By Brad Lee
They say mining, commercial fishing and logging are the most dangerous jobs in America. Add to the list goaltending for the St. Louis Blues.
First Chris Mason went down with a bad appendix. Ok, fine. Not a hockey-related injury. But it's freakish enough to mention. Plus, he wasn't available to play when starter Emmanuel Legace went down with a freak hip injury while slipping on a carpet put down for vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
Legace is reportedly not seriously injured and could be back for the Blues' next game Thursday. But the injury to Legace put 21-year-old rookie Ben Bishop in the spotlight 24 hours later against Florida. And he was dominating...until he got hurt.
Just under five minutes into the third period, Bishop was obviously struggling getting up in the crease and appeared to be in serious pain, but play continued. On the other end, the Blues dumped the puck in, Bradley Boyes and Andy McDonald created the turnover on the fore check. They played the puck back to the blue line for Roman Polak who sent it deep. Boyes put it in the slot to McDonald who one-timed it on. The rebound came to Boyes in the left faceoff circle. He directed it at the net but hit a defenseman in the skate. The bounce came right back to Boyes who then settled the puck and put it up on the top shelf where momma hides the doughnuts.
While the Blues were celebrating, trainer Ray Barile went out to look at Bishop. Shortly before the goal, a shot cam from Bishop's left and missed the goal to his right. Moving in that direction, he was sliding and attempting a kick save in the same motion and he was obviously in pain.
And of course while Bishop was leaving his first NHL game, the fans celebrated. And then they welcomed backup Marek Schwarz in net by counting to four. Great timing Towel Boy.
Oh, the Blues won 4-0. Bishop got his first win stopping only 12 shots. The Blues dominated with a feisty fore check and a dominating power play that saw two more goals scored with the man advantage.
Late in the first period, about halfway through the Blues' first power play, Lee Stempniak on the right point fed McDonald at the half boards. He skated toward the middle of the ice and drew not one defender but three of the four on the ice. That left Keith Tkachuk and Boyes on the doorstep with just a defenseman in between. Tkachuk took the pass on the right side of the goal, spun towards the net drawing the defenseman and the goaltender. Instead of putting a backhanded shot toward the net, he backhanded the pass to a waiting Boyes who pounced and hit the open net in the top corner. Textbook.
It was only the second time in eight games that the Blues have scored the first goal of the game. Somehow they have five wins.
"I think we came out hard. We had a bit of a fore check this time. We got the first goal, that's huge, not playing from behind which is definitely different. We got the fore check in, we're playing in their zone and we're shooting too," Boyes said during a television interview during the second intermission. "I figured he knew where I was. So I was just trying to get ready to see where it was coming from. I knew he would throw it over, and it was just a matter of trying to find it where he did it."
During the opening minute of the second period, the Blues played the puck deep. Paul Kariya skated hard and was physical on the fore check in the corner. Barret Jackman pinched in at the circle on the fore check. The result: a loose puck along the left half boards that David Backes pounced on. He put it on net and it bounced off a Panther's skate, hit Kariya in the shin pad and was directed into the net. That goal was all hard work and being opportunistic.
On the Blues' third goal, they had great puck movement on their second power play of the game with about six minutes left in the second period. They put pressure on Florida on both sides of the ice. McDonald played the puck in the right corner and set it diagonally out to the left point. Kariya teed it up and goaltender Craig Anderson thought he made the save with his glove and left arm. Apparently it didn't because the puck came trickling out behind him and Tkachuk was waiting there to slam another power play goal home, his eighth goal of the season. The Blues were somewhat lucky the officials didn't blow the play dead, but it came out quickly enough for the official to see it.
That gives Tkachuk goals in seven of the Blues' eight games. As Bernie Federko alluded to on the television broadcast on the HDless CW11, at this pace Tkachuk will score 82 goals this season.
And speaking of the weekend television home of the Blues, it is a travesty the games on CW11 aren't in high definition. The picture on a larger TV with the analog signal is muddled and unattractive. Hockey is one of the sports to benefit the most from the high definition picture quality as well as the wider camera angle.
Bishop is huge. When standing straight up, the crossbar looks to be at about his waist. When he goes down in the butterfly, the crossbar is still at eye level. Bishop is the tallest player to ever put the pads on in the NHL at 6-feet, 7-inches tall. Many times large goaltenders are accused of either being to slow or not athletic enough to play the position. The other shortfall is the space between a tall goalie's pads. In his hunched stance, it looks like you could drive a Volkswagen between his leg pads. Still, it looks like he's guarding a toy net instead of an NHL regulation goal.
Dude likes to take charge. When he came in Friday night against the Kings in relief of the injured Legace, he was pointing at fast-moving forwards to make sure his defensemen were clear on their assignments. At one point in the first period, he pushed Polak away from the crease to give himself room to maneuver, but to also urge Polak to play aggressive. He also showed good lateral movement on the penalty kill, especially a minute of five on three in the second period. And then he succumbed to the odds of his occupation.