The St. Louis Blues have been an improved team since the 2023 trade deadline. Though they’ve calmed themselves, the question is still how they match up against better opponents.
St. Louis beat up on teams like Columbus and San Jose. They lost to Vegas – the team with the best record in the Western Conference at the time – but played well.
So, how would they fare against the Minnesota Wild, a current playoff team? Based on the start of the game, it seemed promising.
St. Louis outshot the Wild 3-1 by the time the first goal was scored. A puck off the end wall should have been an easy cover for Marc-Andre Fleury, but he missed and Pavel Buchnevich jammed in the loose puck. It was surprising that Minnesota did not challenge given the amount of contact, but St. Louis caught a break.
Minnesota started chipping away though. Eventually, they tied the game on the power play a little over midway through the period.
Jordan Binnington was unable to handle a bouncing puck, trying to smack it with his stick. Joel Eriksson-Ek found the loose puck and made it 1-1.
The Blues wasted little time responding. They earned a penalty 17 seconds later and re-took the lead two minutes after the Wild tied it.
Jakub Vrana got a good pass through the middle, cut to the left circle and outdueled two defenders and chipped it over Fleury. Fleury dropped the blocker and the newest Blues forward made him pay for a 2-1 score.
Shockingly, the power play stayed hot. After killing a phantom high sticking call on Jordan Kyrou, the Blues went back on the PP. Right off the faceoff, the Blues set up Vrana with a one-timer in the high slot and he slapped it home for a 3-1 lead, which held into the intermission.
Things went totally crazy in the second period. Not only were there a bunch of goals, but tempers flared.
John Klingberg made it 3-2 before the five minute mark. Then, Oskar Sundqvist tied the game just over a minute later.
The wheels really came off with the Wild taking a 4-3 lead less than a minute after that. Both those goals were the result of not clearing the puck.
Pavel Buchnevich got a fortunate goal on the power play to tie it. He tried to hit Robert Thomas on the back door, but it went off the defender’s skate and in.
Things really blew up after that. The Blues failed to clear the puck after a Binnington save and the puck came back around for a Ryan Hartman goal on the power play to make it 5-4.
However, Hartman clipped Binnington on the way through and the Blues goalie lost it. He went after him and jabbed him with the blocker. Fleury came down to fight, but the linesmen cut it all off.
Binnington got ejected, the game went to four-on-four and it was soon 6-4. The Wild got a breakaway on Thomas Greiss and it went through the five hole for the goal.
The wheels continued to roll down the highway as the Blues skidded into the third period. Minnesota caught some luck in the first three minutes as a shot from the point was tipped and fell right to a pirouetting Ryan Reaves to make it 7-4.
In the dying seconds of a Blues power play, Greiss made an awful pass up the middle to an unsuspecting Thomas. With Thomas not even knowing the pass was coming, it was cut off by Hartman who scored on the ensuing breakaway to make it 8-4 with over 11 minutes left.
The Blues got one more on the board with over five minutes left. Buchnevich picked up his hat trick as he kept with the puck and roofed it while he was drifting away from the net to push the score to 8-5.
Cons: Second period
While it was entertaining to watch overall, this was an awful period of hockey from the Blues aspect. You simply cannot allow five goals in one period.
Binnington made some saves, but couldn’t control pucks as well as you might like. The defense was actually in decent position most times, but got outmuscled on several plays, including the Sundqvist goal.
The forwards weren’t out of position like other plays, but they were often the ones responsible for not clearing the puck. Along the same lines, Binnington was out of line with his actions.
I get it. He’s trying to fire his team up and he had already been chirping with Minnesota guys on the bench.
However, when he watches the video, he’ll probably feel silly. Hartman did not go out of his way to make contact and was simply taking the same path he was already on and Binnington came into his line of progression. The Blues netminder flipped out and used a blocker to punch someone, which you have to know is going to get you kicked out.
Making matters worse was the fact the Blues had the lead going into this period. Not only was there a lead, but it was a two-goal lead and the game swung the other way to give Minnesota a two-goal advantage by the time it was over.
