The St. Louis Blues needed a turnaround after the egg they laid against the Arizona Coyotes (figuratively. I’m aware they scored). However, they were going against a team in a similar position with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Pittsburgh came in around .500, but still has talent to hang with anyone, even if they’re aging. The Blues needed a good start for once.
While their first handful of minutes wasn’t mouth watering, they came out better. They outshot the Pens 2-1 in the first three minutes before their shooting ability went a little quiet again.
Astoundingly, the Blues also scored the first goal of the game. It was the first time they had scored first and the first time they had a lead of any kind in the season.
The goal was just a nice, effort goal. They had several whacks at it in tight, with Brandon Saad hitting the breaks near the net to start the play and then finishing it off into an empty net once the Blues got the goalie out of position.
Unfortunately, the period ended with the Blues doing too much defending. Oddly, the position of the defense seems better this season, but they look like they’re penalty killing even when it’s five-on-five.
Saad almost doubled the lead with a breakaway chance. However, he was pressured enough that he only got a shuffle shot along the ice.
The Blues also lucked out that the game didn’t get tied with about five minutes left in the first. Sidney Crosby was all alone on the doorstep with an empty net and fanned on it before shooting into the side of the net.
St. Louis did come close to taking the lead in the dying moments of the period on the power play. Brayden Schenn was denied with a sprawling pad save and then Torey Krug just missed a back-door tap in.
The Blues luck ran out though as a pass back to Krug at the blue line hopped his stick just as the penalty ended. Evgeni Malkin had a breakaway from there and tied the game with four seconds left in the period.
St. Louis came with renewed energy in the second period though. They weren’t peppering the net with shots, but they were at least buzzing.
After some sustained pressure, they eventually took the lead back. The Blues found Jake Neighbours at the top of the crease and he just tapped it in for a 2-1 lead.
Not long after that, Alexey Toropchenko was denied on a partial break, but the Blues kept it in the zone. After some cycle, Colton Parayko unleashed a shot through a screen and St. Louis took a 3-1 lead.
They kept up the pressure too. A shot from the right missed traffic in front, missed the skate of Brandon Saad on the rebound and just went off the post and out. This was all before the halfway mark.
The Blues held the lead through to the third period, but then it was time to rely on the goaltending again. Jordan Binnington was up to the task, stopping nine of 10 third-period shots, but the Blues just sat back and absorbed it too much.
They only had four shots of their own. They did turn the offense on a little bit late in the third and Saad rifled a wrist shot on a partial breakaway to make it 4-1.
That only lasted a little over a minute. After a failed clearance, a strange deflection went off a defender’s skate and fluttered to the far post where the Penguins got a tap in and a 4-2 game.
The Blues should have had another. In typical fashion, they managed to miss empty nets though, so they had to settle for a 4-2 final.
Pros: Making most of little
The Blues needed to get things going on the offensive end and did that. However, statistically, they accomplished it in a way that isn’t sustainable.
Their three goals came off 17 shots through the first two periods. They also had just over three and a half minutes of offensive zone time in the first 40 minutes too.
That includes a power play and a decent amount of pressure. While all this sounds like a negative, you still need to do this some games.
You’re not going to be the dominant team the entire season – we’re seeing it may not happen much this season – so you have to make the most of what you get.
Cons: Top power play
It can’t really be said that any of the power play units for the Blues did well. They failed to score yet again.
0-2 isn’t terrible, but you need to make teams pay eventually. Also, the power play unit was the one that kind of set up Malkin’s goal. It was a bad bounce, but it still kind of falls on them.
All that said, the top unit is doing almost nothing. If they can keep the puck in the zone, it’s just passes and trying to set up some pretty goal.
I get they’re the more skilled guys, so they’re going to attempt more. However, when you’re not even coming close to being successful, it might be time to simplify instead of getting cuter.
While the broadcast crew had glowing things to say about the entire top line, I’d say most of their success on this night was due to Saad. Robert Thomas might have had two assists, but I didn’t see the high-priced duo do much outside of Saad.
The former Blackhawk stepped up against his former hometown team in the Penguins. I’m all for giving narrative to games, but we heard that Saad was a Pittsburgh native a little too much in the broadcast.
Regardless of all that, we saw the side of Saad in this game that is capable of scoring 30-plus goals. As Jamie Rivers noted, Saad could have easily had three or four goals.
He finished the night with six shots. Tristan Jarry came up with some big stops, otherwise Saad would have had an even better night.
This wasn’t a perfect performance, but it was better enough to wash the taste of Thursday from our mouths. There’s still room for improvement, but we definitely saw improvement from the game against Arizona.
21 shots isn’t really enough in today’s NHL, but when you get four goals and none were special teams or an empty net, how much can you complain?
Defensively, it’s hard to tell what’s going on. I maintain that the team is defending much better than in 2022-23, but it looks like a penalty kill instead of five-on-strength defending.
In addition, despite doing a better job of positional defending, there’s still a lot of shots being allowed. Binnington stopped 31 of 33 and the Blues blocked an additional 25.
Those are just the numbers we see right away. Miss the net or hit the post and you don’t get credit, but the Blues still allowed those pucks through.
All in all though, this was a good win. Pittsburgh isn’t the Penguins of old that were constantly challenging for Stanley Cups, but they still have talent.
It was just an odd game. The Blues absorbed a lot, but outside of the first period, it felt like the were on the same level or slightly better than the Penguins.
Perhaps the score twists that idea. Whatever the case may be, it’s two points for the Blues.
It might be the last full game some fans get to see for a couple weeks. The Blues now swing through some of the west, playing in Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver and Colorado, so get ready for some later starts and tough wins to come b.