The St. Louis Blues came into their first game of the season against the Anaheim Ducks needing to clean up some things. Their five-man defending was not good, to say the least, against San Jose and Los Angeles.
One thing that was needed was to score first. The Blues came into this game unbeaten if they had the first goal and St. Louis has yet to take a lead in a game when the opponent scored first.
It seemed as though that would need to change when the Ducks got the first goal. A hot pass from the corner went off a stick and then a body in front, ending up behind Joel Hofer on a very weird play.
However, the Blues challenged that for offside and were correct. St. Louis managed to take advantage of that quickly, scoring the first goal of the game shortly after.
The energy line proved to be just that. Oskar Sundqvist showed some good hands, stickhandling into the zone and finding an open Jake Neighbours on the right circle for a one-timer and a 1-0 lead.
St. Louis proceeded to waste the entirety of a four-minute power play later in the first. They did get four shots, but didn’t really look like threatening.
Thankfully, they did manage to score on the ensuing power play. Pavel Buchnevich earned the penalty, being strong on the puck and forcing the Ducks to hold him. He also scored too, finishing off a cross-ice pass with a chip over the goaltender and a 2-0 lead.
The Blues needed that goal because the refs started looking for calls against the Blues. They made up an interference call against Jakub Vrana and then called a hook on Kasperi Kapanen, giving the Ducks a short two-on-one.
The Blues managed to kill off both of those and maintained the lead into intermission. They needed a couple early saves from Hofer to maintain the zero early in the second as the Ducks started utilizing their speed.
St. Louis capitalized on those saves and the third line continued to play some of the team’s best hockey. Kevin Hayes did a little spin-o-rama on the left circle, fired a pass in front and Alexey Toropchenko turned around to find the loose puck and put it into a partially empty net.
The zero wouldn’t stay forever though. Anaheim would score near the midpoint of the contest to make it 3-1.
Hofer kept the score that way into the second intermission and early in the third. St. Louis continued to waste possible chances, accomplishing nothing on a third-period power play and also not even getting a shot on a two-on-one break with Neighbours and Toropchenko.
The Blues kept it the same score into the final two minutes. They couldn’t make it comfortable, missing two empty net chances.
St. Louis did hang on though, improving to 1-2 on their road trip with the 3-1 win.
There are still gaps and he still has room to grow, but this kid is growing pretty quickly. If he continues to play as he has the last couple games, he’ll be a top six forward over the next few years.
Even in the loss to the Kings, and the win in Anaheim, he showcased speed that we weren’t sure was there. It’s easy to look fast if you’re just doing a skating drill in practice, but Neighbours hadn’t looked specifically quick during games.
He’s found another gear. He has forced odd-man rushes, breakaways and just general rushes the other way.
He is showcasing positional awareness, shown by getting wide open for Sundqvist’s pass for the opening goal. He needs a little more killer instinct. He had no business passing the puck on the third period two-on-one, but he’s looked good otherwise.
Cons: Power play
Yes, the Blues got one power play goal and they are not as inept as they have been earlier in the season. It’s still the way they waste opportunities though.
You are awarded a four-minute power play and do nothing. One could argue that the only reason the penalty even happened was because Sundqvist was bleeding, because the stick wasn’t really that high.
When you don’t make a team pay for that, you’re giving them momentum and a chance to stay in the game. You have to step on their throat.
The Blues just pass, pass, pass. I am more than willing to say the shooting lanes are not there, but that means you’re too predictable.
Teams know how much to pressure and they know where the likeliest shots are coming from. They don’t respect the Blues enough to sit back and actually defend, so often it doesn’t feel like St. Louis actually has the extra man.
Sometimes, just because he had a solid run of games in 2022-23, we forget that Joel Hofer is a rookie and still figuring things out in the NHL. He’s going to have a few ups and downs.
After having a big down in his last game, he was a big reason the Blues picked up the win in Anaheim. He hasn’t shown himself to be a highlight-reel save guy, but that’s because he often takes good angles and reads the play well.
One thing Hofer does that has become rare in today’s game is he has an active stick. He breaks up a lot of plays before he even has to make a save, but jabbing passes away or disrupting the puck carrier with his paddle.
The second period, and parts of the third, showcased Hofer’s talents. He wasn’t bombarded with shots against, but there were still plenty of chances and he gave the Blues all the confidence they needed to push forward.
I’m not knocking a win, because the Blues actually played pretty well when you take in the entirety of the 60 minutes. However, we all suffer from recency bias and the missing of empty nets is maddening.
Credit to the Ducks for some blocks and sticks in the lanes, forcing misses. I’m also not going to get mad at Sundqvist when his shot was almost from the length of the rink and would have gone in had it not been rolling on end. Everyone else does not get that pass.
The Blues held on, but you should not need to hold on. Someone needs to step up and bury these things.
That same mentality holds true even during regulation earlier in the game. There just isn’t that stomp them into oblivion mentality with this roster.
It seems hard to say that against a team that put up eight on the Colorado Avalanche, but it seems to differ game to game. The Blues did not have it in this game.
They did manage to score first, which seems to make them a better team somehow. They play looser and freer when they have the lead.
That’s great, but eventually, they will need to figure out how to come from behind. I’d rather win the game than test out that theory, so I’m grateful they got the opening goal.
The bottom six continue to play a pretty solid game, even in the losses. For whatever reason, I just don’t think Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou are meshing as a duo the way we all want.
The Blues needed to change, but the wins where Kyrou was on a different line just looked better than the wins when that duo has been together.
As much as I’m griping, you would think the Blues lost. I thought the defense was better and there’s no complaints about any of the three goals – they were all earned.
It just felt like Hofer had to do a little too much and the offense continued to sputter when they were given chances to add to the lead.
Still, a win is a win. As Alex Ferrario said on the pregame, you don’t want to go into the Arizona game having gone 0-3 on a four game road trip. So, you needed the W, no matter what.