The St. Louis Blues opened their game against the Winnipeg Jets in similar fashion to the game in Washington. These opening minutes have taught us not to judge too harshly though.
Initially, it looked like it would be a long night for the boys in blue. They only had two shots at around seven minutes into the period and only finished the first frame with a total of seven.
Conversely, they were letting Winnipeg get a lot of pucks through. Like the Capitals, the Jets seemed to want to throw everything they could at young Joel Hofer since they didn’t have a scouting report on him.
The Jets had 13 shots against the Blues in this contest. Despite all that information, the Blues were the team that struck first.
Just over four minutes in, Kasperi Kapanen got the Blues on the board with a 1-0 lead. A failed clearance came to Nick Leddy and all the Jets committed to a block on a suspected shot. He fired it to the backside for Kapanen and it deflected in without the Finn even making a move.
The Blues held that lead through the first period. It seemed like that would remain the score through the second.
For whatever reason, the second period was pretty dull for both teams offensively. There was only 12 shots in total, with eight of them going the Jets way.
Nevertheless, the Blues added to their total. On just their second shot of the entire period, Nathan Walker tapped in a fantastic cross-ice pass from Justin Faulk to make it 2-0.
The game got a little testy as the physicality picked up. Brayden Schenn got in a fight with less than three minutes left, actually landing more fists than the Blues had shots.
The Blues were clearly focused almost solely on defending the rest of the game. Winnipeg added another 13 shots in the third period, tossing everything at the cage.
Like all the other periods, it was only the Blues that struck, despite only having six shots on goal the entire frame. This time Kapanen sprang a flipper through to Jakub Vrana for a breakaway and the newest Blues forward slipped one through the five hold to make it 3-0 St. Louis.
Though the Jets pulled the goalie with around four minutes to go, the Blues kept themselves in front of almost everything. They earned a late power play, forcing the Jets to keep the goalie in and essentially give up on the result once it was back to even strength.
The Blues won their second in a row, thankfully upsetting all the fools that want losses for the draft. 3-0 was the final, giving Hofer his first NHL shutout.
In almost a carbon copy of the Washington performance, Hofer was just steady and solid in this game. He earned the win and earned the top spot with 33 saves on the night.
Hofer did have to split the shutout with Thomas Greiss, since Hofer went off briefly with a skate blade popping off. Nevertheless, it was Hofer’s shutout, no matter what the stat books have to say.
He made the saves he was supposed to. He didn’t make any scramble saves, but he did fight some off.
Early in the game, he had a big, blocker punch on a wired shot that looked headed toward the upper corner. It showcased his height and ability to wait on pucks instead of going down in the butterfly too early.
He showed some athleticism late too. In the third period, the Jets got a good look from the upper right portion of the slot and Hofer made a great reaction save with the pad on a shot that might have been deflected, but even if not it was a quality stop.
This will be a head-scratcher for many fans, but it’s not so much that he had a bad game. It’s more that he looked out of sorts.
He was pretty bad in the faceoff spot. He won only 19% of his faceoffs and took double-digit draws, so it was not a statistical anomaly.
He never looked comfortable with his linemates either. Things got jumbled due to the early ejection of Torey Krug, but Buchnevich played several shifts with Alexei Toropchenko.
Buchnevich did not seem to mesh well with him in this contest. He didn’t know where his wingers were and often put passes to nobody in particular, thinking someone would be there.
Buchnevich also did not have a single shot on goal. Granted, the Blues only had 17 total and focused on defense, but you’d expect one of your top forwards to get a puck on net.
Pros: Team defense
The forwards still left some gaps here and there and the defenders still made some mistakes. Those things happen to the best of teams.
For the second game in a row, the Blues limited all the options to their opponent. While we give credit to Hofer for pitching the shutout, the bottom line is he wasn’t tested incredibly hard.
I did not have the opportunity to see the heat map for this game, but from my vantage point in the arena, the shots were all from angles. Just like against Washington, most of them came from outside the faceoff dots or from distance.
The Blues were focused on rebounds, so whenever Hofer couldn’t control something, there was a defender in the vicinity to swat it away. It was the kind of game where several fans said if the team had played that way all season, they would still be in the playoff race.
It is a little disappointing that they have now shown they can focus on clamping down for a rookie, but let their actual starting goaltender bail them out time after time for dumb plays. It is still a good sign that this team can still defend when they put their mind to it.
The officials did not cost the Blues anything here, but they were a bit overzealous in several spots. Most notably was the situation with Krug.
When the penalties were called, most assumed it would even out. Neither player seemed to gain any particular advantage, so it seemed cut and dry for it to be four on four.
Instead, Krug ended up with an extra minor. Then, he went ape-you know what, and got kicked out of the game.
First off, I’m not sure what Krug did to earn another penalty. I guess, perhaps, he got an extra punch in after he was hauled down, but this happened nine times out of 10.
What seemed to make matters worse was that nobody appeared to know the Blues were getting an extra penalty until the referee announced it. I feel like Krug’s reaction would not have been so violent if they had told him he was getting two penalties.
Perhaps I’m wrong, but it seemed as though he did not know he had four minutes against him until they announced it on the PA and then he started banging his stick on the glass. Maybe Krug shouldn’t have reacted in such a way, but it’s good to see Blues players sticking up for one another and then the refs punish it.
The Marco Scandella tripping call in the third was questionable as well.
Blues fans, I love you. I also dislike the knee-jerk reactions of so many out there.
Instead of just enjoying a win and leaving it as a good performance, everything has to be taken to 11.
Instead of just being happy about a shutout and good defensive performance, talk radio and social media was littered with nonsense, garbage takes about Jordan Binnington. Things ranged from trade Binnington to the team will implode again when he’s back to everything in between.
So few of you know about goaltending that it makes my head spin. Martin Brodeur, one of the best ever, was not the undisputed starter for the Devils his first two years. It wasn’t until year three he took over the net full time.
Why in the world, would you want to toss Hofer to the lions as the only guy, trade away the guy that won a Stanley Cup, and take your chances to ruin Hofer if he struggles? The people that say this are the same ones that thought Ville Husso was trash three seasons ago, thought he was the savior last year and have gone quiet now that his numbers in Detroit have averaged out.
Now that that’s out of the way, this was a good defensive performance, but it was dull in plenty of spots. Maybe it came off differently on TV, but from where I was sitting, the game dragged.
It seemed like both teams were moving in slow motion at times. Though Winnipeg had 34 shots, it never felt like they were on the verge of scoring for most of those.
It should be said they clanked two off the post, so Hofer was not completely unbeaten. Those don’t count as shots on goal though, so they kind of get lost in the stat shuffle.
This current roster is playing something much closer to Blues hockey than anything we’ve had earlier in the season. That said, this is still a roster that can lose even when they play their very best.
Keeping the focus on this game, we saw the best this team can offer. They defended, they stuck up for one another, they covered for their goalie and got timely offense.
Their newcomers continue to play well in an attempt to prove their former teams wrong. Hofer was solid again and has apparently earned his spot on the NHL club as Craig Berube said he would not be sent back down.
Whether that makes sense is an entire article for another time. For now, it was a nice win against a rival and a chance to play spoiler as the Jets try to hang on to a playoff spot.