Game 73: SPECIAL TEAMS

by desertdawg

You had better pay attention to detail when you are playing the Blues from St. Lou. They have a great power play and an aggressive penalty kill. If we play loosey-goosey they will bury us tonight. And we’d better skate because the Blues are a very fast team.
And attention to detail really means keeping your focus, keeping your head in the game. Lots of non-hockey fans love the nine to six scores. Lots of chances around the net with the red light coming on so much the arena looks like Amsterdam on a Saturday night.
But the real fans, the people that follow the game, year in year out, watching not only their beloved home team but lots of other games as well, know what it takes to win a game. That focus that forces you to maximize the 45 second shift on the ice. You are aware of who and where your man is at all times. You win every little battle (okay, most little battles) for the puck. If you play wing, you are on patrol, battling for space and position in relationship to the play and the puck. If you play defense, you read the play that is developing in front of you. That’s why veteran D-men are so valuable. They’ve seen most permutations and combinations in terms of “the play” and they know how to respond. Side note here, that’s why you have to be patient in letting your Edlers and Bieksas develop. They need to see enough elite hockey to know what play elite hockey players will make in any given circumstance. Centre is another complex position because you are a little like the old rover position. You are responsible for a host of activities but in the defensive zone you support the puck from side to side. You help your D outnumber the opposition and you often lead the rush after the breakout. And usually you are first man in on the foreheck.

Attention to detail.
The simplest job on the team is of course, goaltending. That’s not a joke either. Roberto’s job is very simple: keep the puck out of our net. Now I said simple, not easy. Try standing in front of pucks that are hurtling at your brain pan at 105 miles an hour, with a couple of Cro-magnon men wrestling in front of you, one of which wants to help you and the other wants to eviscerate you. Both are blocking the shooter who is attempting to fire the puck past you. Eventually leads to a few facial ticks, I would imagine.
So, while many of us played hockey on the same level as Ricky, Julian and Bubbles (another side note: you have to admire a guy like Julian, who can hold a stick in one hand and a rum & coke in the other) the guys out there tonight are operating maybe six orders of magnitude above that.
At least we’d better operate at that level, because the St. Louis special teams are deadly and we will need to bring everything to the rink tonight to beat them. Professionals, winning professionals, thrive on that.
And the first thing I notice in the game is that we are in all out hustle mode in the first few minutes. Our top three lines are all skating hard, creating opportunities, forcing the blues into low percentage plays. The second is that I am so happy to see the Great Dane back in the game…but at the expense of Mason Raymond?…a guy playing his best hockey of the year? I thought for sure that Hordichuk would sit…or even Pyatt.

And then Wellwood and Bernier combine to set up that quintessential quick wrist shot and Pyatt spots us a one nothing lead. I keep forgetting about that quick Pyatt release. Four minutes in and we are outshooting the Blues 7 to 2.
Curiously, the first goal does not provide us with momentum…it wakes the Blues up and they carry the next 16 minutes. The shot totals shift and we end up down 12 to 7. Now, shots aren’t the most important stat. We did kill off two Sat. Lou PPs with apparent ease and just as we seemed to be re-emerging, big Willie flubs a shot from our blue line and then waves his stick at the St Lou forward.

Excuse me guys, did I not say STAY OUT OF THE BOX.
But again, curiously, we dominate their PP with a smothering PK and the period ends with us holding the one goal lead. We need to find our legs if we hope to come out on top of the next period.
We kill of the rest of the St. Lou PP but settle back in to allow the Blues to forecheck relentlessly. We do get a legitimate chance with Sundin and Burrows rushing in on a two on one, but Jay McKee breaks it up and prevents a shot.
Then TJ Oshie out waits everyone and scores a beauty. Tied up. I wonder if the Blues goal will wake us up or further deflate us. They’ve had 13 straight shots on us and we have rope burns on our back. Oshie just about kills us again by dishing off to Boyes but Roberto robs him (even though he wasn’t totally sure where the puck was on that one).
But we seem to wake up a bit…get a couple of shots and then Henrik draws a penalty. But newly minted Canuck killer, TJ Oshie sends David Backes in on a breakaway. He uses the old Bertuzzian backhander and the Blues are up by one. Our D is really backing in as the Blues speed is intimidating us. They have outshot us 16 to 2 since the opening four minutes.
But then Alexander the Great swoops in. Combining with Henrik and Daniel, Burrows scores a one footer, battling Blues defenders and the goaltender to get us back even. Curious game.
And Lou is keeping us in it. Rush after rush produces great Blues’ chances. Brad Boyes will have nightmares tonight…I think he may be outshooting the entire Canuck team. The period ends tied up…a four on four with the Sedins gooning it up against Backman and finally Steen trying to break Roberto’s collar bone.

Lucky to be tied.
And we start the third with a weak penalty on Demitra. We seem to handle the St. Lou PP but with seconds left, Perron takes position on Bieksa and we are down by one again. I keep looking for the urgency, but the Blues keep pouring it on., until a shift by the Sundin line shows some offensive spark. A little Blues puck luck there. But we return to form with Blues hemming us in our own zone. We get our own puck luck when Backes wires one off the post on a two on one. And I’ still looking for the urgency in our game. We are only down by one, but we are only a couple of shots away from disaster.
I’m thinking that we’ll have to pull the goalie when Mats takes one if his ill-advised infractions. Well maybe we’ll kill it off and then…oops, we are down five on three. A late PP goal drives the stake through our heart.
Like I said, we’d have to stay out of the box to win tonight. They got the PP goals and the shorty…and they got the two points. It’s easy to point fingers tonight, but we lost to a very good hockey team. If I’m Detroit or SJ, I’d rather not face these guys
.

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