As the second half of the 2023-24 season really kicks off in earnest, the St. Louis Blues continue to be an up and down team. In two games against the Washington Capitals, we saw some of the worst and the best.
Knowing that another loss, pushing the losing streak to four, would have put them on the verge of a collapse that might have been too much to recover from, the Blues needed a win. They got off to a decent enough start.
For whatever reason, despite a horrible power play and lackluster five-on-five at times, the penalty kill has been surprisingly effective at generating offense. They did that again in the first period.
Adam Gaudette was called for high sticking just over two minutes in and we got that here we go again feeling after surrendering two power play goals in DC. Instead, Colton Parayko picked off a pass intended for the Alex Ovechkin one timer, charged down the ice and snapped a shot past the glove hand for a 1-0 lead.
The Blues were solid defensively in the first period. They only allowed five shots against.
The general flow of the offense shifted slightly toward Washington in the second, with the Capitals outshooting the Blues 9-6, but it was still the Blues to capitalize. This time Brayden Schenn scored on a one-timer from the right circle on a delayed penalty.
The Blues held onto the two-goal lead through 40. They were a little undisciplined, giving the Capitals two power plays in the period, but the penalty kill did do its job.
In the third period, the hope was to get an early goal to give them some cushion. They didn't get it early, but the Blues did score before the Capitals had a chance to pull their goaltender.
St. Louis capped off a trifecta of special teams plays with a power play goal. After working the puck around, Robert Thomas took a wrist shot from the left point and Jake Neighbours got the deflection to make it 3-0.
Except for some matching penalties near the end of the game, the Blues were more disciplined. They only allowed four shots in total during the third period and held on for the 3-0 win.
Detractors and haters will look at the stats and say Jordan Binnington had an easy night. He faced 18 shots and got a shutout - whoopidy doo.
They simply prove their ignorance. The truth is the Blues won this game because of Binnington, regardless of how many shots he faced.
Point to 18 shots all you want, but the Blues still let some quality shots get through. St. Louis allowed seven high-danger chances against them at even strength and five on the Capitals power plays. So, two thirds of the shots Binnington faced were high danger.
Cons: Some minor gripes
As far as this game went, there wasn't a ton to complain about. The Blues cleaned up enough things that they deserved to win.
However, there's still some stuff to gripe about beyond just the normal things we're all picky about.
The Blues still need to be better on faceoffs. They weren't killed like the other night against the Flyers, but they essentially lost close to 60% of their faceoffs. Slice that however you want, you're losing six of every 10 faceoffs and that's not going to cut it.
St. Louis also had 10 statistical giveaways. I always point out when I mean statistical giveaways because sometimes what we consider a turnover doesn't go in the stat sheet as one, but when the stat sheet says 10, you're not taking good enough care of the puck.
Pro: Special teams-ish
While I will openly say this one kind of gets an asterisk, the bottom line is the Blues got the job done on special teams.
The penalty kill was statistically perfect. They allowed too many chances against and relied on Binnington to make some big saves to preserve the lead, but he was up to the task. In the end, they didn't allow the Caps to score with the man advantage.
Conversely, the Blues did score on the power play. We can point to the fact it was late in the third period and the game was already 2-0 all we want, but they got a power play goal. More often than not, the Blues have been getting good end results when a power play goal has been scored. Taking a seemingly innocent shot and getting a tip goal is also important to show the guys that net-front presence gets goals and so does just general shooting.
Last, but not least, the Blues actually scored with their own goalie pulled on a delayed penalty. It doesn't go down as an official special teams play, but it might as well have been. St. Louis was going to get awarded a power play, but didn't waste time, nor opportunity with a great one-timer from the captain. While it wasn't a true power play goal, the Blues worked the puck wonderfully and got a nice finish.
The frustration from this team is consistency, or lack thereof. Washington is not a great team, but there is still plenty of talent there.
Yet, we see that, at their best, the Blues can be much better than Washington. When St. Louis gets down in the dumps and doesn't want to showcase effort for 50-60 minutes, they can/will get beat by anyone.
I feel like they need to be shown that clip from Miracle over and over, where Kurt Russel's version of Herb Brooks tells his team they cannot win on talent alone. That has never been more true than this team.
They have the talent to beat anyone in the league, as long as they work for it. Don't give the proper effort as each shift goes by and there's not enough talent to carry the day based on skill alone.
They won't win with fancy plays and flourishes and Michigan goals. They can win by being disciplined, limiting power plays against, making smart plays and shooting the puck. Win or lose, it has been a few games since the Blues actually won the shot battle.
The hilarious thing about this team is, at times, I feel more critical of them after a win than after some losses. Maybe that's because they show us just enough to know it's in there, but we don't get it more nights than not.
Whatever the reason, it is tiring for us to see this up and down nature. I can only imagine what the players actually feel.
The trouble now is the Blues can't afford to keep winning and losing. They need to string W's together and they now go out west to play tough teams in a different time zone. Play like they did in the home game against the Caps and maybe they get those wins. They'll come back with three or more losses if they play as they did in Washington.