Lighting the Lamp with Rick Ackerman
The St. Louis Blues found themselves in a peculiar kind of hell before the game in Los Angeles as they had lost six of eight games since Christmas without a single victory in regulation time. They were having a devil of a time this new year without a win in the four previous games in 2016. The offense was in limbo as the boys had only been able to light the lamp 17 times in the previous eight matches. And the defense had fallen into the abyss, allowing 26 goals against in that same span. Yikes! What in unholy blazes was going on?
If you couldn't tell from the first paragraph, tonight's visitors are the New Jersey Devils, who barely hold the last wild card playoff slot in the Eastern Division despite losing three of their last four games. Like the Blues, they are offensively challenged and count on their All-Star goaltender, Corey Schneider, to keep them in games. Schneider, a Vancouver Canuck reject, became the team's first net minder to receive that honor since Martin Brodeur in 2008.
Of course, the optimists still out there in Blues Nation will contend that the Note has also managed to earn ten points in the last nine games as six of those contests included bonus time. The Blues have points in four straight games now, even though they lost three of them. St. Louis won one in overtime, two shoot outs, including the marquee match-up in Los Angeles, and lost two in overtime, one in a shoot out.
The gutsy Blues showed more spirit and grit with a victory over the Kings than they have in any game since November. It was absolutely wonderful to see Robert Bortuzzo, Joel Edmundson and Colton Parayko step up and challenge or fight those Kings taking liberties with smaller Blues' players like Magnus Paajarvi, who was slashed and cross checked by Milan Lucic (no penalties called) and then charged and boarded by Brayden McNabb (five minute major and game misconduct called). The Blues now have the third most fights in the NHL so far this season (19), trailing Columbus with 25 and Anaheim with 23. Colorado's Cody McLeod is the NHL leader with eight altercations.
And a whole lot of credit has to go to oft maligned defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who played just a few seconds under a whopping 90 total minutes (half of the 180 total minutes in three games) on the road trip to Colorado and southern California. He recorded a goal and two assists and was a plus-1.
Yes, there were a few negatives in the game against the Kings. The Blues had their lowest shot total this season (16, 13 in regulation time) since they managed 17 shots against the Blue Jackets during a 3-1 loss to Columbus in November. And they failed to score on a five minute power play in the third period which would have enabled them to win the contest in regulation time. Yet the boys in blue battled through overtime, out shooting and out chancing the Kings and then winning a (lucky) seven round shoot out on Troy Brouwer's top-shelf blast past Jonathan Quick's glove.
And the parade to the infirmary continues to grow with the additions of defenseman Carl Gunnarsson and forward Magnus Paajarvi, who were unable to finish the game against the Kings. They join injured goaltender Jake Allen, defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and center Paul Stastny, as well as wingers Jaden Schwartz and Steve Ott. For the math-impaired, that makes a total of seven out of action now with a combined salary cap hit of $23.4 million. Ouch! It can only be hoped that Schwartz is able to return after the All-Star break when the Blues play in Nashville three weeks from tonight.
It is also pretty clear after the game in L.A. that Captain David Backes is playing hurt and has been doing so for several games, if not weeks, now. His reluctance to join Bortuzzo in the fisticuffs against the Kings' Luke Schenn and his recalcitrance to join Edmundson and Parayko in the tiff with McNabb can easily be taken as evidence he cannot get over involved in the rough stuff and risk further injury. Just call them the bashed, banged-up, battered and bruised black-and-Blues!
The visiting team tonight was almost not named the Devils when the Colorado Rockies (born the Kansas City Scouts as an NHL expansion team in 1972) relocated for the second time to the east coast in 1982. Named for a mythical creature that supposedly inhabited the Pine Barren swamps of South Jersey, the Devils were criticized and condemned by religious individuals and groups despite winning a name-the-team contest in which over 10,000 votes were cast. The runner-up monikers included Americans, Blades, Generals, Gulls and Meadowlarks. Even taking religious objections into account, there is something terribly wrong with calling a hockey team the Meadowlarks. And on top of that, it just wouldn't be the same for the Seinfeld crew and Elaine's boyfriend Puddy if it were any other name than Devils.
The Blues play three more Eastern Division clubs on the current four game home-stand before winging their way to Detroit. It would certainly benefit the Note to improve a sad-sack 6-8-5 record against the East with the same kind of performances recently exhibited against the Ducks and Kings and rack up some points before the All-Star break. Only ten points separate third place St. Louis and sixth place Nashville in the Central Division.