By Brad Lee
Coming back from a 3-0 deficit after one period to win 5-4 in a shootout is pretty freaking cool. But it was the Maple Leafs...
I used the rollercoaster analogy in Monday's column, and damned if the Blues didn't climb back on for another go round, this one a mid-day thrill ride in Toronto on Canada's Thanksgiving holiday. The Blues were thankful to leave hockey's capital city with two points and a split of the mini two-game road trip, the only time the Blues leave St. Louis during October.
The lesson from this game is that the Blues have the team speed and skill level to score in a hurry. Of course they also have the youth and lack of size in their own end to quickly fall behind as well. So they've got that going for them, which is nice.
On Toronto's three first-period goals, the Blues had chances to clear their zone and failed all three times. Granted, the first goal happened as the Blues were returning to full strength after being shorthanded, but the other two were inexcusable. Rookie Alex Pietrangelo on the second goal controlled the puck in the corner. With his back to his own net, he blindly reversed the puck along the end boards directly to a Leafs player who set up a fairly easy goal. On the third goal in the period, the Blues had the puck just a few feet from their own blue line before allowing the turnover that led to the score. Both were elementary mistakes that could have cost the Blues the game. But like I said, this is the Maple Leafs, the preseason favorite to contend for the best chance to draft first overall next June.
The game turned on a second-period penalty by king moron Ryan Hollweg. The cement head doesn't know where to draw the line between aggressive, physical play and being a dangerous miscreant. He has already served a two-game suspension for getting three boarding major penalties in just 41 games played. With this fourth shortly after, he's a repeat offender and subject to more games off without pay. Monday's victim was Pietrangelo who clearly had his back turned and didn't see the oncoming Hollweg who sent him face first into the dasher boards. Pietrangelo ended up being alright and Hollweg got to shower extra early.
On the power play, Patrik Berglund scored his first career goal and Keith Tkachuk scored his fourth of the season. Big Walt has scored a goal with the man advantage every game, but for a change he left the gratuitous penalty taking to David Backes who went to the sin bin two times for six minutes in the first period.
After the barrage during the Hollweg major, the Blues played with a confidence they didn't demonstrate Saturday night on Long Island. That inconsistency is going to be maddening. And it's not even Halloween. Watching this team sober might be bad for your health.
In the end, the stalwarts for the Blues brought the win home. Late in the game Emmanuel Legace saved the game on point blank shots and breakaways. He was stellar in the third period, overtime and stopped one of the two shots he saw in the shootout. On offense, Andy McDonald notched two assists, one of which came in a pretty sequence where he fed a smooth skating Paul Kariya who found open space in the slot on the power play. As the defense shifted to him, he slid the puck to a wide open Tkachuk on the doorstep. McDonald also scored on the first Blues shootout attempt before Bradly Boyes sealed the game with the sickest move in shootout history for the Blues.
As Boyes came down the center of the ice, he slightly angled to his left. He paused, brought the puck left and in one motion, strode and turned to his right getting goaltender Vesa Toskala moving almost completely out of the crease. Boyes calmly shoveled the puck into the net and grinned like a Cheshire cat at feeding time. What a strange sight it is to see the Blues actually go 2-2 in the shootout and not even need the third shooter. At one point last season the Blues went two straight shootouts without tallying a single goal.
I could gloat about ranking McDonald, Boyes and Legace the three most important Blues players in that order last week. But I'm obviously above that and can barely mention it much less take credit for it.
This win sets up the Blues to have a spectacular start of the season. With seven straight home games, St. Louis has the opportunity to set the pace in the Central Division for a change. Thursday Dallas comes to town before the season's first Blackhawks tilt Saturday. Then it's the fucking Red Wings. These are good tests against proven and emerging Western Conference teams and will give us a clearer picture as to where this season might be heading. At least we know the Blues are better than the Leafs.