The St. Louis Blues came into their game against the Florida Panthers seeming to know their fate. They traded away Vladimir Tarasenko, looked like they were in full-sell mode and needed to go to overtime against the Arizona Coyotes, despite scoring five goals.
The Panthers came into the game tied for the second most goals scored in the league. Given St. Louis’ defensive problems, it seemed like it would be a long night. We were shown why you play the game and don’t base results on paper.
The first period was a bit of a slog. Neither team did a whole lot, not really challenging either goaltender.
St. Louis would actually get outshot 9-7. Getting outshot is nothing new, but the Blues would be the only team to actually score.
Torey Krug just fired one towards the net on the power play, missed the net, but the puck hit the end wall, went off the goalie’s skate and in for a 1-0 lead. Later on, we would discover the puck just deflected off Brayden Schenn, so he would get credit for the goal. It would be the only goal of the first period.
The second period has been terrible for the Blues this season. Coming into this game, they had allowed 15 more goals than they scored in the second, with a nine-goal differential at home.
Go figure, this proved to be the Blues best period. Technically, they scored three goals in the second period. Officially, only two goals counted.
Schenn got his second of the night on an odd man rush. Instead of making the pass, Schenn just fired the shot to the glove hand side and made it 2-0. That came just 35 seconds into the period.
Nick Leddy scored just his second of the entire season to make it 3-0. The defenseman took it coast to coast after a faceoff win and also whipped one past the glove hand.
St. Louis’ fourth goal would be taken back off the board though. The Panthers challenged a high stick that was not called around 20 seconds before the shot was even taken. It was the correct call, but it just felt against the spirit of the rule. It makes you wonder how far back you can look for something to challenge.
The Panthers would steal one back shortly before the end of the second. What looked like a commanding 4-0 lead instead pivoted to a 3-1 game that was very much in doubt.
The Blues had no intention of letting this one slip away, though the third period was a little sloppy. They added two more in the run of play and three overall.
Ryan O’Reilly continued to look much better after having a broken foot. Some great passing led to O’Reilly’s second goal since returning from injury, 12th overall and a 4-1 lead.
St. Louis made it 5-1 just 20 seconds later, before the PA announcer even had time to announce the fourth goal. Jordan Kyrou snapped it in for his 24th of the season.
The Panthers wouldn’t go away. St. Louis was a little soft at the blue line on the entry and Connor Verhaeghe ripped one up high to make it 5-2 and give Florida a little life.
The Blues took a late penalty and the Panthers pulled the goalie, making it more nerve wracking than it should have been. Eventually, the Blues won a puck battle on the bench-side wall and Ivan Barbashev iced the game with an empty net goal and a 6-2 win.
Pros: Team defense
By no means was everything perfect in this game. There was a long stretch in the third period where the Blues could not get the puck out of their zone, inviting way too much pressure.
Additionally, the Blues allowed 36 shots against Jordan Binnington. That’s a little high, especially considering 18 came in the third period alone.
However, while Binnington made several quality saves, he didn’t have to make a ton of grade-A stops. Other than a lone Panther in the slot being denied by Binner at the top of his crease, the Blues did a pretty good job of limiting the quality of the shots against.
It sounds odd given the fact so many pucks got through, but ask yourself how many were literal scoring chances. Though the Panthers had a lot of quantity, there wasn’t a ton of quality other than the goals.
The Blues kept one of the high powered offenses in the league in check. They made the Panthers look pretty impotent on this night.
Some of that has to do with Florida playing the prior night, but that’s how it’s supposed to be. The Blues have let far too many teams off the hook in similar situations, but not on this night.
They defended as a unit and didn’t let guys find the back door or be wide open in the middle, at least not with the same frequency as we’ve seen.
Cons: More injuries
I have no clue when it happened since I was in the arena. However, Krug and Brandon Saad both did not finish the game.
Krug only had a little more than seven minutes of ice time, when he normally has around 20. Saad had less than 10 minutes of ice time, giving him less than even any of the fourth-line players.
Krug just returned from injury not that long ago. Saad has also missed a handful of games, playing in 46 out of 53.
The Blues had finally gotten everyone that started the season back healthy. To lose two players for significant time in this game, potentially future games, is sadly par for the course this season.
One of the few guys that has to feel pretty safe about his status going into the trade deadline is Brayden Schenn. He’s been quiet in long stretches in 2022-23, but came up big in this game.
He had a solid, all around night. Of course, the two goals were huge, especially since they were the first two goals of the game. He didn’t know anything about the second goal, but he was in front of the goal causing havoc, which is where you want guys.
Additionally, he had a hit, a takeaway and a shot block. It was much more the Schenn we’ve been accustomed to seeing as opposed to the one that has not looked himself.
One thing I noticed, and several people around me at the game said, was this was the best the team had played defensively in a long time. Again, you do have to take into account Florida playing the prior night, but your guys still have to do the job and plenty of times they have not.
It wasn’t as though the defenders did a ton different. However, they were solidly positioned, the forwards helped out by backchecking and keeping the defensive structure tight and let their goaltender see most of the shots.
St. Louis got hemmed into their own zone a few too many times. The first power play was horrendous and the second was mediocre, even though they scored. Still, you get a goal and it improves your percentage.
There’s an interesting rebound from this team in two games after the All-Star break. O’Reilly is still off, but he’s a ton better than he was before the injury.
Bottom six guys are simplifying their game. Top six guys are taking things as they come instead of forcing it all.
It’s only two wins, but given the near impossible feat of making the playoffs at this point, the Blues are playing well enough now to make you scratch your head. Where was this earlier. Fools will blame it on the departed player, but there were enough games without him in the lineup where the results were not different enough for that to actually be the case.
At least this was an incredibly entertaining game to be at and, I would assume watch at home. Hopefully there are more of these to end the season to at least take the sting out of no playoffs.