The St. Louis Blues traveled to face the Calgary Flames after having a solid defensive effort to defeat Washington over the weekend. They knew they faced a must-win situation since the Flames are above the Blues in the standings and we're past the midway point.
It was never going to be easy, but the Blues got off to a good start. They were outshooting the Flames midway through the period, but Jacob Markstrom was making good saves to keep St. Louis off the board.
In typical fashion, being unable to score came back to cost them, as did a turnover at the redline. Calgary cycled on a slightly fatigued Blues team and then the shot from the left wing beat Jordan Binnington after a quick screen.
The Blues started getting hemmed into their own zone, allowing the Flames a few too many chances. One of the Blues best looks was a partial breakaway for Brandon Saad, but Markstrom channeled his inner Jon Casey and came about 15 feet out of his goal to make the save before Saad could chip him.
St. Louis had little to no offense for almost half the second period, but they finally got some life. A faceoff win led to some looks. Initially the Blues hit the crossbar, but worked it back around to the left and Saad snuck it just under the pad to tie it 1-1.
It got pretty loose over the next few minutes. The Blues almost got a shorthanded goal with another Saad breakaway, but then a poor pass back to the point led to a Calgary break the other way and the Blues were fortunate to not allow a goal on that rush.
Unfortunately, the Blues would surrender the next one. They couldn't gain enough pressure to clear the puck from their zone and another shot from the left beat Binnington to the blocker side and it was 2-1 with around eight minutes left in the second.
St. Louis had gotten away with too much and it came back to bite them shortly after. Another failed Torey Krug step up on a bouncing puck led to a rush the other way and Calgary scored blocker side again at 3-1.
Just when you wanted to be mad, things turned for the Blues a bit. The refs called a soft slash, but the Blues immediately got a breakaway and Brayden Schenn scored the team's 11th shorthanded goal for a 3-2 game.
The Blues had a good open to the third period. Their biggest problem was their best looks were not actual shots, either going wide or being blocked.
Nevertheless, the Blues did tie the game. The top line got pressure on the forecheck, won the puck and then Jordan Kyrou scored from the high slot to make it 3-3.
Around two minutes later, the Blues should have taken the lead. Kyrou overthought his own breakaway attempt and didn't get a very good shot off, so it stayed tied.
The game continued to parry back and forth. Calgary had the next chance, but Binnington came up with a top glove save around the midway point of the third.
It seemed like the game was destined to go to overtime, but the Blues had other ideas. A slight rush in the final minute was finished off with Saad ringing one off the post and in for a 4-3 regulation win.
Across the 60 minutes, Jordan Binnington was a gigantic pro for the Blues. He kept them in the game when they were unable to get anything offensively.
The con part of his game was that all three goals went in on the blocker side. Technically, only the third goal was one he maybe should have had, but any goalie will tell you it's just not the best of looks.
The shots were well placed and not easy to stop. Still, it's one of those things where you'd rather not get beat on the short side, especially with a clear look at the shooter for two of the three.
Nevertheless, Binnington was on his game overall. Even he will tell you he would like to have back one or two, but he made the key stops when the Blues needed them.
St. Louis had next to no offense early in the third period. Binner kept the Flames at bay long enough for St. Louis to turn the game around and he also made some stops after really poor turnovers.
Cons: Iffy puck management and decisions
The Blues were only charged with 12 statistical giveaways, compared to 23 for the Flames. Still, it felt like the Blues gave the puck away in worse areas.
The turnover at the red line directly led to a Calgary goal. St. Louis had some other mismanagement of the puck around the blue lines, which almost always leads to a goal or a grade-A chance against.
In addition to the management of the puck directly, some of the decisions weren't great. I try not to be part of the bash Torey Krug group, but he had three times where he stepped up on a bouncing puck and missed.
One led to a rush play the other way, but fortunately not a goal. Another was snuffed out through the neutral zone, but still could have been dangerous. Yet another was due to a saucer pass, so it wasn't fully Krug's fault, but he just isn't getting much puck luck and his decisions are compounding things.
If the Blues weren't going up against a hot goalie, looking to get himself back into the groove after an injury, Saad would have had a night to remember. As it was, he was good enough.
Saad could have easily had three, if not four goals. If Markstrom doesn't do the double-pad stack halfway up the zone, I think Saad converts that breakaway chance since he was clearly feeling it.
Nevertheless, he managed to get two goals. They weren't just throwaway goals either.
Sadd got things going to tie the game 1-1. Without that goal, maybe the Blues never get back into it.
Then, of course, you can't overlook a game winning goal either. The fact it came in the final minute, which normally happens to the Blues, was even better.
We are still in January and there are still more than 35 games left in the season. With that in mind, this was still as close to a must win as you can get at this point in the season.
The Blues are at a point in their schedule where they have to start accumulating wins. They're facing teams right above them in the standings, which can really swing things in their favor if they play right.
St. Louis was not perfect the entire game, but they didn't let it slip away. Earlier in the year a 3-1 deficit was a death sentence and that's not much of an exaggeration.
Offensively, the Blues got in their own head based on Markstrom's play early in the game. They started getting too choosy with their shots early in the third and this gave Calgary an opportunity to really push the issue and take control.
Conversely, the defense did a pretty decent job, but the placement of the turnovers put them in bad positions. Thankfully, more often than not, Binnington was able to bail them out. I realize there's no changing certain minds, but if you're one that thinks Binner is terrible and yet every analyst around the league thinks he's a top-level goalie, maybe consider that your opinion isn't 100% on the mark.
Kyrou still needs to be stronger on the puck and more consistent, but he scored an important goal. You want your top guys to step up in those moments and he did there.
Also, the Blues need more production from their captain in addition to his leadership. Coming up with that breakaway goal, shorthanded, was just what the doctor ordered.
The Blues kind of got away with a poor second half to the first period and a not very good start to the second. While it's impossible to have 100% consistency for 60 minutes, you would like there to not be such a swing.
Still, I like the fact they got over it and didn't let the game slip away. Binnington kept them in it long enough to give them a chance and the rest of the team righted the ship at the correct time.
St. Louis needed to beat a team just above them in the standings and they did. They cannot take their eye off the ball though as there are more teams they can beat and need to beat coming up.