The St. Louis Blues didn’t have much time to celebrate, or rest, after their win in Columbus. They had to get on a plane, fly home and face the top team in the Western Conference.
The Vegas Golden Knights also had to travel, having defeated the Carolina Hurricanes the same night the Blues played the Blue Jackets. Early on, it seemed as though it was even between the two teams.
Vegas scored first, on a play that never should have happened. Nick Leddy couldn’t get his body positioned to get the puck along the wing and was outdueled the entire way to the net. Due to this, and the Blues puck watching, William Karlsson was unguarded for the goal to make it 1-0.
The Blues answered a little over five minutes later with a power play goal. Jakub Vrana saw the puck cycling around the back side of the net and he went to the deep slot and connected on a one-timer from Jordan Kyrou.
Despite a late Vegas power play, it remained tied after one period. That changed quickly in the second.
With the Golden Knights pushing the puck around the zone, it came to Alex Pietrangelo at the point and the Blues player fell for a head fake. That opened a pass to Jonathan Marchessault on the right circle and he slipped it five hole when Jordan Binnington tried to adjust his pad position.
Michael Amadio made it 3-1 less than two minutes later. Binnington made a typical pad save on a shot from the left, but kicked it too far out and it came to Amadio who essentially had an empty net to put it in.
The Blues gathered themselves and started getting back into the game. Frankly, they should have tied it or taken the lead, but they could not finish.
They had a shorthanded chance that somehow got stopped along the post by both the goaltender and Phil Kessel. They missed on a couple other grade-A chances as well, giving the feeling that it wasn’t going to be their night.
The Blues did cut it to one before the period ended. Craig Berube moved Pavel Buchnevich to the wing on the top line and that energized that trio. The puck movement was fantastic and Robert Thomas found Kyrou on the left side for a one-time goal to make it 3-2.
The Blues accomplished exactly what they needed to in the third. Ideally, you’d score in the first five minutes and not allow one and that’s what happened.
Marco Scandella took the shot and Tyler Pitlick got the deflection to make it 3-3. The game was tied with 16 minutes still left.
The tie lasted under two minutes. The Blues were just standing around the front of their net, reaching for the puck with sticks instead of moving around. It popped up in the air and went off a Vegas player’s mask, making it 4-3.
St. Louis was buzzing midway through the period, but they kept missing the net. Vegas came back down and almost increased the lead, but Binnington made a big glove save to keep it 4-3 with under nine minutes to go.
Leddy almost cost the Blues again with around four minutes left. Again, he lost the puck on a board play where he should have easily taken it, but Binnington made the save and the backchecking forwards picked up the loose puck.
St. Louis just could not generate any shots with their goaltender pulled, even though they had some looks. Eventually, Alex Pietrangelo scored an empty net goal almost from his own goal line and seal the 5-3 win.
I’m much less harsh on goaltenders than your average fan, but I do try to be fair. If I see something they actually should have done something different with, I’ll call it out.
In this game, there were definitely two goals that Binnington needed to be better on. The one to open the second period was the most egregious.
Marchessault has a decent angle, but not a great one as he’s gliding in from the dot. There was really no need to move his pads from the position they were in, especially when the shooter is looking for any movement to give him a spot to shoot.
It’s much easier said than done if you’re not the one that doesn’t feel comfortable in your positioning. However, it cannot be denied that if Binnington holds his ground he initially established, he makes the save.
The second one in the second period was another one that could have been handled differently. Most fans don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to rebound control, but this was a good example.
If the shot comes from a more direct angle, that kind of power on the kickout from Binnington is fine because it goes to the wall. Instead, because the angle is different, he kicks it to a man right in the circle for an easy goal.
Again, easier said than done, but in a perfect world, Binnington would try to just absorb that into his pad and hope he, or his defender, could get to the puck from there.
Pros: Top line
It wasn’t the way they started the game, but the combination of Thomas, Kyrou and Buchnevich was incredibly dynamic. It was as fluid and offensive as we have seen in any recent time.
Even before that trio combined for the goal, they had a couple fantastic shifts. The passing was on point, they were forcing defenders to chase them and they were getting shots.
Kyrou picked up his 30th goal of the season, increasing his career high with every score. Thomas picked up yet another assist and Buchnevich increased his point streak to nine.
They’ve tried this combination in the past and it doesn’t always work. It worked beyond expectation in this game once they put them together.
Cons: Lack of urgency
This is nothing new for the Blues, but it just bothered me in this game. You’re down by a goal, actually get the puck into the offensive zone with a bit of control and you can’t get shots.
Not only can you not get shots, but you don’t attempt them. I fully understand that the Blues have been bitten by multiple snakes this year, so they’re worried that as soon as a shot gets blocked, it’s down the ice and into the net.
But when you do not force the defense to scramble in any way, you end up with the same result even if the goal came from the entire length of the ice. St. Louis moves the puck back and forth, looking for an open lane, but one never materializes because they can’t force one.
We shouldn’t be screaming for them to shoot because most times there actually is not a lane. However, you have to move the puck quicker and more decisively to break the defense out of it’s position and create that lane.
The Blues don’t do that.
Hockey is a fast game. When you see it on tv or from the stands, we have more time to process it and see what could have been different.
It’s not as easy to react when you’re down there in the moment. Even with that in mind, the Blues just were not great tonight. They’ve been worse, but this wasn’t great.
This goal was a prime example. Today’s game is different than when I was growing up, but I’m unsure why in this instance.
Smith comes off the wall and drives through thee, if not four Blues players. Any one of them could have put a body on him and, frankly, someone needed to put him on his rear.
Instead, they all reach for the puck in vain and that put them all horribly out of position. Marchessault’s shot is saved, even though he’s unguarded behind all the defenders and the puck pops up and goes off someone’s head.
Even if that doesn’t happen, Marchessault will have two or three whacks at any loose puck before one of the Blues responds. It’s still a physical game and, whether by officiating or simply style of play, the Blues are suddenly unwilling to stand a guy up and sit him on his duff.
Couple that with the poor board play and it’s all bad. It was definitely not Leddy’s night as he got made to look silly on at least two board battle losses that either led to goals or needed his goalie to bail him out.
Everyone has had a bad year, so I’m only pointing the finger at Leddy for those specific plays. Still, it’s been an ongoing thing for the entire defensive unit (forwards and defensemen) all season.
On the one hand, I’m proud of this team for clawing at this game the entire time. For selfish reasons, I wanted the Blues to win because a friend of mine took their kids to see their very first game. Hockey is fantastic live, but if you get a win in your very first game, it might seal a love for the game.
Instead, it was the Blues trying to come back the entire night. They did that twice, but you can’t fall behind against the team with the best record in the conference and expect to win when you’re depleted as it is.
What was disappointing was there was never any time for a go-ahead push. The Blues tied the game 1-1 relatively late in the first period and then gave up a power play in the final two minutes, meaning they couldn’t capitalize on that momentum.
They tie the game early in the third period, only to let Vegas score less than two minutes later. Sure, the goal was lucky going off the guy’s forehead, but as stated above, it should never have gotten to that point. Put the guy down, take the puck and go the other way. The fact he had four guys around him and just did what he wanted is terrible.
Few fans expected the Blues to win. I know I didn’t.
Yet, when it was there for the taking, it stings. When your goaltender, who has been your best player, lets in two that he should have had, it stings.
The Blues wasted chance after chance in the second period. Frankly, the game should have been 3-3 or 4-3 Blues after 40 minutes, but it wasn’t.
There’s enough here to see the effort has been turned around. They’re playing better hockey and the talent level just isn’t where it was.
There’s still a ton of mistakes though and they continually cost this team.