Throughout the Blues 7 game win streak, there have been nagging issues underlying the success. Whether they were defensive lapses, failures to clear the puck safely, sloppy neutral zone possession, lax focus, fatigued skating, or the total lack of secondary scoring, Vladimir Tarasenko's brilliant coming out party - combined with the fantastic play of Brian Elliott and Jake Allen - was covering up for a number of different shortcomings elsewhere. And unless Frank was planning on making a run at Gretzky's record of 92 goals (and I'm going to head this one off at the pass, just in case - that's not happening), those cracks in the plaster were going to start showing sooner rather than later.
Unfortunately, "sooner" became "tonight" against the upstart Nashville Predators, who on the heels of a vintage backstopping performance from Pekka Rinne and the future Mr. Worst Trade In Washington Capitals History Filip Forsberg enjoyed a 2-1 win to leap frog into first place in Conference III. The final score was reminiscent of dozens of Blues-Preds tight checking/defensively disciplined battles in the past, but the actual play on the ice was anything but, for better and for worse.
The opening period saw the teams trading ebbs and flows of offensive pressure, but neither team really threatening. Until about 5:30 left in the first, when Tarasenko collected an outlet pass from Kevin Shattenkirk at the red line and carried it in the zone along the right boards. He then pulled out his cut-in move that became his signature move his rookie season (and for too long, his only move), getting past Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm on his left and the stretching poke check of our old pal Derek Roy behind him. Tarasenko took a shot on net from the slot, but it hit Jaden Schwartz's shins before even reaching Rinne and ricocheted to the Finnish goalie's left. Another Fin, Jori Lehtera, was able to get to it just before Rinne could get over, and the Blues were up 1-0 on Lehtera's 3rd tally of the season.
The first 15 minutes of the 2nd were all Smashville all the time, as the Perds collected a 15-6 lead in fenwick events over that period of time. And 7:10 into it, Captain Shea Weber beat Captain David Backes in a board scrum in the Predators' defensive zone. The
dirty filthy ugly Canadian gold medalist played it up to Swedish rookie sensation Filip Forsberg, who lofted it to the center circle. Jay Bouwmeester challenged Roman Josi and lost. Josi fed it to James Neal on the left boards. With Bouwmeester, Alex Pietrangelo, and Paul Stastny all taking their men on the left, and Backes and Alexander Steen nowhere yet to be seen on defense, Forsberg was able to find nearly half the ice open. Neal found him, and Forsberg was able to get off a shot from just inside the right faceoff dot before Bouwmeester could recover, and the 20 year old beat Ell-wood glove side to tie the game at 1-1 at 7:20 of the second.
The Blues recovered, controlling the final 9 fenwick events of the 2nd period, but Pekka Rinne was back to his old self and shut down the Blues threat.
The final period was mostly even again, with both goaltenders playing lights out. Until a Mike Ribeiro made a clearing attempt that found Forsberg at center ice. He and Neal had a 2-on-2 with Petro and J-Bouw. Forsberg accelerated into the zone, then left a drop pass for Neal, who was able to get a shot off before Pietrangelo could close him down, beating Ells stick side to give the Hockey Tonkers a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish.
- Even if the issues I've been pointing out the last week or so weren't there, and those 7 wins had all been dominant performances, this was bound to happen eventually, and it was going to be sooner rather than later with those issues. But this loss didn't have to happen.
- Jori Lehtera might be getting credit for that goal, but it was without a doubt created by The Tank. Once again, the Russian is the Blues entire source for offense. Out side of that play however, the Predators did a rather impressive job of shutting Tarasenko down. They played him as tight as they could to deny him the inch of space he needs the pull off his magic. Even the goal he created was more out of determination to make something happen, rather than the skillful use of space we've seen from him. The fact that that determination still was able to lead to pay dirt is even more promising - because if other teams in the West are smart, they'll be copying Peter Laviolette's blueprint.
- Petro & Bouw's corsi ratings tonight: -7 and -9 respectively. Against the Devils on Thursday: -3/-7. IN New Jersey: -14/-11. Against the Rangers: -15/-19. Neither of the Blues top 2 defensemen has posted a positive corsi figure since Petro was a +1 against the Ducks on October 30th. Yes, they always see the toughest minutes against the toughest competition, but if they're not the ones driving play forward - ending other teams' offensive threats and tilting the ice towards the other goalie - then the Blues will not have long term success. End of story. It more than likely is just a cold streak, but while we haven't exactly been facing Buffalo-level opponents, they haven't exactly been seeing the 1976 Red Army on the other bench either. As great as Tarasenko has been, the Blues need their best players to be their best players, and that means 27 & 19.
- On a brighter note Kevin Shattenkirk over that same period has put up (from oldest to tonight): +15, +4, +2, -2, +3, +10). Thus far he's been our best blueliner, and it really hasn't even been close, especially when you factor in his 10 assists, tying him for 2nd among all NHL defensemen (with Keith Yandle and T.J. Brodie).
- I thought Paulie looked better tonight, even bordering on threatening at times. I know we're complaining about secondary scoring now - and boy, should we ever - but imagine getting all we could get out of a Schwartz-Lehtera-Tarasenko line, plus the career usual numbers from Steen-Stastny-Backes? If we're honest with ourselves, T.J. Oshie was never a true 1st liner, but if a healthy Yoshie is on your 3rd line? That's scary good.
- The official 3 stars in the arena were Rinne, Elliott, and Neal. As good as the goalies were - and as great as James Neal's goal & assist will be for my fantasy team, the Cleveland Steeners - the real star of this game was Filip Forsberg. He set in motion the play that led to his goal, and put himself in the right position to use his blazing speed to set up the winning score. These are NOT Barry Trotz' Nashville Predators anymore, and Forsberg will be the poster child for that shift very soon, if he isn't already. He now has 15 points in his first 14 games.