The St. Louis Blues continued their enigma of a season in 2023-24 when they fell to the Winnipeg Jets for the second time in the year. Despite the talk radio reaction, the game was not nearly as bad as some said, but it was a loss nevertheless.
Still, the Blues had one more chance at redemption. After an embarrassing loss to the Arizona Coyotes earlier in the year, St. Louis looked to get back on the winning track with the ‘Yotes in town.
Things got off to a promising start. The Blues scored the opening goal before the game was three minutes old.
It was an odd goal, for sure. Jakub Vrana did a good job of holding the puck as he drove around the zone. Then, the puck went off the official who fell down and after a scramble, Oskar Sundqvist put it in for a 1-0 lead.
Despite a decent showing after that, the wheels started to wobble, but not quite fall off. Things just got really sloppy for the Blues.
For some reason, the game got really chippy and St. Louis got a four-minute power play which turned into a five-on-three not long after. The power play was truly awful. They fumbled the puck several times, missed on passes that 10-year olds would connect on and only got two shots.
Compounding that mistake, the Blues allowed the tying goal on Arizona’s first power play. Despite having a good PK with several shorthanded looks, the Blues were a little tired as the Coyotes broke the other way. With St. Louis standing in cement, the Coyotes found a seam pass to the open man on the right circle and they fired one past a poorly positioned Joel Hofer to make it 1-1.
Though a tie game should be fine after the first, it felt like a big let down. The Blues won almost every statistical category, but didn’t take advantage.
After a poor start to the second period by both teams, it was the Blues that finally took advantage. After some poor play through the neutral zone, Torey Krug hit a pass into the zone for Pavel Buchnevich who then found Robert Thomas for a goal in his fifth straight game.
The third period was a lot of back and forth with nothing really to show for it. The Coyotes were outshooting the Blues late into the period, but it wasn’t much to speak of.
The Blues best chance actually came with a little over five minutes. Unfortunately, Thomas rang one off the crossbar, denying him his second of the game.
The Blues got familiar with the iron as Brayden Schenn hit the post when diving for an empty net goal. Thankfully, the game still ended with the Blues ahead and they got the 2-1 win.
Cons: Top PP unit
Make no mistake about it, the Blues power play is pretty atrocious no matter who is out there. However, the top power play unit is beyond difficult to watch at this point.
The five-on-three and four-minute power plays were just horrendous. Normally, I chalk it up to the entire five-man unit, but on that power play, I directly blame Krug and Buchnevich.
Buchnevich was the one missing passes that were to guys mere feet away from him. He put the puck into skates or passed beyond the reach of anyone. One particular play saw Buchnevich fire a pass that was as hard as any wrist shot he’s taken, trying to hit a guy that was less than 10 feet away.
Krug was equally brutal. He fumbled the puck twice, whiffed on a shot attempt and also passed to nobody in particular.
These are two of your most skilled guys and people you really need to step up in these trying times. Instead, they were two of the worst guys on the ice when it was five-on-four.
Overall, while you give credit to the Coyotes penalty kill, the problem is this unit is giving opponents no reason to respect them. The defenders are in their faces right at the blue line and also in the zone.
It’s been a long time coming, but we’re seeing the continued evolution of Robert Thomas. Maybe he’ll never become “elite”, but he’s becoming a true top-line center.
Even when he was showcasing skills and dangles, Blues fans everywhere kept wishing he would shoot more. He started shooting more, missed the net consistently and then stopped shooting.
The proof is in the pudding now that the guy has a good shot and good offensive awareness. He has goals in five straight games and regained the lead for the Blues when it was 2-1.
His effort in other phases is coming through as well.
The Blues have improved overall, but this was not a good night for their passing in general. For whatever reason, they just look like a team that has no idea where their teammates are going to be.
I already mentioned the spots with Buchnevich and Krug. They weren’t the only ones.
In the second period, Brayden Schenn passed to nobody in particular on what could have been a back door type play. He’s not the only one either.
I cannot remember a time when the Blues were just so off. Easy passes ended up in skates or missing everyone completely. It was a mess.
A win is a win, but oddly I felt better about the Blues play in the loss to Winnipeg than the win over Arizona. I’m talking by slim margins, but it was just an odd game to end the home stand.
On one hand, the Blues were the better overall team and deserved to win in regulation. On the other hand, they continued to miss golden chances to increase their lead or make the Coyotes pay for undisciplined play.
For most of the season, I have been hopeful about the Blues special teams play. The penalty kill is a little up and down, but alright, however the power play might actually be getting worse.
I don’t feel it is overstating it to say the power play will likely be the reason the Blues don’t make the playoffs if there is no improvement. You simply cannot go 0-7, have a full two minutes on a five-on-three as well as a double minor and come up with essentially no grade-A scoring chances at all.
Shots were hard enough to come by. Scoring opportunities were next to zero.
As mentioned, it was just an odd feeling game. Despite only allowing the one goal, I felt nervous about Hofer on several plays.
The offense was barely there despite having 33 shots. The defense was not that great even though they only allowed 20 shots.
Continuing the odd theme, there wasn’t much to pinpoint for them to do differently. It was just a disjointed game for both teams.
There was a lot of physicality early and chipiness as though these teams were bitter rivals. Yes, they’re both in the same division and the Blues might have been tired of losing to Arizona, but it was the Coyotes instigating a lot.
In the end, the Blues came out with a W and two points. There is still a TON of room for improvement, but as we saw in 2022-23, dropping points early in the season makes it hard to come back from later.
Hopefully the Blues can iron out some of their stuff, but if they’re getting points in more games than not, that’s at least something.