The St. Louis Blues ended their west coast road trip with a Christmas Eve eve matchup with the Vegas Golden Knights. The Blues were 3-1 on the trip heading into the game, but their former captain stood in their way of making it five wins out of the last six.
As it turned out, that was more than mere hyperbole. Alex Pietrangelo literally stood in the Blues way by scoring the opening goal of the game.
St. Louis had not gotten many shots on goal, but they were holding themselves in the game until a turnover in the offensive zone. Vegas came the other way two on three, but St. Louis back-checked well enough to thwart the initial break.
Nobody really picked up Petro coming in the zone and one little cut move at the line left him wide open through the slot. He scored on the backhand to make it 1-0.
Vegas was controlling most of the first period. A late push by St. Louis got their feet under them, but they were fortunate that some iron kept the game 1-0 instead of more agasint.
The second period belonged to St. Louis. The sad thing was that the final score after 40 minutes wouldn’t indicate it.
St. Louis tied the game 39 seconds in. Pavel Buchnevich got the finish after some nice setup by the team’s top line.
Vegas regained the lead roughly four minutes later. The Blues had another giveaway that led to a rush the other direction. Personally, I won’t blame Jordan Binnington, but it did feel like he should have controlled the initial shot, but it snuck under him and Mark Stone tapped it in for the 2-1 score.
St. Louis went to work after that. They earned a power play and Vladimir Tarasenko snapped in a one-timer from the slot to make it 2-1.
Tarasenko wasn’t done after that. He fed it to the right circle where Justin Faulk made it 3-2 with a squeaker under the goalie.
Vegas seemed poised to tie the game in the final three minutes of the second period. Despite a partial two-on-none, Binnington made a fantastic glove save to keep the lead.
Outside of that chance, the Blues controlled most of the period until the final two minutes. Josh Leivo failed to clear the puck even though he had a great chance to get it out. The Golden Knights cycled around quickly and a tic-tac-toe play led to an empty net score on the back door to make it 3-3.
There’s something about these two teams playing where nothing gets clamped down. A tie game going into the third, you might expect a tight checking affair. Not so.
St. Louis earned a power play in the first six minutes of the third period when Ivan Barbashev was tripped on a partial breakaway. However, directly off the faceoff, Vegas poked the puck and had a breakaway of their own, which Binnington managed to squeeze between the pads.
Vegas looked to be building something, creating some dangerous looks but not hitting the net. Instead, the Blues would strike next.
With a tired group needing a change, it seemed like the Blues would concede possession. Instead, Brandon Saad held on for a minute with Noel Acciari going to the net. A harmless shot by Saad, to get him off the ice, was tipped by Acciari for the 4-3 Blues lead.
The Blues got careless at the end of the game though. They took a penalty in the final three minutes, which partially led to the game-tying goal.
The Blues were doing a good job on the penalty kill and, frankly, should have had it evened up for strength. Pietrangelo got called for a high stick and fired the puck at the linesman, but no call was made.
Petro fired the puck wide and the thing banked off the end wall directly to a Golden Knight on the far side. There was no chance for anyone in white to react and Vegas tied it 4-4.
The Blues earned a point, but it still felt like a downer. They hit the post in overtime and then fell in a shootout, despite having the 1-0 lead going into the final shooter.
Hockey is a game of transitions, so you’ll never completely eliminate them. Even if you try to play an old-school trap like the New Jersey Devils back in the day, teams are still going to occasionally go the other way with numbers.
The worrying thing about the Blues is they give them up and rarely get their own. The second period was a prime example of that.
St. Louis gave up five rush chances in the second period alone. If they had a handful of their own, it’s not so bad, but they had zero.
Making that even more disappointing was the fact the Blues were the better overall team in the second. If they limit those rushes, Vegas might have only had one goal, or maybe none.
Instead, St. Louis was constantly playing with fire. The great save with the glove, a decent save that Binnington had to scramble to cover a trickler behind him and both goals were all off rush chances.
When you combine that with St. Louis never being in a position to turn over their opponent and get down the ice, it’s hard to take advantage.
Pros: Vladimir Tarasenko
If only the Blues could have pulled a TJ Oshie and used Vladi during the whole shootout. This game, from the Blues perspective, was a Tarasenko show. A Tarasenkshow if you will. I apologize for nothing.
Vladi figured into all the regulation goals, except the fourth. He finished the night with a goal, two assists and three points.
Tarasenko was also the only Blues player to score in the shootout. Honestly, he’s really the only Blues player right now that even seems a threat in the shootout, but that’s another matter.
The goal in regulation was a fantastic whip shot. Tarasenko is getting more comfortable with those one-time efforts. He’s never going to be like Hull or Ovechkin, but as long as he presents a good option and a threat on the far circle or in the slot, he’s doing his job.
When he’s a serious threat to score from anywhere, it opens up his playmaking. That’s what happened on both assists, drawing attention to him and then dishing it off for great looks elsewhere.
If you’ve read my stuff long enough and disagree, go ahead and skip to the end. I’m going to rant about the shootout again.
I hate it. It’s a tossup whether I hate the shootout or three-on-three overtime more.
Neither one is hockey the way it’s meant to be played. You don’t decide winners of basketball games with a freethrow contest or the winners of baseball games with home run derbies.
I’ll be honest and say I don’t have an alternate solution. As a soccer fan as well as hockey, I’ve thought about how to get rid of PK’s or shootouts in hockey and come up empty. I know you can’t play until you drop in a game in December.
I just don’t like games decided on some random bit of skill that still comes down to the condition of the ice and how well someone is stick handling and whether they’re confident in their move on that night.
Add to that the fact the Blues lack any serious threat. Tarasenko is one of the few I’m confident in, but even then he misses the net quite often.
The chances from Schenn and O’Reilly left a lot to be desired. I like that they actually made moves, but they both got in too tight and left no room for error when they’re not quite slick enough to pull those off the majority of the time.
I wish guys would treat it more like a breakaway than a penalty shootout. You wouldn’t try half that nonsense if you had a clear breakaway in game.
In the grand scheme of things, 3-1-1 on a long road trip right before Christmas is pretty good. Seven points out of 10 is quite good and most fans would have taken that if you’d given it to them prior to the trip.
Confining it to this game, it’s a point lost. The Blues just don’t seem to play well with the lead for long enough.
They have to find ways to close games out. Taking penalties in the final two or three minutes is not the way to do it.
What is frustrating as a fan is to see this team just try to bear the pressure. When St. Louis has their goalie pulled, the other team gets up in their face, forces a turnover and immediately scores.
The Blues just accept their fate and try to defend. Even when they do get the puck, they either don’t clear it, ice it or just chip it out in an attempt to get a change. Trying to end the game with a score is completely off the radar.
Taking the game in a vacuum, it’s fine. They held their own with another one of the conference leaders, showing that the Blues are not far behind anyone in this league at all.
It’s just disappointing to continue finding ways to drop games and points. Combine that with a lackluster performance in Seattle and it takes the shine away from the trip.
Yes, 3-1-1 is good, but when you lose the last two, it doesn’t feel as good. Ah well, such is life.
As much as they frustrate us, this hockey team still provides us all a lot of joy and a welcome distraction from a lot going on in the world. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays Blues fans.