The St. Louis Blues entered their first, big road trip of the season coming off a rather impressive victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Unfortunately, we saw a little of both versions of the Blues that have showed up early in the season so far.
The first period actually went reasonably well. St. Louis outchanced the Jets 6-4 in the opening frame, but the disappointing thing was the Blues had six chances, but only 11 shots.
Still, St. Louis was challenging the goaltender on the limited chances they had. However, the first period ended scoreless, though it felt like the Blues were building toward the end of the period.
That idea blew up early in the second. Not only did the Winnipeg Jets strike first, but they added two goals in 18 seconds.
The first came just short of three minutes into the period. The next one came on essentially the next shift.
Both goals were basically mirror images. The Blues allowed a Jets player to settle in behind the defense when the puck went below the goal line and then a quick pass found the man on the faceoff dot for a one timer from each circle and a 2-0 lead.
The Blues had chances to climb back in. They forced some top saves and had breakaways, but could not crack that egg on the scoreboard.
The funny thing about the game was the Blues came in without a power play goal. They had a power play chance earlier in the period and gave up a shorthanded chance instead of threatening themselves.
Then, suddenly, they cut the lead in half with an actual power play goal. The returning Pavel Buchnevich scored on a backdoor tap in to make it 2-1 and give the Blues life.
It was a late-period goal that should have given the Blues life and demoralize the Jets. Instead, they came out determined in the third period and restored the two goal lead early.
Kyle Connor snapped a wrist shot just about four minutes in to make it 3-1. That was one that, while not his fault, you’d like Jordan Binnington to bail you out on. Unfortunately, despite several good saves all game long, that one got by.
St. Louis clamped back down on defense and kept themselves in it late. They did make a game of it by scoring a goal with their net empty, which is almost unheard of. Robert Thomas got a loose puck on the far side and whipped it past the goalie to make it 3-2 with over three minutes to go.
Sadly, the Blues could not really muster another big challenge on net. Just as they pulled Binnington a second time, the puck got turned over and the Jets put it into the empty net for a 4-2 win.
Cons: Second period
By no means did the Blues play a great period of hockey in the first period. However, they were solid enough in most phases to think they’d build on that and come out with a good second period.
It did not turn out that way. It’s one thing to give up the first goal, but to allow another one almost immediately and almost in the same way?
I guess you could almost argue they didn’t have time to make any adjustment since it was on the same play. It was discouraging to see the Jets have such a read on the Blues though to know if their one guy backed off just enough, there would be open space near the faceoff dot.
On top of those two goals, the power play continued to struggle. Yes, they did get the Buchy goal, but it was not good outside of that.
The Blues continue to allow better chances to the shorthanded team than they create. You can’t keep giving other teams breakaways.
Speaking of breakaways, Hellebuyck is a good goalie, but you’d like your star scorer in Jordan Kyrou to get something off one of the three chances/two breakaways he had.
It was good enough that Buchnevich was back in the lineup. I was a little surprised he was not put back on the top line, but I guess one good game after several poor ones with Kyrou, Thomas and Saad was enough to keep them together.
Regardless of that, Buchnevich looked solid. For a guy that looked like he could be out months with a potential wrist or hand injury, he was still sharp and skating pretty well. He didn’t shy away from anything.
Getting the goal was just dessert for him. It was a reward for the work he puts in.
His assist on Thomas’ goal was just as nice. It was nothing flashy, but good hockey sense to know where the open man should be.
Win or lose, every single game this season the Blues are being outshot and/or not getting enough shots themselves. This is not sustainable, no matter how improved the defense could be or how good the goaltending can be.
20 shots is not enough in today’s NHL. I don’t care if 19 of those shots are good scoring chances, you need more pucks on net.
I am almost certain that every intermission report has Bernie Federko saying he would like to see the Blues have more attempts on net. Bernie is not quite as positive as Darren Pang used to be, but for him to be calling out the team about too few attempts towards net should be telling.
Again, as I’ve said all season, I’m not saying throw the puck at the goalie just to give him work. Don’t chuck pucks every time you’re on the goal line just to see what happens.
But, the Blues seem too afraid to get anything blocked. They do have a bad track record of blocked shots going the other way, but statistically, you just need more.
Two goals on 20 shots is not a bad percentage, but two goals won’t cut it in today’s NHL either.
This is one of those games where the fan base will be split, as usual. It wasn’t quite as bad as a 4-2 loss might indicate. Empty net goals always make it seem worse than it was.
However, was it really that close either? The Blues battled, but when you’re not generating chances and those that you do are stopped by a goalie that has been mediocre until you make him look superhuman, it’s always going to go against you.
The reality is that this game shows the small margin for error the Blues will have in 2023-24. Statistically, other than the shot totals, they were fine.
They had more hits, way more faceoff wins, more blocked shots and won the special teams battle. That should get you a win most nights.
It was that 18-second span in the second period that did them in. The Blues had been clogging the middle all night, but the Jets found a way to stretch them and open the prime area and that’s what it took.
People will whine about the defense and I’m sure some blame Binnington. The reality is you’re not going to win 2-1 many nights in today’s game.
If the offense cannot generate shots, chances and goals, you’re just not going to be successful even if the defense is actually better. It’s early in the year, but you need your big guys to come up big more and it’s too sporadic right now.