Coming off of a much needed win against Vancouver and a three day holiday break the Blues looked to build a winning streak as they hosted the Nashville Predators with 1st place in the Central on the line. In their previous meeting, also coming off of a holiday, the Predators blanked the Blues 2-0 on November 24th with Ryan Johansen netting an early goal and Pekka Rinne stopping 34 shots against.
The Blues came out strong and put the Preds on their heels with a good forecheck which led to a chance for Vince Dunn who unfortunately struck the post with his shot. The momentum was quashed a short time later as Scottie Upshall went of for slashing at 2:30. Nashville’s second ranked power play got to work and had the Blues running around a bit before Johansen got a chance to once again put Nashville on top. But Jake Allen said no with an all or nothing dive that had everyone doing a double take.
Robert Bortuzzo tried to swing the momentum back to the Blues by stepping up for a teammate after a questionable hit. Scott Hartnell lowered his shoulder into the head of a falling Colton Paraykpo behind the Blues net and Bortuzzo took exception to it. As the puck made its way to the Predators net so did Bortuzzo, who found Hartnell and the two dropped the gloves.
While the fight energized the crowd and the Blues, the cheers turned to groans pretty quickly as Nashville scored just 30 seconds later. A unsuccessful pinch in by Vince Dunn allowed the Preds to breakout of their zone with Roman Josi carrying the puck. Josi entered the Blues zone with Craig Smith driving hard to the net clearing a lane. Josi was given space and fired a shot on goal that Smith got a perfect tip on.
The Blues argued immediately for a high stick call on the goal but it was pretty clear that Smith’s stick was well beneath cross bar level. In the last ten games against Nashville, including the playoffs, the team that has scored first has won 8 of those 10 games. Adding to that, the Blues have been the first team to score in just 3 of those 10 games.
Unlike last December when this team folded up like a cheap chair after allowing a goal, this Blues team kept working to get their forecheck going and got a few good looks on Rinne with Magnus Paajarvi coming the closest on the doorstep but Rinne was up to the challenge. Despite allowing the goal the Blues went in to the 1st intermission out shooting the Preds and hopeful of producing more offensive chances.
The second period opened with the Blues getting a chance to tie the game up early as Viktor Arvidsson went off for tripping just 37 seconds in. Nashville, though, lived up to their moniker of a tough team to enter the zone against and the Blues struggled to get much going on what would turn out to be their only man advantage.
The second would progress quickly as there were very few stoppages and before you knew it the end of the period approached and the Blues were close to escaping to the third down just a goal and heading into a period that didn’t favor the Preds. With just about 3 minutes to go, though, an unlucky bounce off of Parayko gave the puck to Filip Forsberg who slid the puck over to Calle Jarnkrok who rifled a shot past Allen for a 2-0 lead.
Despite being down 2-0 and facing the fact that the opening goal scoring team has won 8 of 10, the Blues still had a shot as the 3rd period is statistically their worst. Just as they opened the game with great pressure, the Blues opened the third flying and almost got on the board with Brayden Schenn.
The Blues kept applying the pressure as the third progressed but their roll was stifled by two penalties midway through the period, interference on Schenn and a double minor high stick to Patrik Berglund. Credit to the Blues PK, though, as they were able to hold the second ranked power play in the league to just 1 shot on the double minor and off the board completely on the man advantage.
St. Louis finally got on the board with under 7 minutes to play and it was due to the efforts of the fourth line. After taking a pass from Alex Pietrangelo, Kyle Brodziak delayed near the point before putting the puck toward the net. Vladimir Sobotka crashed the net and was able to get the slightest of deflections on the puck and it snuck past Rinne to pull the Blues within one.
But the goal was too little too late. Even with Allen pulled for the extra attacker the Blues still couldn’t truly gain the offensive zone and the one shot attempt that got put toward the net was blocked out high, which was a theme for the whole night and really the last few weeks. The loss dropped the Blues behind Nashville and Winnipeg into third place in the Central.
Despite the loss the team can take some positives out of the game. They didn’t allow an empty net goal, the held the second ranked power play to 0 for 5 on the man advantage and they scored an even strength goal. Jake Allen stood on his head all night and kept St. Louis in the game which is a far cry from last December when he would have fallen apart after allowing that first goal. The Blues have struggled since Jaden Schwartz went down but staying in the thick of the race for the division despite all of the injuries can be a good thing for this team down the stretch and into the playoffs. It has allowed players like Tage Thompson a chance to gain experience at the top level and will eliminate some butterflies if he is called upon in the playoffs. So don’t fret yet Blues fans, the season is far from over.
#3 - Jake Allen: 24 saves, held team in game all night
#2 - Craig Smith: Opening goal, 9 of last 11 games go to opening scoring team
#1 - Pekka Rinne: 29 saves and more mastery over the Blues