Although the NHL season was already half over back in January, most fans still see the time after the All-Star break as the unofficial second half to the year. With the St. Louis Blues barely in the last playoff spot, getting a good start was paramount.
The Blus got the job done early against the Buffalo Sabres. Their special teams was playing well, killing off two first-period penalties and also scoring on the power play.
It wasn't the prettiest of goals that got the 1-0 lead, but they all count. The Blues served it into the slot and it bounced off two players before finding Jake Neighbours on the near side of the crease where he backhanded one into the partially empty net.
The Blues finished off the period strong, but only had the 1-0 lead. That didn't last one minute into the second.
The Sabres got their own fluky goal. It actually came off a Matthew Kessel attempted clear that went off Kyle Okposo's stick and into the net to tie it 1-1.
However, the Blues would regain the lead before the five-minute mark. Jordan Kyrou scooped in a shot from the right side of the slot, fielding a nice pass from Pavel Buchnevich, making it 2-1.
Buffalo managed to create a lot of pressure, outshooting the Blues 14-4 in the second period. Joel Hofer made the saves he needed to and the Blues carried the lead into the third.
The third period was about as even as you could get. The shots within the period were even through much of the 20 minutes and the chances felt pretty even two.
The Blues were a little hard done, hitting four posts in the game and two in the third period alone. It was good they were creating chances, but you felt not converting those might come back to haunt them.
The final five minutes was a lot to take in. It seemed things would turn against the Blues, only for it to swing back the other way.
With just under four minutes left, it appeared as though Colton Parayko had taken a four-minute double minor. However, the Blues were bailed out since the replay showed the Sabres player was hunching over and below Parayko's waist, thus negating a high stick.
The Blues took advantage of that good fortune and scored the game winner not long after. St. Louis sealed off the puck along the wall and then went in transition.
Neighbours sprung the play off the near wall to Brayden Schenn. The captain's shot created a juicy rebound for Neighbours who was coming in on the back side and it was 3-1.
Buffalo pulled the goalie late, but it was too late. St. Louis didn't allow the Sabres much in the final moments and they won by a two-goal margin.
Some people will be scratching their heads at this one. Nick Leddy didn't have any stats.
Look at his ice time though. It was more about what he didn't allow than what he actually did.
Leddy actually led all Blues skaters in ice time. That means the coaching staff was putting him out there in all the key moments.
He also earned that ice time. In the third period alone, he made two good defensive plays.
The first one won't show up on any highlight reel, but it tdid get a replay during the game. Leddy used his quickness to get back and negate a potential rush play for the Sabres. Instead of having an odd-man rush or even a breakaway, Leddy's play led to nothing of any consequence for Buffalo.
On the game winning goal, it was Leddy that stood things up in the defensive zone. You can say he's just doing his job, and that's not wrong, but you have to be strong there.
If the puck or the man gets past him, who knows what happens. Instead, he won the puck battle, the Blues were able to scrape it away and then transition for the score.
Con: Too much defending
Credit to Buffalo for their push, especially in the second period, but it felt like the Blues were doing too much defending. Although Hofer didn't have to make a ton of top notch saves, the puck was in their zone a lot.
It was pretty even in the first and third periods, but the second was in the Blues zone far too much. Allowing 14 shots against isn't horrible, but if you've only got four of your own, that means you're barely in the offensive zone at all.
St. Louis got away with it, but even with the win, it was an example of them playing to the level of their opponent.
Every time I list this kid as a pro, I feel like maybe I'm praising him too much or making too much out of what he's doing. We shouldn't get overly excited because he's not likely to be a perennial 30-goal scorer or lead the Blues in scoring every year.
He just does everything right though. He goes to the front of the net, he creates havoc, he doesn't take many penalties, you can utilize him in just about every situation right now and he's not only not making mistakes, he's thriving.
He's not flashy or a dangler. Look at the goals he scored though.
He was in the right spot because he's got enormous hockey IQ. Neighbours won't wow you night in and out, but he's going to get the job done and I'd rather have that kind of player.
Pro: Special teams
The Blues still have the same problems we've seen all year, but they're at least much better now. They're a threat to score finally.
The second period power play was nothing to write home about. The Blues reverted to being too patient and not really even getting a good chance.
However, the first period was excellent. They denied two Buffalo power plays and scored on their own.
Sure, the goal was a little lucky with the way the puck bounced. You do create your own luck by being in the right spots though.
The bottom line is the special teams got it done and needed to in a game that was only a one-goal margin until late.
This was not the best game ever, but it was the result the Blues earned. I'm not sure it felt like a two goal win, but the Blues also didn't quite feel in danger of letting it slip away.
Most things washed out, so it was a justified finish no matter what. If you say the Blues first goal was lucky, then you negate that with Buffalo scoring the way they did.
As mentioned, the special teams was good enough, especially in the first period. It was kind of a surprisingly physical game considering it was West vs East, however it feels like we see that more now. Perhaps players take the opposite approach that they can do whatever they want since there won't be multiple games for reprocussion instead of how it used to be pretty ho-hum in the old days.
Aside from the second period, the Blues played pretty well. You could tell it was their first game after a 10-day layoff, but if you get the win that all goes out the window.