In two games we witnessed two different Blues teams. The first was a seemingly sluggish, uncoordinated, offensively inept group of players that lost to a Philadelphia Flyers team sporting a 7-6-1 record and playing in the second night of a back to back.
The other appeared to be a complete opposite of the first. A team that rallied from 0-1 deficit after the first period to score three goals in the second and three more in the final period. A Blues team that outscored a dynamic Maple Leafs team that has netted the second most goals in the entire NHL.
But the question I have for you dear reader is which team do think performed the best?
To a novice fan the answer would seem elementary. The Blues team that won surely performed better than the one that lost. Further more the latter Blues team scored six more goals than the former so statistically speaking, it is a no brainer.
This is a trap that a lot of today’s casual NHL fans fall into. If their team wins then they must have played well, if they lost then they suck and should all be traded to Washington for Alex Ovechkin because he knows how to score goals.
If you are reading these words than it is fair to say that you know a little more about the game of hockey than the average bear. However, with the amount of goals that the Blues scored Saturday night compared to Thursday and, I mean duh, the Maple Leafs have Auston Matthews it would be hard to imagine that the better of the two Blues teams actually played on Thursday. It just isn’t possible.
What if I were to tell you that while the Maple Leafs are very talented offensively they have given up the fourth most goals in the NHL? What if I told you that in their last five games before Saturday the Maple Leafs have only won a grand total of one and were outscored 19-13 in that time period? Would you start to doubt your answer a little?
I am not trying to poke holes in the Blues win on Saturday night. They rebounded nicely from a loss the game before in which they lit the lamp exactly zero times. The found a way to go blow for blow with one of the most dynamic offenses in the NHL. It was a good win, especially in front of a home town crowd.
However, if we are going to take a step back and pick a team to play out the rest of the regular season I think it is important to contemplate which one gives the Blues the best opportunity to make it into the post-season. Sometimes things are not as they appear.
While the Blues faced a slumping Frederik Andersen who is sitting at a .895 save percentage and a 3.48 GAA [ESPN.com], Thursday night’s game was a slightly different story.
Although Michal Neuvirth has played second fiddle to Brian Elliott this season he is still carrying a .928 SV% and a 2.17 goals against average [ESPN.com]. And while those numbers might not be a totally accurate reflection of a goaltenders individual performance, they do speak to the defensive prowess of both teams.
One of the biggest problems that has been plaguing the Blues over the last few years is their play in the third period.
In years past when the Blues would be trailing heading into the final frame they often time would be guilty of throwing in the towel before giving an honest effort. They would become dejected and unresponsive when stymied by a hot goaltender or a stingy defense.
Likewise, when taking a lead into the third period they would be guilty of dropping back into a defensive mind-frame instead of adopting that killer instinct that we have heard so much about.
However, after an unimproved start to the season it had appeared that the Blues may have finally turned a corner in that department.
Before Thursday night’s affair the Blues had posted a positive third period 5 on 5 Corsi For% (which is the measurement of all shots for versus all shots against) in each of the five previous games [NST.com]. Likewise the Blues recorded the better of the scoring chances in all five games as well.
That recent trend continued against the Flyers as well. In the third period of Thursday night’s game the Blues recorded a 5 on 5 Corsi For% of 76%, a Fenwick For% (shots that either went on goal or missed the net versus opponents shots that went wide or on goal) of 66.67%, a Shots For% of 66.67% and had 9 Scoring Chances For as opposed to 2 against. Of those 9 legitimate scoring chances two came from a high danger area. None of the Flyers scoring chances were of the high danger variety.
If that is not playing aggressive in the third period despite being frustrated in the previous two, then I don’t know what is.
Unfortunately on Saturday, despite facing a struggling goaltender and playing with the lead, the Blues reverted back to their old ways.
The Blues Corsi For% was dead even with the Maple Leafs, which means that Toronto possessed the puck just as much as the Blues did.
Despite not having an advantage in possession the Leafs had the better of the chances. The Blues Fenwick For% was an embarrassing 35% as opposed to the Toronto’s 64% as well as being outshot 4-9. Not to mention the Blues gave up 3 third period goals. Granted the Blues netted three as well but it is apparent by the numbers they were outworked and outshot for the entire period.
If we ignore the goals for and against, statistically speaking 5 on 5, the Blues better game may have been on Thursday.
The Blues Corsi For% against the Flyers was 3 points better than against the Leafs. Their Fenwick For% was essential identical for both games despite scoring 6 more goals on Saturday than on Thursday.
One would assume that because of Auston Matthews the Maple Leafs would be a much tougher opponent than the Philadelphia Flyers but when we compare their records (both have 16 points) and look at their goal differential (Philadelphia is a plus 4 while Toronto is only a plus 2) it’s hard to determine who the favorite would be.
If we are to assume the competition was basically the same on both nights then I feel comfortable saying I will take the style of game that the Blues played on Thursday over the one the played on Saturday.
Over the course of an 82 game season things like possessing the puck more, getting the better of the scoring chances, having quality defense and playing strong through the third period will be much more reliable than counting on your offense to score over 4 goals a night.
Sometimes a 6-4 win is worse than a 0-2 loss.