The St. Louis Blues had an offensive explosion, scoring eight goals in their previous game against the Colorado Avalanche. Getting consistency would be difficult having to face the Tampa Bay Lightning in their next contest.
The Blues had a good couple shifts to open the game, but the Lightning started taking over a little bit as the game approached the midway point of the first period. The Bolts rattled off three shots to the Blues one and forced some decent saves from Jordan Binnington.
St. Louis also got lucky with some misses. Tampa had a seemingly open net and didn’t even get a shot off.
Still, the Blues managed to make something out of not much. St. Louis went quickly in transition and on the break into the zone, Colton Parayko did the quick backhand/forehand and snuck it in from the left.
The Blues got a little risky by taking a penalty shortly after with a delay of game call. Fortunately, the PK got the job done.
St. Louis should have found a 2-0 lead with about three minutes left. They intercepted a poor pass from the goaltender and had a partially empty net, but some scrambling defenders slowed things up just enough for the save to be made on Brayden Schenn.
Kevin Hayes had a breakaway with under a minute left in the first. Unfortunately, he dinged it off the goalie’s skate and the defender cleared it off the goal line.
Torey Krug was also robbed. His shot was off the blocker and then the post, so the period ended 1-0.
The second period was going by with little to show for it for the Blues. Tampa had several chances, but Binnington continued to be strong in net and then, in the final five minutes, Jordan Kyrou finally scored on the breakaway to make it 2-0.
The Blues wasted no time in adding another one. Krug came down to the left circle, fired a cross-ice pass and Jakub Vrana hit the one timer for a 3-0 lead just 19 seconds later.
St. Louis continued to utilize their bend, don’t break defending in the third. They did need some early saves from Binnington, but it didn’t really feel like he was having to bail them out as it had in previous games.
The Blues got a counter attacking two-on-one in the first five minutes, but Parayko elected to force the pass instead of taking the shot. St. Louis came achingly close to adding a fourth on another odd-man rush later in the period.
This time, Kyrou hesitated and dragged the puck around a diving defender. His pass to Brandon Saad on the left post was on the mark, but the goalie made his way over to make the save.
St. Louis should have had an empty net goal at the end for Pavel Buchnevich, but a whistle in the stands negated that. They did eventually get it, however, with Kasperi Kapanen finishing things off 4-0 with just under four minutes left.
Despite the contest being decided, the Blues were not done. With under a minute left, Schenn sped down the left wing and found Kyrou in the middle and a 5-0 lead and final.
Pros: Krug and Parayko
Two of the most maligned defenders on the Blues roster both had some of their best efforts of the season in this contest. Not only did they show up on the score sheet, but they did their jobs defending too.
Parayko showed some physicality that we don’t often see. He was tied for the team lead in hits, along with bulldozers like Schenn, Sundqvist and Blais.
He also scored what proved to be the game winning goal. The Blues have eight wins and in seven, they’ve scored first. So, Parayko taking the opportunity to shoot and give the Blues a lead was huge.
Similarly, while he’ll never be the most physical, Krug was strong defensively. He made smart plays and got his stick in the lane a few times to stop passes and shots.
Krug finished the night with two assists and a plus-2.
Cons: Vrana’s ice time
Personally, I soured on Vrana once he made public comments about the team not understanding the style he’s always played vs. what they were asking of him. That will never endear him to Craig Berube.
That said, I haven’t seen much to keep punishing the guy either. Nevertheless, despite a goal to his name, he had the least amount of ice time of anyone on the Blues.
He was on the ice less than the fourth line guys. He had 30 fewer seconds than Alexey Toropchenko and more than 90 seconds less than Hayes, both of whom were his linemates.
It’s rare for all three guys to have identical ice time, but seems strange for it to be separated by that much.
While he didn’t have to make that save where your eyes bulge out and you wonder what you just saw, Binnington bailed the Blues out when the game was still close. He was a key part to this victory.
Just as important, even if it turned out to be more of an individual accomplishment based on the final, Binnington getting the shoutout was big. Tampa might not be quite what they have been in recent years, but they still have plenty of firepower.
30 saves is 30 saves, even if they were all from the perimeter. In this case, they were not all from the perimeter. Even though the defense played well, you’re going to get quality chances against when you play the Lightning and the Blues goaltender was up to the task.
Pros: Winning faceoffs
Tampa Bay came into this contest with the third best team faceoff percentage in the NHL. The Blues not only beat them on the dot, but won some important draws.
The Blues won almost 55% of their faceoffs on the night. Only Sundqvist was under 50% as an individual.
Robert Thomas continued his dominance in the faceoff circle. He won 72.2% of his draws and was at 100% for much of the game, into the third period.
Schenn is hit or miss as a faceoff artist, but he took over 60% of his. Even Hayes was at 50% on his faceoffs.
The reason that’s important is because when you win faceoffs, it’s easier to get out of your own zone or to set up your offense in their zone. Losing means you’re on your heels, but winning them gets you set up much better in any situation.
This game was not quite as entertaining as the win over Colorado, but it was just as important. We continued to see a Blues team that is looking more comfortable with their defensive assignments without it affecting their offensive abilities.
Early in the season, they seemed so focused on where they should be defensively that they were clueless when pushing forward. Now, they’ve struck that good balance where they’re able to push forward with confidence without leaving gigantic holes at the back.
When there is a breakdown, Binnington has been sharp enough to bail them out. That gives them confidence instead of thinking here we go again and turning aprehensive.
Tampa is right around .500, so they’re not the dominant force they were just a few seasons ago. They’re still one of the most talented teams in the league though and can beat anyone on any night, and in blowout fashion if things fall their way.
The Blues kept them off the board and only gave up a handful of grade-A chances. Offensively, St. Louis didn’t create a ton themselves, but they cashed in when they needed to.
It was a big win to send them into their four-game west coast road trip. Get ready for some late nights, but at least the W’s are coming as the Blues now have three wins in a row.