The St. Louis Blues had what, on paper, seemed to be a good opponent to turn things around with when facing the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Jackets entered this game with the Blues with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.
Leave it to St. Louis to find a way to play below their competition. It started poorly and never really got better.
The Blues found themselves down 1-0 before the game was even two minutes old. The Blues missed on a cross-ice pass and Columbus came down with speed and numbers. After some miscues, a shot from the top of the right circle snuck through Joel Hofer to make it 1-0.
The Blues would tied the game late in the first. After getting knocked down on a reverse hit, Robert Thomas was sprung on a breakaway and made no doubt about it to get the game knotted up.
Unfortunately, the Blues could not keep the game tied into intermission. A bad bounce on the Blues zone entry led to another odd-man rush the other way and this time the shot from the left circle beat Hofer to reestablish the one-goal lead.
Nothing really happened in the second period, overall. There were only 15 combined shots, with the Blues having eight.
St. Louis' power play continued to be inept. They had two full power plays and parts of three in the second period and got nothing out of them.
Columbus made them pay in the third period. The Blue Jackets got two more goals in the span of six minutes.
Yet another transition play started with the Blues in the offensive zone and not holding it. Columbus scored on the tip from the left post to make it 3-1.
Yegor Chinakhov got his second of the game not long after. He had a clear shooting lane with the one-timer from the high slot as the Blues could not kill off a penalty and the game was 4-1.
Thomas would get his second of the game with under three minutes to go. St. Louis pulled their goaltender and actually scored, though barely. Thomas was set up on the near post, but ping-ponged one off the post, goalie and defender before knocking in the rebound to give them a small glimmer of hope.
St. Louis couldn't get anything else going on offense, despite a glut of shots. Columbus threw salt in their eye with an empty net goal with four seconds left. 5-2 was the final.
I am a staunch defender of al things goaltending. I am willing to call things out when I see it, however.
While I do not solely blame Joel Hofer for this loss, because the offense didn't do enough, he was a major part in it. He just looked off right from the start.
Speaking of right from the start, the first goal he allowed set the tone. It's a weird scramble play with nobody in their normal spot and the puck could go anywhere. Even so, you need your goalie to make a save there. Instead, it snuck through his body and gives the Blue Jackets mometum before fans are even all in their seats.
The second goal wasn't really Hofer's fault. The backcheck for the Blues was incredibly poor and the shooter was basically untouched from in close. Still, I feel like if Hofer was on point, he makes a save there.
Nothing to be done about the third one. It's a back-door tap in on an odd-man rush.
The fourth one is a tweener. It's a blistering shot that is hard to see, even though there was no traffic at all. However, you could see a brief flash of anticipation instead of reaction. Hofer thought it would go glove side based on being a lefty shot, but it went to his blocker side and he couldn't recover.
Though Columbus wouldn't score on this particular power play, Hofer showed what an off night he was having by tossing the puck out of play. At times this season, he has looked better at puck handling than Jordan Binnington, but on this evening, ever facet of his game was not there.
Pros: Robert Thomas
You had to know the only guy to score was going to be one of the few bright spots for the Blues. Thomas not only scored, but got two goals to his totals.
We are finally seeing a total package in Thomas. The worry was that he might have the passing skills of an Adam Oates, but would never be that kind of offensive player.
To this point this season, he has been able to do it all. He has shown a big willingness to shoot the puck, which has translated into teams being forced to worry about him being a scorer.
Thomas is also showing some grit. He's not just scoring on dangle plays, but he was in the kitchen when he scored on the rebound for the team's second goal.
The first goal was exactly what you want from someone you're paying top dollar to. He clinically finished off a breakaway with a top-shelf shot and showcased some toughness in immediately getting up after being reverse checked prior to that particular play.
Cons: Special teams
I might as well just pencil this one in for every game. We have seen minor improvements here or there, but special teams is costing this team dearly.
Just look at the box score and you get the story. Allow one power play goal against and go 0-3 on your own and it's rarely going to work out for you.
I'd like Hofer to stop that shot on the power play, but why are three of your four penalty killers all even with or to the left of the faceoff dot? Adding salt to that wound, Pavel Buchnevich's fanned clearance was actually the assist for that goal.
I don't even know what to say about the power play at this point. Four total power play shots on three man advantages is not going to accomplish anything.
Joey Vitali made the point in the post game that failing to even get one goal on those second period power plays made the difference. The game was still 2-1 at that point and you either get it tied or take the lead if you score on one or both.
Instead, as they always do, they got nothing. Even as a relatively positive person, I can't rely on the whole "oh they look better" thing. Score goals, otherwise you haven't improved anything.
There was a good discussion on the radio broadcast after the first period. It brought up two points that are valid.
The Blues looked like a team that thought they could coast through this one because they're playing a team with only eight wins at the time and one who had allowed the most goals.
The counter argument to that, made by Chris Kerber, was this is a Blues team that is barely above .500 and barely in a playoff spot. They just coughed up a two-goal lead against Vegas and also got blown out by the Sharks. They shouldn't be taking anyone lightly.
They do though. A certain segment of fans will blame it on Craig Berube, but the players have to own this. They are the ones consistently allowing early goals and not preparing themselves enough.
In pro sports, you shouldn't need a coach to get you riled up and ready. The players on this team seem to think they can just warm up as the game goes along and then rachet it up. You cannot do that. They have to hit the ground running.
Aside from the special teams component, in certain aspects you can't just look at the box score. 43 shots sounds great, but 24 came in the third period alone with many coming after the game was out of reach.
Where are those shot totals in any other game, in any other period when the game is tight or the Blues are on top? Why were they not able to get more done against a rookie goalie with no wins to his name?
The Blues did nothing but shoot most pucks right at the goalie, giving a young guy with no experience too much confidence. By the time they actually pelted him with pucks, it was too late as he was in his zone.
Fans often blame the defense, with reasonable cause based on last season. However, so many goals this year and in this game were the result of turnovers by the offense or rediculously bad backchecking by the forwards.
I don't care if you have Scott Stevens and Chris Pronger back there. If you're allowing odd-man rushes and the forwards don't do enough to get back and disrupt things, you're going to get scored on more times than not.
Moving forward, it's hard to tell what you'll ever get from this team. On paper, they should beat Chicago in their next game.
They have proven they are not better than the bottom feeders of the league though. Oddly, they can hang and sometimes smash the top teams. How there can be that much of a swing in performance is a little astounding.
This is your 2023-24 Blues folks. It's going to be peaks and valleys all year.