Less than 24 hours after shitting the bed in the third period at the United Center (for the second straight time), the St. Louis Blues had themselves yet another big central division showdown with the upstart Nashville Predators. First place was on the line, but the big story was that it was Martin Brodeur 's first NHL game of his life with a team other than the Devils. Marty's career with the Devils was synonymous with The Trap Era and defensively dominant hockey and as such, some people believed that a team like Ken Hitchcock's Blues would be as good a landing spot as any for him to play under similar circumstances.
These people haven't watched very many Blues games this year.
The Blues actually came out buzzing early on, controlling the play in the first 5 minutes or so, although Marty's first few saves in the Bluenote were on prime Predators chances. Then Vladimir Tarasenko stole the puck in the neutral zone from Calle Jarnkrok, starting a 3-on-2 rush with David Backes and Alexander Steen. Vladi and Steener played the old give-&-go, and The Tank put the Blues up 1-0 5:46 into the first period.
From there the Perds started to turn it on, which just happened to coincide with the Blues deciding to shut down thier brains. Jori Lehtera won a defensive zone faceoff, but the Blues got really sloppy with possession. Nonetheless, Carl Gunnarsson collected the puck and tried to break out to Lehtera in the center of the ice. Lehtera however was careless with the puck and lost it in the high slot to Filip Forsberg. Mike Ribeiro picked it up and rushed around Jaden Schwartz and Gunnarssaurus, backhanding it on net. Brodeur made the save, but gave up a hefty rebound that found Forsberg rushing in on the left, behind a Jori Lehtera who somehow didn't even know he was there. It was Jori's second boneheaded mistake in less than 5 seconds, and it tied the game at 1-1 at 14:10.
After St. Louis wasted a man advantage, Smashville got a 3-on-2 rush of their own. Eric Nystrom made dropped it to Ribeiro at the top of the left circle, which Schwartz JUUUUUST missed picking off with a head of steam going back the other way. Nystrom creeped into the slot, and despite pressure from Tarasenko behind him and Pietrangelo in front, one-timed Ribeiro's past Brodeur to give the Mustard Monsters a 2-1 lead in the last minute of the first.
Early in the second, Jori Lehtera was also caught napping in his own zone. Ribeiro got to a loose puck behind Brodeur and knocked it back to Forsberg. The Calder Trophy favorite found James Neal, who had a bit more open ice that ideal as Kevin Shattenkirk couldn't decide to play the puck or the pass. But Neal passed up on his chance, instead choosing to set up Ribeiro on the far post, which he hammered home. Lehtera was in that space, but left himself in no-man's land - not close enough to the post to defend it, yet no where near Ribeiro. To be fair however, Marty got a bit aggressive as well, coming out a tad too far to challenge what he thought would be a shot by Neal, giving him not a prayer to recover.
In short, nothing went right on that play.
After that however, the Blues really picked up their play, allowing only 3 more shots on goal the entire 2nd period and hogging all the Fenwicks 13-6. It paid off a few minutes after Ribeiro's goal, as a Paul Stastny faceoff win in the offensive zone found its way to Tarasenko (by way of Gunnarsson), who ripped it past Pekka Rinne to bring the Blues to withing a goal.
At 9:30 of the 3rd period, Colin Wilson got free for a breakaway opportunity and beat Brodeur to give Smashville a 4-2 lead.
Nothing...NOTHING went right on this play...both Alex Pietrangelo and Chris Butler were pinching below the faceoff dots in - Petro was behind Rinne's net - as was Backes, leaving only T.J. Oshie back at the point. Patrik Berglund was entering the play, having just come on for Steen, but half-heartedly tried to "pressure" Roman Josi, who made the great outlet pass. For some reason, Bergie failed to see Wilson streaking right past him, and while Oshie made an attempt to poke check the pass, he was in no position to do anything.
Just over 3 minutes later, Shattenkirk made a nice outlet pass, giving the STL Line a 3-on-2. Jaden Schwartz played like he was going to feed Tarasenko for the hat trick, but instead sniped it himself to give the Blues hope with 8:28 left in regulation.
They would get no closer, and the Predators would prevail 4-3.
Thoughts? I haz them:
- You could reasonably blame 2 of those goals on Brodeur without much complaint from me, but I honestly thought he looked pretty good all things considered. He made some big saves and did so with a level of matter-of-fact calmness that I can't remember seeing. He's still knocking off some rust from his time off, and while I still don't think it was the right move for either him or the Blues...let's just say he wasn't the reason for this loss. Not by a long shot.
- I've mentioned it before, and it's becoming more and more clear: this is NOT the same Blues team from the past few years. This is a more skilled team (though you might say not yet skilled enough) that can make things happen offensively, as opposed to trying to force mistakes and taking advantage of them. The flip side is that parts of this roster are less adept to playing the same level of defensive responsibility. Very few teams get to have it both ways - the Blackhawks and Kings can do it because Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and Anze Kopitar are all freaks of nature (and LA happens to have Mike Richards on the fourth fucking line) - but most teams, even championship level teams, have to try and find the best balance possible. Perhaps they still need time to get together to play better team defense - although you're a professional fucking team, so that's not a legitimate excuse.
- Jori Lehtera has officially lost my vote for the Selke Trophy. And not just because I have no vote.
- A few people on Twitter were complaining that Paul Stastny was invisible. I actually have to disagree. He still needs to be bringing FAR more to begin to justify his $7 million salary, but he had a couple decent chances, he led the Blues with a 79% corsi share (+22/-6), and although it was only a secondary one that came in the form of a faceoff win, he did record an assist on Tarasenko's 2nd tally. He needs to be better, but he's been quite a bit worse.
- Speaking of secondary assists, Marty recorded himself a point by setting the puck behind the net for Shattenkirk, leading to Schwartzie's score. Not that that means anything big, I just find goalie assists fun.
- Twice within 3 minutes of each other in the 2nd (I believe), Rinne turned the puck over behind his own net, and the Blues failed to capitalize. The first time they were the victims of a suspiciously early whistle, and the second they just couldn't get it on target before Pekka recovered. More often than not, those end up in the back of the net - and if one of those would have, the whole game is different. Shit happens.
- With only 11 forwards dressed tonight, a lot of double shifting was needed - so much so that Jaden Schwartz played 23:06, only 5 seconds less than Shattenkirk for second on the team. Ian Cole was the odd man out on the blue line, only seeing 9:13.
- If I weren't viscerally repulsed by mustard, I would strongly consider buying a Filip Forsberg jersey.
- The Blues have failed to convert their last 17 power play chances. I'll be honest, I thought the third and final one tonight looked pretty promising, but that's the only time I could say that about a Blues power play for over a week now.
- Help me, Jay Bouwmeester...you're my only hope.