Damn Damn DAMN!
First Period: Sober
If there was ever a game to bounce back with, this was it. The Wild just clinched a playoff spot, so was due to relax a little from the 5-0-1 streak they were riding. They were swapping out a lot of players, so that would have to affect their chemistry. They were starting a goalie that hadn't played since 09/10, and gave up 5 goals in 24 minutes even then. One of their defensemen was making his NHL debut.
Well, yeah... about that.
The first started off with an early power play. Nino Niederreiter closed his hand on the puck at 4:22, and that's a no-no. The power play passed with no goals, although there was some decent pressure, so it was easy to be optimistic. Slightly over a minute after that was killed off, the Blues were sent on the PK. Steve Ott was cited at 7:30 for goaltender interference - something that he claimed quite adamantly that he was pushed on, but to no avail. Fortunately, the Blues killed that off with some aggressive special teams play. Good thing they got that practice, because they got to do it again. At 11:31 Ryan Reaves was sent to the sin bin for cross-checking. They killed that off, too, but less than a minute after that concluded, the Wild put themselves on the board with a goal for Nino Niederreiter (thank god for copy and paste). A blast from the above the faceoff circle was deflected or tipped just in front of Ryan Miller. Damage done, there was no further scoring in the period. Despite the Blues carrying the play most of the first frame (outshooting the Wild 17-5), they found themselves down 1-0.
During the intermission, Jeremy Roenick made a good breakdown of the scoring play. As the puck went to Ryan Miller's left, both the winger T.J. Oshie and defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo followed the puck to the boards. However, the center on the ice, Vladimir Sobotka, also got sucked in towards the boards play, which freed up a lot of ice for the MN offense. Sure enough, the puck came skittering out of the mass of bodies, and Jonathon Blum takes a booming shot that (paste) Niederreiter deflected, although Marco Scandella was right beside him with a stick also at the ready. One of them would have tipped it in, or picked up a rebound. This matches what Coach Hitch has said, about the Blues chasing or watching the puck too much.
Second Period: Six Row Whale
The second period began pretty slowly. While the Blues continued to get occasional chances, nothing got behind the inexperienced John Curry. The period was almost halfway over before the fireworks started. First, there was a delayed penalty when Marco Scandella hi-sticked Patrik Berglund. Miller skated to the bench, and the Blues began a furious attack. Unfortunately, paths crossed as some Wild players were defending, and Mike Rupp laid a hit on Oshie that looked to have caught him square on the chin. While Osh was down on the ice, barely stirring, a shot was blasted into the goal. This was instantly waved off, though, as the referee decreed that he had blown the play dead (due to the injured player). Oshie was helped off the ice, and was presumably lead to a quiet room for the standard head trauma protocol. He did not return to the game. Meanwhile, the Blues started a 5-3 power play at the 10:30 mark, with the second penalty a double minor (NOTE: the boxscore reads differently, but that's how I remember it). Rupp would also leave the game with a match penalty.
Paydirt! Kevin Shattenkirk scores on the wrist shot, assists to Alexander Steen and Vladimir Sobotka. Tie Game! One PPG down, and we still had the balance of the 4:00 to Rupp to play with. Could this be the slumpbuster for our special team woes? Probably not, as the Wild would score a SHG at the 12:24 mark. In this one, Matt Cooke picks up a loose puck deep in the Blues end (how, on a Blues power play, does this happen?), skates in to take a weak shot on Miller, but teammate Kyle Brodziak follows up and puts one above a still-sprawled Miller. Minnesota regains the lead, 2-1, and Steve Ott decides this would be a good time to get lippy with the officials. Despite there not being a fight, the boxscore records this as a 10-minute misconduct for "instigating". What, pray tell, was instigated? It was also at this moment that Coach Hitchcock decided to call a time out. This was probably a good time to use it.