Pros: Power play…ish
On a normal night where you go 3-5 on the power play, it would be nothing but a great performance. The sour part was the one missed to make it 3-4 and then also the fifth one where you essentially gave up a shorthanded one.
It ended up being five-on-five as the power play had just barely elapsed. Nevertheless, the Blues could have gotten back into things there, but let the game fully slip away on that play.
However, the fact they generated three goals could not be ignored.
Vrana’s first goal was a top-notch shot on an off-balance puck. The shot from the slot was an absolute laser.
Buchnevich’s power play goal was luck since it went off a skate. However, it was a good transition play and the goal was earned by guys going to the net.
Cons: Snowball effect
Like the second period, the game overall for St. Louis was just a failure to stop the opponent when it could have mattered. Credit to the Wild for turning things completely around in the second period and never letting the Blues get back into it.
Credit where credit is due. That said, allowing eight goals in any circumstance is unacceptable.
You were up 3-1 and in complete control at one point. Ok, Klingberg gets the goal early in the second period to make it a one-goal game.
Stomp the breaks, gather the troops, circle the wagons – use whatever cliché you want. It has to stop there.
Instead, as we have seen all season, no matter who was in the lineup, the Blues allow three goals in under 90 seconds. We can look at each individual play and say it was this or that or there’s no real blame to hand out like other goals. The bottom line is that is disgusting.
No professional team should allow five goals in one period. No respectable team should constantly allow two and three and more goals in such short time spans.
St. Louis has tried every trick in the book. Goalie tantrums, fights, scrums, chirps…none of it has any positive effect on this team.
Stop the bleeding at any point and St. Louis stays in this game. They probably keep their goalie in the net too.
Instead, it just kept piling up and so did the frustration for the players.
Pros: Buch and Vrana
While we have a right to be mad at the entire team, we would be remiss in not applauding the effort given by Buchnevich and Vrana.
Buchnevich had a hat trick, which is pretty rare in a lot of guy’s careers. Each goal was completely different, but he earned each one even if some of it boiled down to luck.
Vrana did have to rely on the setup for his second goal, but both of them were fantastic individual effort. You should never base your entire opinion on a player in the handful of games after a trade deadline, but Vrana looks much more like the player Washington drafted than the one the that came from Detroit.
These are the guys the team will need to lean on for scoring this year and, likely next. They came up big in this game.
Really, this game bothers me more for lost sleep than the game itself. Though the team fell apart, the second period was entertaining enough to somewhat overcome that.
The third period was just trash. Three Minnesota goals on six shots just cannot happen.
I don’t care if the Blues come back or not. The message in the second intermission has to be not to allow any more goals and then hope to make the comeback.
If the Blues somehow remove the two goals they gave up in the third, they might have a shot of tying things. Their fifth goal would have made it 6-5 with all that pressure that comes with a one-goal lead.
Instead, the team’s fifth goal was just a sigh of relief that the players knew the game was over, but at least one guy is still playing.
St. Louis has had so many meltdowns this season that you almost knew it was coming once the Wild got that ball rolling. The Blues just have no way of stopping the avalanche other than the goaltenders standing on their heads when asked to do so.
Binnington was not bad, but definitely did not stand on his head. Personally, I still like his passion, but I completely understand why he’s one of the most hated players in the league.
St. Louis can still play with any team for a stretch. They’re not good enough to just play with their opponent if the Blues are not the one controlling play.
They did that in the first period and got a two-goal lead. They tried just reacting after that and got blown out of the water.
St. Louis has to find a way to stay on the front foot. If they’re attacking, you can win. If you’re sitting on things, you’re just asking for every opponent to get back into the game.
The game devolved into gamesmanship, which wasn’t fun to see. Goalie’s bumping the net off because they got bumped and players for both teams acting like they had hands chopped off in efforts to draw penalties was a bit too much.
Overall, the Blues just can’t string 60 minutes together. On this night, it was really only 20, maybe 25 minutes and you’re not going to win by playing 1/3 the game.