Though the St. Louis Blues still have plenty of hockey left in 2023, they’ve reached a position where they absolutely cannot lose to divisional opponents if they want to make the playoffs. Their first test with this realization was the Nashville Predators.
The Blues beat the Predators in Nashville a few games ago. With their inconsistencies at home, the question was whether St. Louis would beat them in St. Louis.
Things didn’t start off very well. The Blues allowed the first goal of the game in the first three minutes and appeared to lose Noel Acciari as well.
St. Louis lucked out on both ends. Jordan Binnington begged the bench to challenge the goal for goalie interference and they won their first challenge of the season. Acciari would miss a couple shifts, but did return to the game to the relief of the team and the fans.
Even after that good fortune, the Blues were slow to get into the game. They were outshot 7-4 midway through the period.
They finally got some life later in the first. St. Louis hit double digits in shots for just the third time in the last 13 periods by having 10 shots in the first period, but neither team ended up taking the zero off the board.
The Blues wasted little time in the second. Brayden Schenn scored just 11 seconds into the frame.
Schenn took a great cross-ice pass and put the shot five hole to make it 1-0. It did tip in off the defender’s stick, but it was a great play all around off the faceoff.
Sadly, the lead didn’t last too long. Colton Sissons scored on a partial break after a bad line change by the Blues.
Instead of having their typical, terrible second period, the Blues rebounded. Brandon Saad utilized his sneaky speed to score on his patented five-hole backhand to make it 2-1 at 8:30.
With less than five minutes to go in the second, the Blues went up by two. On the power play, Jordan Kyrou got control of the puck on the top of the crease and somehow roofed the puck over the goalie.
For the second game in a row, the Blues had a fantastic second period against the Predators. The key would be not having the same third period they had in Nashville.
The worry went away fast. Robert Thomas scored on a beautiful deflection 63 seconds into the final frame.
Less than a minute later, the fourth line got in on the action. A wonderful give-and-go play was finished off by Alexey Toropchenko and the score was 5-1 with the snap of a finger.
The Blues got a little sloppy in the middle portion of the period. They took a few too many needless penalties too, but Jordan Binnington was up to the task.
St. Louis gave up a cheap one with some defensive coverage miscues at the end. Still, they held on with a 5-2 win.
If you only look at the stat sheet in this one, you might scratch your head as to why Binnington would need much praise. He faced just 26 shots, which is pretty low considering the totals we’ve seen against him and Thomas Greiss as well.
Still, it was the quality of the shots against. Binnington was the hero of the team in the first period. Of the 26 shots he faced, 12 came in the first period alone.
Binner essentially got in the Predators’ heads. They had several looks in tight and he kept finding a way to make the save, keeping the 3-1 lead and 5-1 lead very safe.
One of the most interesting saves was actually a shot that seemed to go wide when viewing it in real time. However, seeing the replay, Binnington’s double-pad stack effort actually worked in that he threw his face into the way and the puck went off the ear flap of the mask.
Cons: Line change goal
We hear about the long change in the second period a lot. While I grant that we all see the Blues more than any team, it just seems to impact the Blues more than most other teams.
The issue often seems to be the man coming off not getting there quick enough. I understand the fatigue is built up, but if you have to get off, then get off the ice.
Niko Mikkola just kind of strolled over to the bench. Given the amount of too many men penalties against the Blues the last few years, I sort of understand why Colton Parayko did not come on the ice quick enough.
That said, Parayko needs to get back quicker. He is a big guy and sometimes you can’t get the legs going as quick as the speedsters, but you have to get on your horse.
There’s nothing Binnington could do about the goal. There’s not much more that Nick Leddy could do either, as the only man back.
Optimally, the Blues don’t turn the puck over in the offensive zone. However, when you team gets the puck in relatively deep in the zone, your defenders have to get off the ice if that’s their goal.
Pros: Top line
You’re tired of hearing it and I’m tired of saying it. However, the old saying of your best players have to be your best players is true and the Blues got that tonight.
While the term “top line” was somewhat fluid with Brandon Saad and Pavel Buchnevich taking turns on the wing at different times, mostly due to changes in the special teams lines, it was still a good performance.
In terms of the guys that started the game on the number one line, all three scored goals. They were all important goals.
Saad made it 2-1, dampening the hopes of the Predators who had just tied it up six minutes earlier.
Kyrou caps off an excellent second period for the team by giving them a cushion late.
Thomas crushes any Nashville hopes early in the third with that nice tip-in goal. That’s not normally where you see the Blues top center either, which made it even better.
The Thomas goal was actually a double deflection that went off Saad first. That gave that top trio three goals and five points on the night.
Unsung hero: Acciari
The guy didn’t end the game with any points, but if anyone exemplifies what most of us consider to be “Blues hockey”, it has to be Noel Acciari.
He left the game in the first period with most assuming he was done. He couldn’t put weight on his leg afterall.
He comes back and played the rest of the game. Not only that, but he logged four shots on goal and played almost two minutes of PK time.
In addition to his early injury, he took a stick to the face and also got ran into the post. Like the Energizer bunny, he kept coming back.
This was not a perfect game by any means. However, it was the first complete game the Blues have played in quite some time.
Other than a slow start in the first period and the line change gaffe, the Blues were engaged the entire time. They still relied a bit too much on Binnington, in terms of quality shots against, but the Blues were the better team for long stretches in this contest.
St. Louis was close to having double-digit shots in every period, but only managed eight in the second. Nevertheless, when they had 2 periods with 10-plus shots in their previous 12 prior to this game, having two out of three is pretty good.
Everyone was involved in this game. The fourth line was excellent and your top nine forwards all contributed in different ways.
Parayko had a couple rough shifts, but he managed to turn things around for the entirety of the 60 minutes. Tyler Tucker and Calle Rosen continue to make the decision difficult about who won’t have a spot on this team if/when everyone is fully healthy.
Binnington was just on point. There wasn’t anything he could do about either goal, since he was on an island for both, but the saves he made were timely and impactful for the game.
St. Louis has to beat the teams in their division if they’re going to make the playoffs. They are not out of the race in terms of point differential, but there’s so many teams ahead of them that they simply have to win against every division opponent.
This win temporarily vaults them ahead of Nashville and the Blues have taken the last two against the Preds. A win against Chicago next doesn’t change the standings a ton, but a loss would be detrimental to the mental wellbeing of the Blues, so even that one is somewhat of a must win.