After the disastrous week and home stand that took place during my last blog, I wasn’t sure what to expect this week from the St. Louis Blues. Would I see the team that came out flying on opening night against the Wings? Would I see the scrappy team that’ll win a one goal game? Or would I see the team that looked out of sync. The team that got walked over on their home ice. The team that went from being a contender and having expectations from fans and media to a down to earth, on the bubble team. Four games took place in the last week and going into each and everyone of them I felt uneasy. I don’t like that feeling.
I prefer going into a game assuming we’re going to win. Assuming we’re going to get two points, not only because we deserve it, but because we’re the better team.
The Blues started off this week against the defending cup champions the LA Kings. The same team that beat the Blues and gave the NHL its only 4 game sweep in the NHL playoffs last season. This game concluded the four game home stand and just like the previous three games, it was a disaster. The Kings were quicker, bigger along the boards, and just wanted it more. LA started backup Johnathan Bernier and for the 3rd straight game the Blues couldn’t capitalize on a backup goalie being between the pipes. Aside from Alex Steen putting a laser of a shot in from the blue line, very little positive came out of this game. The Kings won 4-1 and after the game team captain David Backes came out and said that the Blues have to be more focused. That too many guys we’re worried about individual stats rather than the team. Now while Backes didn’t name any players, the first one that came to mind was Tarasenko. Not because I think he’s a locker room problem or anything like that, but a young kid in his first NHL season and while we’re at it, his first North American season, just came off a pretty strong month, won rookie of the month honours and while I could be wrong, that was my first assumption.
I said after the LA game, that the Blues needed to get away from home. They had just had a brutal home stand, and maybe getting away from home, spending more time as a team at dinners and the hotels was what they needed. For what felt like the 73rd time we’ve played Detroit this year, the Blues faced off against the Wings for the 3rd time in as many weeks and the 4th time overall this season. In the last meeting, Detroit gave Petr Mrazak his first NHL start and he got the win. The Blues tried their luck with their rookie goalie Jake Allen, and gave him his first start in the big leagues. Well, after the first 8 minutes, it was 2-0 Detroit and I honestly considered turning off the game. I didn’t even want to watch this team any more, it was that bad. However, I kept watching and saw TJ Oshie make an absolutely unreal play to get the puck to Patrick Berglund for a shorthanded goal. The Blues started off the second period with a little more flare and jump in their step and Vladimir Tarasenko potted his 6th of the season on the Power play to tie the game. Just over a minute and a half later, the Blues star defenseman Alex Pietrangelo made a gorgeous stretch pass to Chris “GD” Stewart who made an even better move on Jimmy Howard and gave the Blues the lead. Pavel Datsyuk scored from behind the net on a goal that I honestly did see coming, to tie it heading into the 3rd. Now I have been told that I am a little biased to not liking the Wings, and that I tend to point out every time they get a break. Well, this is not going to be any different. Kevin Shattenkirk got a delay of game penalty for shooting the puck out of play. But it looked like to everyone, including the broadcasters that the puck hit the glass first. Later on in the period, Ian Cole got a high sticking penalty, that should not have been called with 6 minutes left in a tie game. Nonetheless, despite those two powerplays the Blues only allowed rookie Jake Allen to see 1 shot in the period. In overtime, Barret Jackman, made a great offensive pinch to keep the puck in and centred to Alex Steen who won the game on a jam play and gave the Blues their first two points of the month.
The Blues then made the trip out West to face the struggling Calgary Flames, and Jake Allen made his 2nd straight start. I said after the Wings game, that Jaden Schwartz played his best game of the season. Well, he topped himself in this one. He scored his first of the year just under a minute and a half in, and then set up Patrick Berglund less then 3 minutes later. Alex Steen scored later in the period and then David Perron scored on the powerplay to cap off the best offensive period of the season for the Blues. However, nobody was talking about the goals in that period, all they were talking about was the Jake Allen save. The same Jake Allen that was making his 2nd career NHL start. Late in the first, after some quick passing from the Flames, Allen made a stick save that is an instant front runner for the save of the year. I will say that I thought Allen had looked pretty shaky from what I saw of him so far this season, however the calmness and poise he showed in that moment was enough to turn me into a believer. The Flames made it interesting before David Perron scored on the powerplay again to make the score 5-3 and that is how it stood up. The Blues topped ranked power play scored twice in the game, and it continued the streak making it 8 consecutive games with at least one goal.
