough.
Everything that could go wrong for the Blues did. Ivan Barbashev lost his helmet, forcing him off the ice for a change due to the stupid rule.
The player Barbashev would have been on made a cross-ice play to get the puck into the crease. To get into the crease, the puck went off Niko Mikkola’s skate, off the body of JT Compher, just barely in behind Jordan Binnington and then Rantanen was able to just sneak his stick in to tap it across the line.
The reality is that even if Rantanen doesn’t get there, Binnington likely kicks it in during the scramble since he has no clue where it is after all those tips. It was a fluke goal that just showcases how things have gone for the Blues.
St. Louis got the point, but that luck carried over into overtime. The Blues never even got the puck.
Colorado won the faceoff and 29 seconds later won the game. Rantanen got the hat trick cashing in on a rebound and the Avs took it 3-2.
Haters will always hate, but Tarasenko had a very good game in this contest. Sure, it would be nice for more than the one goal, but he was doing a lot of little things too.
Tarasenko got physical when the occasion came around. He did not go out of his way to look for hits, but that’s not his game. When he could finish a check, he did.
In addition, the goal was just filthy. Maybe it’s luck, maybe it’s skill (or a combination) but it’s remarkable to be able to score from that angle.
Hopefully Taraenko can go on one of his patented hot streaks now. He does have three goals in his last six games already.
Let’s cut right to it. I’ve not been on board with the anti-Parayko stuff, but it’s becoming impossible to not feel some sort of animosity toward him at this point.
Some will blame him for the tying goal, but there’s not much he could do. He was trying to body off Compher, but the puck completely changes direction and Parayko couldn’t have even known it was there until it was too late.
What he needed to do better was box out on the game winner. Rantanen is not small at 6’4, but Parayko is two inches taller and, supposedly, weighs at least 15 lbs more.
Even ESPN’s Ray Ferraro said he needed to be able to box out more. In his defense, that’s harder to do today since you sneeze at a forward and it’s a penalty, but maybe just take the penalty.
You can’t let the guy have enough time and bodily freedom to get the rebound with his skate and then sweep it in with the stick. The Blues had earned the point through hard defensive play (harder than we’ve seen recently anyway) and good decision making. The way it ended felt like it was just given away when Parayko couldn’t get position after a normal defensive switch.
What makes it worse is who he is, or rather who the Blues see him as. If this is Robert Bortuzzo, you get it. Parayko is supposed to be your number one defender and just got outworked.
Pro/Con: Top line
While Tarasenko gets credit for some hard work, you can’t ignore his teammates. They were more on their game as well.
Jordan Kyrou is getting stronger on the puck as time goes along. He still seems to cough it up to anyone with a long stick reach, but he’s doing better at body positioning to keep it away from those guys.
Robert Thomas is starting to show us that speed that seemed to have been lost for whatever reason. He still needs to make better decisions on zone entries, but the elite play is starting to show through like cracks in an egg.
The one thing the line still lacks is that killer instinct away from the puck. To start the game, they were one of the few lines that wasn’t consistently working to get the puck back.
Once they were pulled aside briefly by Craig Berube, they all started getting in on the forecheck again and backchecking if they coughed it up. This line will never be your defensive, shutdown line, but if they’re willing to work, they’ll get the job the Blues need done.
There is a case to be made that you make your own luck. Teams that work hard tend to get bounces because they’re just in a better spot to take advantage.
Even with that in mind, sometimes you have to back into some good luck. Right now, the Blues just can’t.
The amount of connected things that had to happen to lead to that game-tying goal was ridiculous. Noel Acciari may have had a chance to clear earlier in the shift and maybe you take the icing in that instance. Barbashev loses a helmet, which is pretty rare in a non-bodycheck or shove incident, but it was actually knocked off accidentally by Acciari.
The loss of the player frees up space on the boards. The puck deflects three times, once off Mikkola’s skate, once off Compher’s body or glove and then again off a stick and settles in behind the goaltender. Any one of those things does not happen and that goal probably doesn’t go in, but there you have it.
We can sit there and say yeah, but this guy didn’t this or that guy didn’t that. Let’s be reasonable and just chalk that one up to fate not having our back.
People on talk radio and also the team broadcasts keep saying that often you’ll have a game you were supposed to win go against you right before things turn around. Let’s hope it’s this game.
The Blues were far from perfect. They continually shoot themselves in the foot time after time.
They make simple plays when they need to actually go in and make a play. They try to make a play when they need to be simple and it often goes the other way.
The amount of passes they try to thread through a defender, or get through only to hit their teammate in the skate, is astounding. That needs to be cleaned up.
However, the focus on defending as a unit was far better. They still gave up some odd-man rushes, but that happens in every game.
They still allowed a little too many good looks, but they limited the grade-A chances. Binnington probably only had to make, maybe, five really good saves. The rest were things he should have in his sleep.
I don’t want to hear about who was out for Colorado because we’ve seen this team play bad defense against the worst of the worst. Cleaning things up and figuring things out was paramount and they showed they could.
Unfortunately, the focus on defending often left them at a loss for offense. The second period highlighted that they were often too tired to get into the zone with possession because they were trying to limit the opposition offense.
Really, getting 32 shots was kind of surprising. St. Louis still needs to create more havoc and offensive flurries, but at least they had a few.
That’s what was kind of a gut punch in this loss. They played well enough to win and still did not.
They limited mistakes and every mistake still seemed like it cost them. You think the pendulum has to swing the other way eventually, but who knows.
No time to worry about it. Nashville is in town a little more than 24 hours after the completion of this one and the Predators won’t have any sympathy for the Blues.