Everyone is talking about the St. Louis Blues these days. Third best record in the league since the halfway point in the season. Goaltender Chris Mason, the second best goaltender named Mason in the league, has a record of 15-16-9 in the last thirty games. The Blues were last in the conference before Xmas and considered to be out of the playoffs. Every trade rumour included Keith Tkachuk. Guys like TJ Oshie just weren’t on anybody’s radar. It was so bad, St. Lou looked to be in the Tavares sweepstakes. And now, this is a team that really will fight it out with Edmonton and Nashville for the last playoff spots. The leadership of this team starts with John Davidson. The ex-goaltender/ broadcaster, who some likened to Garth Snow in terms of being a legitimate appointment to the GM ranks has indeed turned this franchise around. When everyone was calling for coach Andy Murray’s head, Davidson did not respond with the kiss of death “vote of confidence.”
He simply said, “with all the injuries, I’m pleased we are doing as well as we are.”
When Mike Gillis made a qualifying offer to David Backes, the Blues did not whine, they just matched the offer. But after the Canucks traded for Steve Bernier, Davidson immediately sent an RFA offer to the kid’s agent.
Think Mike got the message? To Gillis’ credit, by the way, he didn’t whine either.
So we have ample reason to worry tonight, right? Well, the fact is, how St Louis is playing these days is not the most important thing. It’s our game that’s the main factor. It’s our forecheck, our ability to get pucks (and traffic) to the net. Our work ethic is the most important theme tonight. Because no matter what else, if we outwork them, we should win. If we outwork them, we should be able to stay out of the box. If we outwork them we should be forcing them to play catch up hockey.
And after one period, it’s clear that we did not outwork them The balance of the play was in St Lou’s favour. Our third line, which really started to show signs of life a couple of games ago, was our best line. There is a nice chemistry developing there. But all they could do was get scoring chances but they did not convert. Our top two lines weren’t bad, but they did not dominate the way we hoped.
Not a bad first period, but were reacting, not acting. If we want to win we need to take it out of second gear. We need to exceed their level of physicality…of chippiness. We need a statement. The kind of statement that Alex Burrows made when hye wouldn’t accept Barrett Jackman’s stick work on Daniel Sedin. He responded with some Sherwood therapy of his own and the Blues did not like it.
Too bad. We need more of that. And the truth is, we didn’t get that in the second period. The Blues come out flying and we are back on our heels. Luongo keeps us safe, swallowing rebounds, directing traffic, making big saves. We kill off a two man deficit which often changes momentum, but the Blues just keep coming. We bend and bend as St Louis gets every bounce, every break. We are outshot and no matter how Shorty and Garrett try to paint it, we are massively out-chanced. Our third line is still our best line. It’s great that Wellwood, Raymond and Bernier are playing well, but we need our top guys going.
Finally, the Blues get caught for holding the stick and we get a PP. But it is curiously ineffective generating a single scoring chance. Bernier is a fine young player, and I know I’m playing the harp here, but our leading goal scorer the last eight games is sitting on the bench during the PP.
Where is Alex? Which finally gets answered a couple of shifts later. Burrows first breaks up the breakout and then takes the feed in front of the net. No mistake here. As Shorty reports, the slump (one game) is over.
We are up one nothing. Might have been sooner if Burrows was on the PP. Memo to coach: Read Crashing the Goalie.
We own the Blues the rest of the period as they slump noticeably after the Burrows goal. We’ll need to come out hard in the third. But the truth is, we come out with the 1-2-2 trap in the third period and start to frustrate the Blues. It produces results. Finally, the boys start to respond to the guff in front of Roberto. First Willie Mitchell smacks Backes around after he invades the crease and then Kesler and Raymond respond on the four on four. Raymond, one of our hardest workers in the last ten games, is finally rewarded, thanking the hockey gods for the great play by Kes. But one is also reminded of countless other chances these last few games, especially a scoring chance just a few moments earlier where Mason took it hard to the net and both he and Wellwood had great chances.
Relax folks, Mason Raymond is going to be a major league force. You can’t teach speed.
St. Lou is in tough now and then a blown tire behind the Blues net sees Daniel dish to Henrik and suddenly we are up by three. Just like that, a game that hung in the balance, with Roberto making the safe play time after time, is now fully in control.
The only thing to be decided is the…the shutout! And as couple of late PPs can’t beat the big guy tonight. There are no easy shutouts, they say, and tonight was an example of that. The captain kept us in it until his team was safely lodged in…fourth place!!!