If I'm being perfectly honest, I don't think the Blues have played particularly well in a whole week - since the October 30th game against the Ducks. Either the defense has been disorganized, the offense has been wasteful or was just barely even trying, the special teams have been anything but, they couldn't clear the puck out of the zone, they'd need 4 skaters in the crease to keep the puck out, tired and/or lazy skating and decision making that forces themselves to play catch up...pretty much any skater with a number of 75 or less has been at best up and down the last 4 games. And yet, they've now won 7 straight games, thanks in large part to 3 guys - two of which are goalies.
You know who the third one is.
For the 4th straight game (and 5th in the last 6) Vladimir Tarasenko scored the Blues first goal, this time in the waning seconds of the 1st period. Frank had a chance all alone in the slot, but banged it off the corner. The rebound came around the right boards, but
Jori Lehtera kept it in the zone (EDIT: apparently it was Ian Cole, not Jori. I could've sworn they announced Lehtera at the game...otherwise I wouldn't have shared my brilliant song-writing skills), shoveling it to Jaden Schwartz. Schwartzie found Vladi again, and 91 danced around three Devils players, splitting Michael Ryder and Damon Severson to the left. Vladi then had the patience to hold the puck and force Cory Schneider to commit to going down, before bringing it home from the sharp angle up and over the New Jersey goalie. The goal - his second most impressive goal against a New York-market team in the last 4 days - put St. Louis up 1-0 with only 5 second left before intermission.
I mean, just...what more can we even say at this point? Not much else, so we'll move on.
After a first period where the Blues were at least in control if not dominant, the second period would see the Devils really turn it on, out shooting the Blues 13-5 and out attempting them 22-10 in the middle 20. But the only tally of the period came on a breakaway opportunity for Schwartz, created by a great outlet pass from - I shit you not - Barret Jackman.
In the third, the Blues decided not to let score effects dictate the play and went for the jugular, this time claiming their own 13-5 advantage in shots on goal. They even extended their lead to a comfortable 3-0 at 7:10 of the third on an Alexander Steen power play goal, once again set up by Jori & Frank playing Power Play Pong on the right side, before Lehtera fed Steener for the tip past Schneider.
The game looked pretty much sewn up by that point, but Paul Stastny - who by the way made his return tonight - took a hooking call to give the Devils a power play. Ryder and Damien Brunner caught David Backes over committing to the point, which gave Ryder an opening for a sweet wrister to ruin Jake Allen's attempt at a 3rd consecutive shutout, even if it did happen barely a second after the penalty expired.
Less than 30 seconds later, Brunner would himself get called for hooking, giving the Blues a power play. Inglorious Backes would put a great redirection on an Alex Pietrangelo shot from the point for his 3rd of the year to put the Blues up 4-1, and once again seemingly seal the deal.
But the Devils weren't finished yet - either that, or the Blues defense was. With the goalie pulled and 6 attackers on the ice, Marek Zidlicky pulled one back for New Jersey with a turn around shot from the point through all the traffic in the world to beat Allen, making it a 4-2 game with 1:51 left.
The Blues missed a few different attempts at the open net, a couple of which went for icing. Then on a rush into the Blues zone on the right side, no one in blue saw Michael Ryder, who was fed the puck all by his lonesome on the far post, which he one-timed in the net to make it a one goal game with :51 left.
That'd be as close as the Garden State guests would get, as the Blues held on for the 4-3 win. In the end, it will still read as 2 points earned in regulation, but this game was far too close to being a disaster. I'm sure Ken Hitchcock and his staff will have some choice words in practice tomorrow.
But when the zamboni came out, the Blues still won their 7th straight to open their 5 game home stand. Things aren't going quite as well as the results might have you believe...but good goddamn it could be a lot worse.
Bullet train - I mean, points:
- This is not the same Blues team from the past few years. This team is Carl Gunnarsson instead of Roman Polak. It's Jori Lehtera instead of Vladimir Sobotka. It's Joakim Lindstrom instead of Brendan Morrow. This team has much more skill, and are much more willing to utilize that skill offensively. I only hope the defensive soundness that's been our hallmark the last few years will return to compliment that offense, because right now it doesn't look like it is. If it does...maybe come April and May...juuuust maybe...
- Paulie still has some rust to brush off, clearly, but it's good to have him back. He was playing very well before he went down, distributing the puck as effectively as advertised. If we can get him going on a line with Steener & Cap, I don't think you could ask for a better secondary scoring situation. Which is good, because we desperately need more scoring out of our non-Soviet forwards.
- I say that because Vladi is now shooting 16.4%. I'm not saying he isn't a potentially legitimate offensive star in the hockey world, but this dream-like hot streak will come to an end. We have to be prepared for days Vladi doesn't score, because if he weren't scoring now, we sure as hell wouldn't be sitting on 19 points in first in Conference III.
- I kind of hope Jaromir Jagr never retires - he's 73 years old, and he led his team with a +11 corsi rating, and he got the primary assist on the second Ryder goal in the final minute. I just wish he hadn't told Mario to fuck himself so he could be doing all of this back in Pittsburgh like he should be doing.
- Apparently Devils fans hate Bryce Salvador. I suppose he isn't a particularly great blueliner any more, but that still makes me sad. His overtime goal in game 5 against the Sharks in 2001 is one of my favorite memories growing up.
- The more I watch Steve Ott play...the more I see some use in him. Not that I'm happy he's on the team, nor do I think it was a good idea to sign him especially for the money he makes. The things he does Chris Porter could do cheaper, with less of a risk of a dumb penalty or of Hitch suddenly thinking he deserves top line or power play minutes, but I no longer think he's completely useless. (That might be the nicest thing I've ever said about someone.)
- Before the season, I picked the Devils to have a monster comeback year and finish 2nd in the Metro division. Having watched them play the last two games, even if they weren't good enough to win either game, I feel pretty good about that pick. I'm not sure their old asses will have anything left in the playoffs - and I'm feeling less than good thus far about my Cory Schneider Vezina pick - but they'll be a force to be reckoned with all season out east.
- Round of applause for Jake Allen. He deserved that 3rd shutout, that's for damn sure. I think I'm starting to agree with Tyler when he says Jake will leapfrog Ell-wood by season's end.
- Look...I understand it was a weeknight game in November against a non-conference opponent, but...16.5K sounds generous based on what I saw. That's all I'll say about that for now.