The St. Louis Blues must have stayed on Central Time when they traveled to Detroit to face the Red Wings just two days after seeing the same team in St. Louis. They were not at all ready for a game that might have been 7pm local time, but started at 6 in St. Louis.
The Red Wings scored two goals in the first 90 seconds of the game. In addition, the Blues did not get their first shot on goal until the Red Wings had seven to their name and several minutes had gone by.
The first came 38 seconds in. A shot from the point went off Justin Faulk’s skate, who was trying to keep the streaking forward away, and it banked off both goalie pads and in.
The second was a puck the Blues thought was going out, but got held in, putting them out of sorts. Jake Walman snuck in behind the defensive forward and rifled a wrister from just outside the slot over the blocker to make it 2-0.
Fortunately, the Blues did manage to wake up. Almost halfway through the first, Alexei Toropchenko just flung one at the net from almost the blue line and Magnus Hellberg looked lost that the shot was even coming. It stayed 2-1 through the first 20.
The break did the Blues well as, not only did they wake up, but they opened things up. They got the tying goal 3:31 into the frame.
A nice little reverse skate and drag from Jordan Kyrou led to a shot past the stick from the blue line. Brayden Schenn reached out and tipped it through the five hole for a 2-2 game.
The Blues almost got a shorthanded goal midway through the second period. Hellberg continued to look shaky in his positioning, but punched away a tipped Schenn shot.
St. Louis did score and take the lead just minutes later. A shot from the right, that should have been controlled, went off Hellberg’s chest and fell right to Sammy Blais. He took it to the forehand and put it into an empty net for a 3-2 score.
That forced a goaltender change, but the Blues stayed at it. Not even two minutes later, the Blues sprang Jake Neighbours on the breakaway and he just shoved it through the legs of Alex Nedeljkovic to make it 4-2.
St. Louis got an odd-man rush in the final minute. They probably should have scored, but Pavel Buchnevich sent the saucer pass to Calle Rosen who just pushed it wide.
The Blues got a little loose in the third period. They allowed a couple scramble plays in front of the net that actually got the calm and collected Joel Hofer down and on his belly or his side.
St. Louis was fortunate that Detroit chipped it over Hofer, but just across the crease on the first attempt. Unfortunately, the Blues couldn’t keep Detroit off the board completely.
Hofer came out to play a puck, but it bounded off his stick into the trapezoid that is illegal for a goalie to play it. A couple taps around the side and a quick shot from in tight made it 4-3 with Hofer still trying to reestablish himself in the crease.
The Blues had several long chances at the empty net, but they couldn’t hit the target. They defended well and were bailed out by a holding call with around 4 seconds left. St. Louis took down the Wings 4-3.
Pros: Calming down
This was the kind of game we expected from the Blues earlier in the season and rarely got. They didn’t quite understand the game had started and fell down by two goals before a full three shifts had been played.
But, instead of letting things completely unravel like we have seen in the past, the Blues calmed down. They reestablished themselves and got back to playing hockey.
St. Louis cut the lead in half in the first period and were challenging for the tying goal in the first frame.
The Blues tied it early in the second, giving them tons of time to see the rest of the game out. They weren’t discouraged by a shorthanded missed opportunity and scored the go-ahead goal just minutes after that.
Instead of sitting back on their laurels once the starting goaltender got pulled, they kept putting pucks on net. The breakaway chance for Neighbours was just clinical.
Cons: Power play
Copy and paste. You can see improvements in the team’s power play, but it’s just not accomplishing anything.
There is still far too much passing. At this stage, I won’t even blame an unwillingness to shoot.
If you pay attention to the angles, there is often no chance to shoot the puck. However, that means they are too predictable and not making the defense scramble.
If you’re not creating shooting lanes, you’re making yourself easy to defend. The Blues often become too obsessed with the back door play or the bumper spot in the slot.
Sometimes, you have to find ways to just create a lane by moving a couple feet and unleashing the shot before the defense sets. St. Louis will move a couple steps and then just stand there. By the time the puck comes, the defender already knew the attacker had switched spots and adjusted himself.
Pros: Game-winning goal
It would have been nice if this stayed as an insurance goal, but the fact it became the game winner doesn’t detract from it. It makes it more important instead of just a great play.
Often, I don’t focus on single plays unless they’re negative. This one hit different though because of who made the pass and the quality of the finish.
Robert Bortuzzo turned himself into an offensive dynamo the last couple games. He scored on home ice and then put the perfect amount of touch on a lifted pas out of the zone to find Neighbours cutting through the neutral zone.
We’ve seen prettier goals, perhaps, but this was just smooth. Neighbours didn’t waste time or motion trying a bunch of fancy moves.
He simply waited until the perfect time when making a stick save would be difficult and put it just past the heel of the stick and through the legs. It sounds easy, but when you’re skating fast, defenders behind you, you have to time it just right and that’s difficult.
This game had ups and downs, but it was a solid win. The ends justify the means, so to speak.
Why the Blues weren’t quite prepared for Detroit in the opening two minutes is somewhat mysterious. Credit to the Red Wings for coming out firing and putting pucks on net.
The continued failure of the Blues to get shots early in games is still disturbing. It’s tolerable when the focus is squarely on defending, which has been the case during this run for Hofer.
However, once you fall behind by two goals, you need to get things rolling. The Blues only had two shots when Toropchenko scored. 3 shots halfway through the first period just isn’t acceptable.
The battle back was nice. It was very much the style we were accustomed to seeing from the Blues the last few seasons.
Add the overall effort to the fact the team was without Torey Krug – his wife just had a baby, so he stayed at home – and Robert Thomas – illness. Earlier in the season, injuries and lost players and trades affected the team in substantial ways. In this game, St. Louis had that old next-player up mentality.
In his fourth start in a row, Hofer was quite good. The glove hand is very solid on this young goaltender and, though he doesn’t look it by crouching so low, he takes up a lot of net with his size.
The defending continues to improve. This group is never going to punish opponents and beat them up, but if you’re forcing them wide and keeping shots from the perimeter, that’s good enough.
Now, it’s on to California. Thank heavens the game in Anaheim is on the weekend, because weeknight games on the west coast are truly awful.