The rest of the Wild penalty expired, and the Blues remained down 2-1. The march to the penalty box continued, however, as Max Lapierre took a tripping penalty at 12:24. This must have been part of a strategy, because it lead to one of my favorite things: Schwartz-Handed goal, at 16:01! Ryan Suter mis-handles the puck, Steen picks it up and skates down, finds a charging Jaden Schwartz, and the game is tied.
Unfortunately, that didn't last long. In what has become an all-to-frequent occurrence, the Blues allow a goal less than a minute later. In this one, fucking All Star Dany Heatley slides a pass through the slot to Matt Moulson. The replay shows three Blues players falling back on the play, stretching sticks out to stop the pass. In my eyes (admittedly amateur) this was a real backbreaker of a goal. Here's the official replay:
It's only a 14-second video, but this is what I notice:
0:03 mark - Max Lapierre, just sprung from the box, and is joining the play.
0:05 - There are only 3 Wild players in frame, but all 5 Blues players to defend. All of the Blues players are watching the puck and Roman Polak is attacking the puck carrier. Jackman is aware of Heatley in the corner, but already has his man to cover, Matt Moulson, at the top of the crease. Lapierre is, presumably, still trying to figure out where to go, but is in the high slot area.
0:06 - The pass is sent to Heatley in the corner, who is totally free and has time. Polak, Sobotka, and Lapierre come down, slowly. Moulson sees the action, and knows he needs some space. A nudge in Jackman's lower back, and a little backwards coast...
0:07 - Jackman slides down to block a pass, but Heatley sees/knows it's coming and sidesteps to find a lane. Lapierre stops skating. Sobotka is merely coasting into the slot. Polak is charging towards the net, but he has the farthest to skate to get there. Still, this is 5 Blues players defending 3 Wild players. Nobody is picking up Moulson, who is quietly going through Ryan Miller's wallet, looking at family photos and memorizing his Visa card number.
0:08 - shocker - Goal scored, as Miller can't change sides fast enough to cover the wide open Matt Moulson.
I'm no expert, but I can't hang that one on Miller. If Jackman is going to go down like that, someone else had better be picking up that man. We have two players (Sobotka / Lapierre) that could have disrupted that play.
As this was scored at the 17:30 mark, it was mere seconds after the kill of the Lapierre penalty. Also, it was with just 2:30 left in the period. Not quite within the last minute, but approaching that. Also, before the period was over, Steen would take a penalty as well.
Third Period: New Belgium Fat Tire, with longing glances at my bottle of Jim Beam
Another bad habit for the Blues is letting in goals at pivotal moments, like right after a penalty kill, after they score, or at the very end or beginning of a period. True to form, the Blues allow another goal at 0:58 into the third period. In this one, Nino (paste) Niederreiter passes to the point, where Christian Folin, in his first ever NHL game, takes a big shot from the point. It misses the mark, but finds Kyle Brodziak all alone. Before Miller can slide over to cover, Brodziak puts aside his solitaire game and pots a goal. Once again, the Blues are watching the puck and chasing the play, rather than controlling and initiating play.
Coach Hitch hadn't pulled all of his tricks yet. At the 3:38 mark, the Wild take a tripping penalty, giving fresh hope that the Blues could get back in it with a PPG. To further wake up the troops, Hitch pulled Miller and sent Brian Elliott to tend the net. Alas, that didn't work, as the Wild kill that penalty, and through the rest of the period our hopes for 2 points as well.
Wild win, 4-2
While Ryan Miller certainly didn't have a good night, it was one where you really have to look at the skaters. Too many times, you see the Blues doing the "Oh Shit, he's open" lunge. Or, you see the flurry of a goal-mouth scrum and think "Holy Shit, how did that NOT go in??" When the offense isn't scoring, it's a damn poor time to give up on defense too. The Blues totaled 64 shot attempts, of which 45 were on goal. There were many moments where they were camped out in the Minnesota end. Those are positives to build off of, but those don't mean much without the payoff at the end. The goals need to come.