The Blues travelled to Vancouver to face the tough test that is the Vancouver Canucks. Now I don’t like playing the Canucks for a few reasons. Anytime, and I do mean anytime, one of their players hits the ice, every Canucks fan in the world jumps up and wants a penalty. The other reason, is because they play with the exact same mind set that I’ve played with since I was young enough to understand how hockey officiating works. That is basically, to draw as many penalties as you can and make it look as real as possible. Some might argue its not part of the game and I fully support that. However, until myself or anyone for that matter is called for diving, it’s going to keep happening. The Blues continued to start the hot hand of Jake Allen and he played his best game of the year. Even with Jaroslav Halak ready to go, Hitchcock played the rookie and showed tremendous confidence in him. After the home team took the one goal lead, TJ Oshie showed great hockey sense and tied the game after going to the net and chipping in the David Backes rebound. After the first, Vancouver lead 2-1 but I didn’t think the Blues played a bad period. I did notice in the last few games and more so in this one, especially the first period that Patrick Berglund is showing more of a veteran presence on the ice, especially to Jaden Schwartz. Andy MacDonald tied the game in the second on a rebound from Tarasenko, and just like that we had a hockey game going into the final period. Late in the second period, I did notice a sequence that really impressed me from Chris Stewart. While lining up for a neutral zone face off, he was in a jousting match with a Canucks forward. Despite both players being told twice from the official to knock it off, Stewart gave a little trip to Vancouver player while he was replacing the centerman that was thrown from the draw. Seconds later, Stewart drew a penalty and that ended his shift. I don’t know why that impressed me so much, but in the past few games and all season really, Stewart is showing that he wants to be considered a clutch player and will do whatever it takes to win games. In the 3rd period, Vladimir Sobotka made a great effort to throw a blind shot on net and it deflected in off of the backside of Berglund to give the Blues their first lead of the game. Cue the diving by the Canucks. Roman Polak got a penalty for boarding after Ryan Kesler stumbled going into the boards, and just over a minute later, Kesler drew another penalty, this time from Alex Pietrangelo. Give Kesler credit though, I mean he knew how much time was left, the fact that had no call been made, a sell out home crowd would have erupted and the fact the team needed a powerplay. The Blues killed off the 5 on 3, and than the rest of the powerplay to get it back to even strength. Ian Cole than got a holding penalty on Henrik Sedin on what might have been the weakest holding call of the season. The Canucks scored late and we went to overtime. Late in OT, Alex Burrows had a breakaway on Allen to which he calmly made a glove save to send us to the shootout. Again, in my opinion the stupidest thing in pro sports. TJ Oshie scored on a wrist shot five hole, and Andy MacDonald scored top corner on the Blues two shots. Mix those in with a pair of saves from Allen and the Blues won their third straight.
Blues Miscellaneous Notes:
Jaroslav Halak was activated from the IR before the Canucks game and served as the backup to Jake Allen. Ken Hitchcock confirmed that Allen will get another start on Tuesday, and that means most likely Halak will get the go the following night.
The Blues still have the NHL’s best powerplay at 34.6%. As mentioned the powerplay had scored in 8 straight games, before being shut out on both attempts in Vancouver. After the Canucks game, the team’s flight was delayed and they spent all day Monday at the airport, and did not arrive back home until late Tuesday morning.
Ken Hitchcock in all likely hood will not win the Jack Adams award for the second straight year, however his constant rearranging of lines and give the team the right players on the ice in the right situation is something that should not be over looked. He is the best coach this team has had in some time.
Ryan Reaves is one of the best fighters in the NHL. Every fight I’ve seen him in, he has won and it has not been close. He fought Aaron Volpatti of the Canucks on Sunday and landed several big shots. They don’t come much tougherthen the GrimReaver.
I said last week the Blues needed to bounce back. They replied with winning 3 of 4 and are looking like the team that started off the season flying. All lines are contributing and everyone is playing a three zone game. Blocking shots, transition passes and a solid offensive zone cycle are just some of the areas where the team has excelled in as of late. This week, the Blues are home against the Sharks on Tuesday, travel to Colorado the next night, and finish off the week on Saturday back at home against the Blue Jackets. Again, I will not make any predictions this week because well… I’m a superstitious guy and that seemed to work last week.
Remember to follow me on twitter @kfox9611 and we’ll talk some St. Louis puck. Let’s go Blues!