Well, yours truly is officially old and these west coast trips prove it. I did not even stay up to watch the San Jose debacle, thankfully, and struggled to make it through the game against the Los Angeles Kings.
I kind of wish I hadn’t stayed up. You often wonder what a team will be in any given season and, usually, like to give it around 20-25 games to figure things out.
Well, we have only hit game 16 and what this team is has become fairly clear. They’re Jekyll and Hyde on steroids.
The 2023-24 Blues have proven they are capable of beating some of the better teams in the league. They’re also showing they can get blown out by just about anyone in the league too.
I don’t care who the opponent is, if you find yourself down 4-0 after 20 minutes of play in an NHL game, things went seriously wrong. Nobody expected the team that outscored Colorado and Tampa 13-2 to stick around forever, but we didn’t think we’d see a complete regression to the team of the first 5-8 games.
To start against the Kings, they were over passing, backing up too much in their own zone and not knowing/having enough energy to transition to offense after being trapped in their defensive zone so much.
The power play continued to be inept, to put it mildly. They gave up a shorthanded goal in the first and almost another in the second period.
That’s five shorthanded goals against on the season, which is an average of one allowed every three games. In my opinion, five in an entire season is not great, let alone five allowed before you’re at the quarter mark of a year.
Things seemed to improve in the second period. The Blues had more jump, created more chances and just looked better overall.
Unfortunately, they got nothing to show for it at all. As mentioned, they almost got another shorthanded goal and missed several opportunities.
Despite getting a lot of shot attempts, almost evening that number with the Kings after two, they only had 11 actual chances. That means they were constantly getting blocked or missing the net, with the latter being more prevalent.
LA actually increased their lead with just 24 seconds left in the second period too. Some poor neutral zone play led to a break in for the Kings, a great pass and a quick shot later would beat Jordan Binnington and make it 5-0 heading into the third.
The Kings had no intention of letting the Blues have any hope. They hit the post pretty early in the period and were smothering St. Louis defensively.
The Kings didn’t add anything, but the third period was essentially a whole lot of nothing for St. Louis. The Blues did outshoot the Kings in the third period, but you never felt the had a glut of goals about to come.
The Blues did get on the board with just under four minutes left. A zone exit up the wall found Jake Neighbours in the neutral zone. Neighbours had enough speed to get in behind the defender and snapped a laser beam over inside the short-side post.
The Blues didn’t get anything else and fell 5-1.
Cons: Giving up the blue line
We saw this start in San Jose and it definitely continued in Los Angeles. The Blues just let the Kings just waltz across the line way too easily.
Even Jamie Rivers pointed it out in his telestrator segment prior to the second period. It wasn’t just the defender’s fault of backing in.
The forwards weren’t doing enough, if anything, to slow things through the neutral zone. They weren’t back checking hard enough either.
That meant backing in was the only real option for the Blues defenders to not allow a two or three-on-zero. Still, it gave the Kings way too much freedom to set up and drive hard into the zone.
Four of the five goals were from 10-feet or less and a big part of that was because the Blues couldn’t stand up at the blue line
Pros: Third line
This is a little of a reach, but there’s always at least a small positive to take from a game. This trio was often the only bright spot on the Blues.
They were pretty consistent with their efforts. They also had the longest sustained pressure too, keeping things in the offensive zone for quite some time in the second period.
Kevin Hayes ability to control the puck is impressive, even if we’d like to see more offense. Alexey Toropchenko just doesn’t know how to stop. The only draw back for “Torpo” is his finishing needs to be better, showcased by the fact he probably should have had two goals.
Jakub Vrana is still a talent, when he wants to play.
Cons: Missed chances
The second period was the biggest example of this, though it was sprinkled throughout the game. The Blues were not devoid of offense.
They simply lacked the finishing. What was disappointing was the lack of killer instinct.
I counted at least four times in the second period alone, where the Blues had a center-zone shooting lane and passed it off to the far wing. Last I checked, being a former goaltender, most goalies will take the angle to their left or right much more than one from straight on.
Most times I’m willing to deal with the extra pass because the camera angle doesn’t always tell the story of what is directly in front of a player’s vision. That was not the case here as this was a wide open lane down the gut and they passed to the wing just to make the pass or because they were afraid of making the shot and it being one-and-done. That’s all the Blues were getting anyway, so just take the better angle chance.
They had some other looks too. There was a backdoor play in the second period that the Blues hit the side netting. It wasn’t a clear-cut empty net, but it should have been a goal, but they put it into the netting instead.
There was also a chance early in the third period that deflected off the goalie’s shoulder, off the post and somehow went out. That’s just bad luck, but it was a good example of how things had been going.
This team is going to drive us crazy all season. I can feel it.
If I’m honest, beyond just needing sleep to get up early for my day job, I didn’t stay up for the San Jose game because I could feel this coming. This team has a bad habit of showing how good they can be and then thinking it will just be that easy, which always sees them fall on their face.
We saw the continuation of that against the Kings. Los Angeles is head and shoulders better than the Sharks, but as far as what they did to the Blues, it was a mirror image.
St. Louis is too much in their own head right now, and basically all their losses early in the year. There is no flow to their game because they’re having to concentrate on one thing far too hard, which makes it hard to transition to other things.
They’re so focused on defending in their own zone that they get hemmed in. You get pushed onto your heels and then they’re either too fatigued or just unable to get much going the other way.
Missing the few chances you’re given doesn’t help. Being terrible on special teams doesn’t help either.
St. Louis was 0-3 on their own power play. The Kings went 1-2 and also had a shorthanded goal.
The game was 2-0 when the Blues got their first power play. Score there and it’s a completely different game at 2-1, but it switches to 3-0 instead and it went from there.
I feel bad for the goaltenders in these situations. It’s not quite the onslaught of backdoor plays from 2022-23, but the team defense is not good enough.
They need more zone entry prevention. They need to play more on their toes in the offensive zone.
St. Louis has to be more decisive or show a killer instinct. We saw they can score against teams with talent, but they lucked into a goal each night to start their west-coast road trip.
A loss to the Kings is nothing to be ashamed of, given how quickly they’ve turned their franchise around. It’s the manner in which things happen though.
Dropping the first two games of a four-game swing doesn’t help either. It’s a short turnaround with the Blues playing the Anaheim Ducks less than 24 hours from the puck drop in LA.