The St. Louis Blues were fresh off a win against the Philadelphia Flyers and then a day off. The New York Rangers won their last game too, but had to travel overnight after a 6-3 win against Tampa Bay.
Things started off pretty slow for both teams. For New York, it was probably travel fatigue and for St. Louis, it was just their usual slow start.
The Blues got the better of the Rangers early on. They got more pucks toward the net, though they kept missing more than hitting.
After their first five shots on goal, which came relatively early in the period, St. Louis went cold. They only managed three the rest of the period and New York only had a total of six the entire period.
Interestingly, the Blues had even fewer shots in the second period and still managed to score. The Blues were either focused more on defending or simply didn’t have a great period, but found a way to be up 1-0 after 40 minutes.
It was a great overall play by Alexei Toropchenko to break the deadlock. Just past the eight-minute mark, the big Russian made a fantastic block on a cross-ice pass in the Blues zone and he was off to the races.
While Toropchenko isn’t a true blazer for foot speed, he’s not slow either. He kept his advantage and then sniped a shot from the left back across past Jaro Halak’s glove and the Blues had the lead.
The Rangers had their best shot totals in the second with 12. Despite this, the Blues did a good job of clearing away loose pucks and not allowing too many second-chance attempts.
Unfortunately, special teams continued to hurt the Blues. They gave the Rangers an early power play in the third period and New York tied it less than two minutes into the period and less than a minute into the man advantage.
It was our old friend, Vladimir Tarasenko, that did the scoring too. Jordan Binnington stopped the initial shot from the left, but Tarasenko was waiting on the rebound on the back side and slotted home the rebound past a sprawling goaltender.
Midway through the period, the Blues fourth line regained the lead. The fourth line had been the best one all game long and Tyler Pitlick was able to sweep in the trickling puck on the left post for a 2-1 lead.
St. Louis held that lead into the final three minutes, but they combined two of their biggest problems at the end. The Blues took a penalty late and they faced the Rangers with an empty net on the other end.
St. Louis has a habit of allowing tying goals with the other net empty and they can’t kill a power play to save their lift. It took the Rangers all of 17 seconds to work the puck around and score, with Tarsasenko picking up a nice assist on the goal.
Despite one good look for the Blues right at the end of the period, it went to overtime. St. Louis has actually looked pretty good in OT of late and managed another good effort.
Even though he had been subbed out just moments prior, Craig Berube inserted Brayden Schenn back into the game since he had won a key faceoff earlier in overtime. Schenner won it again and the Blues proceeded to cycle around and Schenn found Kasperi Kapanen on the far side for a one-timer goal and a 3-2 win.
Yes, it makes no sense to list an opponent as a positive, but I’m a Tarasenko mark (to borrow a wrestling term). I like when he plays well because I like the player and also to stick it to the nonsense haters on social media.
The first goal he scored was classic Tarasenko. Just hanging in the weeds near the circle/hash marks and cashing in on a loose puck.
The assist was just as nice. Tarasenko took up a spot on the goal line, hit what was essentially a one-time pass to the man out in the slot and we had a tie game.
Clearly, had the Blues lost, I may have felt differently. Still, it was nice to see one of my favorited have success.
Cons: Special teams
We’ve reached the point where you just assume failure on every special teams play for the Blues right now. Statistically, that’s not far from the truth.
The Blues went 0-1 with their only power play chance. They had a grand total of one shot on goal during that power play and it came in the waning seconds.
Meanwhile, the Blues penalty kill doesn’t even give you enough time to figure out what’s wrong. Tarasenko scores on a rebound less than a minute into the first power play. The Rangers get their second power play goal around 17 seconds after Justin Faulk went to the box on a bogus call.
At that point, how do you even tell what’s wrong? The goals go in so fast, you don’t even have time to complain about the lack of clearing the puck or a certain defensive structure.
I’m still not sure where this guy fits in for the Blues going forward. The experiment of putting him on the top line did not really deliver the results that fans, nor the coaches, wanted.
However, he’s clearly more than just a fourth-line player. The guy is not a superstar, but he does it all.
Toropchenko not only hits people, but has the strength and leverage to put them on their butts, not just brush against them and go away. He might be one of the strongest Blues forwards in terms of keeping the puck on his stick with pressure from the sides or behind.
That’s important when you compare him to the likes of Jordan Kyrou who, though more talented as far as scoring, seems to lose the puck if you breathe at him too hard. Toropchenko doesn’t have the dangles, but he doesn’t lose it much either.
He also has more skill than we give him credit for. He now has nine goals for the season, but four goals in his last six games.
What is more is that he controls his shot. Toropchenko places it, but keeps it low instead of going for the upper 90 every time and skying it.
For me, this was the perfect result, especially being in attendance. Tarasenko got a goal, had a nice assist and the Blues still won.
What was nice was the crowd reaction for this game. Honestly, given the social media reaction at times, I was worried Vladi would not get the ovation he deserved.
Blues fans showed me their true colors by giving him a standing ovation and loud cheers. There were many cheers and claps even when Tarasenko scored and Tom Calhoun announced it. I was one of those clapping and pleased to not be alone, but I don’t expect that for every player, nor from every fan. I was one of the few that booed Brendan Shanahan when he came back with the Hartford Whalers, so every person has their own choice in how they react to returning players.
As far as the game went, it was oddly entertaining given the lack of hits and lack of overall offense. Both teams had their chances, but I’d venture to say only 50% or less of the pucks at the net actually hit the net.
The question for the Blues is how well they actually defended vs. how much effort the Rangers expended against the Lightning. New York had six goals the previous night and were somewhat fortunate to get the two they did on this night.
Just to boost team morale, we’ll say the Blues played well enough defensively. Binnington had to make some good saves and the defenders made some diving plays that probably should have been unnecessary, but it worked.
You don’t expect to win a ton of games when Toropchenko and Pitlick are your only goal scorers in regulation, but you want to win those games even more due to the effort of the bottom six. St. Louis did not have a perfect game, but they’re giving themselves a chance and taking advantage.
It’s been odd to see this string of former players all come back through St. Louis late in the season. It has brought back fond memories that we’ll all remember for a long time.
But those memories stay fond when the Blues actually beat the former players as they did tonight.