Lighting the Lamp with Rick Ackerman
If there were one word that means erudite, resilient and resolute, that word would have a picture of Blues' Captain David Backes next to it in the dictionary. Off to a slow start and already banged and bruised in ten previous NHL contests, Backes took control Saturday in the Blues' Halloween victory over Minnesota and led by example, scoring a spook-tacular (with thanks to John Kelly) game winning goal in overtime on a nice pass from rookie Ty Rattie. And that is exactly the kind of performance necessary for the Blues to continue the three game winning streak tonight against the visiting Los Angeles Kings.
Backes' statistics included three shots, three hits, three blocked shots and most importantly, two goals in almost 22 minutes of play (28 shifts), around one third of the entire game. Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (don't call me Alexander) also had an excellent game, logging over 28 minutes (30 shifts) with three shots, one hit, three blocked shots and an assist. Other Blues with over 20 minutes included Alexander (don't call me Alex) Steen, Jay Bouwmeester and rookie sensation Colton Parayko. And Ryan Reaves resurrected himself from the dead as he came to the Halloween game as a human cannonball to record five hits in less than ten minutes of play.
Although Blues Nation was happy with the outcome of a very tough game, that cannot be said for the officiating of referees Dan O'Rourke and Trevor Hanson. No, this is not a rant about how the Blues are picked on by NHL referees or treated more unfairly than the other teams. Thanks to Center Ice, it is easy to see the problem with officiating in the NHL is horrific inconsistency, and it affects all 30 teams, not just the Blues.
Yes, there is a rule about spraying the goalie with an ice-shower and it is a minor penalty (unsportsmanlike conduct) to do so. However, to make that call on Robert Bortuzzo in the third period of an intense tied game is ludicrous, especially when very little of his spray actually hit Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk and went to his right. It was a dubious, pro-Dubynk call. Of course, the retaliatory crosschecks on Bortuzzo from behind by Ryan Suter and Jason Zucker were completely ignored by the referees, even though a similar penalty had been called against Bouwmeester earlier in the period. Weak calls against the Blues are okay, as long as similar calls are made against the other team, too. And that just didn't happen.
As an aside, I must report that I apparently don't know what icing and offsides are anymore after watching hockey for over 50 years now. What clearly appears to be an icing call is waved off for no apparent reason. And all too often I believe a play is onside, yet it is whistled down, especially, it seems, if the Blues are about to have a good scoring chance. Or the linesmen don't call it when it is apparent someone was already in the zone ahead of the puck, yet it isn't called, especially, it seems, when the Blues are guarding the defensive zone. It's all just too confusing for me nowadays.
So, the Note is just going to have to suck it up the rest of November with key players injured and on the IR, having to play 13 games in 30 days. And December is a little worse with 16 games in 31 days. That means almost a game every other day, including travel days. What is it about "no rest for the weary?" Stastny, Schwartz and Berglund will still be out with injuries, and, of course, it is hoped Tarasenko and Shattenkirk are back soon, both possibly tonight. That means three of Jaskin, Rattie, Fabbri, Gomez or Upshall must step it up to fill the void as needed, while overall team defense maintains the ability to limit shots on goal. It helps a lot that the Blues' defensemen have a combined +21 plus/minus rating with no minuses. Overall so far the Note's team defense has allowed only two goals per game in regulation time; nor has any team scored more than three goals against the Blues in any single game. Elliott and Allen have a combined .918 save percentage, good enough to win games if St. Louis can score at least three per contest.
The Blues go back on the road with their second back-to-back game of the season in Chicago tomorrow night. St. Louis won the only back-to-back game so far this season, winning 4-3 in Vancouver on October 16. And then the Note only plays once, Saturday in Nashville, over the next five days. Party hard after the game and then rest up, boys, because after that, it's pretty much a game every other day until the All-Star break late in January. Whew!
Yes, led by their Captain, the battered, bruised black-and-Blues are proving to be quite the irrepressible crew, buoyed by the intrinsic energy hard-working hockey players possess as a natural attribute. It will certainly be difficult to maintain that elevated level of play, especially when so many games are going to be played in a short period of time, yet that ability is what separates the men from the boys in the NHL. And accomplishing this consistent level in the regular season is quite a bit easier than doing it in the playoffs, as we all already fully aware.