If you were like me and stayed up with the Blues to see the Thursday side of Wednesday night then I have some good news for you. No Lehtera did not suddenly learn how to skate faster or win face offs or generally be better at all things hockey. However, the game tonight does at least start at the much more reasonable time of 7:00 pm CT. So at least we have that going for us.
The game Wednesday night started much like many of us had expected. The Wild came out fast and furious, putting the Blues on their heels for half of the first period. Unfortunately, that trend carried on for most second and third periods as well. And if it hadn’t been for the mesmerizing play of one Jake Allen that game would have got ugly in a hurry.
I think Mike Yeo said it best in his post game interview,
"We didn't have the puck enough and that's the issue but I think we know that we have to be better. That's the thing, we can't just rely on Jake to have a performance like that night after night, but we're certainly encouraged that we got the win." [stltoday]
Here is a cool little graph from our friends at www.naturualstattrick.com to support Yeo’s claim.
What can I say that hasn’t already been said? The Blues did not play very well Wednesday night. They got caught chasing the game from the minute the first puck dropped. They got out shot and out hit, which is not a winning combination. Minnesota was able to unleash a barrage of shots that did everything but go into the back of the net. In fact, it took a hell of a redirection by Minnesota with a man advantage and a blown coverage by Jay Bouwmeester for the Wild to get one past Allen. And that was after 59 minutes and 40 seconds of regulation play.
There are two different ways for Blues fans to come away from game one.
First, the Wild played as good as they could and still couldn’t beat a Blues team that played about as bad as we could have imagined. Minnesota peppered Allen with over 50 shots and only walked away with one goal. Vladimir Tarasenko was matched against the Wild’s best line for the entire game and still managed to get the second most shots on goal (4) of any Blues player and the most of any forwards. The Blues defense was able to keep the faster and bigger Minnesota offense towards the outside, greatly reducing the number of high percentage shots. Even though the Wild won the majority of the face offs and possessed the puck for most of the game they were never able to rattle the Blues or their goaltender. In short, the Wild played as good as they could have hoped for and walked away with a game one loss.
Or, on the other hand, the Blues just got lucky. All of the bounces seemed to go the Blues way while the Wild could not buy a goal. Minnesota really is that much faster and bigger than the Blues and there is not much the Blues can counter with. St. Louis is without their number one face off man and it showed. The Blues are constantly starting without the puck after every drop and are having trouble getting any offensive zone time to keep the Wild on their heels. Jake Allen may be able to steal one game but the chances of him stealing a series are slim to none. In short, the Blues got lucky to win one game.
Personally I think it is a little of both. A lot of the bounces went St. Louis’ way and pretty much nothing went right for the Wild. Including Zach Parise stopping his teammates shot from going into the Blues goal. The Wild are fast and the Blues are not. The Wild are winning face offs and the Blues are not. The Wild are spending days in the Blues zone while St. Louis is having trouble applying any kind of pressure to Wild goaltender Devon Dubnyk.
That being said, the Blues did what they had to do to win a playoff game in the other team’s building. They weathered the storm. They didn’t get rattled and they didn’t melt away. They couldn’t match the speed and the energy of the Wild so they did what they could do. They kept the attackers to the outside and and relied on Jake Allen to pick up the slack. Something he did with surprising efficiency. But most of all they found a way to win a game that the probably should have lost. That is how you win a playoff series.
Everyone agrees that if the Blues continue to play like they did in game one then they are merely delaying the inevitable. The Wild are simply too good of a offensive team. Jake Allen played like a great goaltender but to ask him to carry this team throughout the entire playoffs is unrealistic at best and simply impossible a worst.
As far as the lineup goes there isn’t a whole lot that Mike Yeo can do. Paul Stastny is still hurt and not even skating but Jori Lehtera’s 35% from the face off dots (the worst on the team) is not going to cut it. Hopefully Vladimir Sabotka (the guy who was signed mainly because of his face off skills) can shoulder some of the load on that line. That might help.
Yeo seems to determined to limit rookie defenseman Jordan Schmaltz’s exposure to the Wild, only playing him in situations that best allow him to excel. Schmaltz’s 9:18 of ice time last game was far and away the least of any defenseman. However, that does require the other four d-men above him to pick up the slack. As soon as Robert Bortuzzo is healthy he most certainly will reclaim his spot alongside Carl Gunnarsson.
Look for the Blues to come out with a much more aggressive game plan with a focus on extending their offensive zone time. They have got to find a way to win more face offs and when Minnesota puts them on the power play they have to find a way to convert, 0 for 4 with 5 shots on goal is not good enough.
Watch for the Blues two top lines to come out with guns blazing as they start to settle into this series. Steen, Lehtera and Sobotka will continue to be their team’s shutdown line. The 4th line needs to find better ways to contribute.
The best defense is a good offense. Lets Go Blues!
Update: According to Jeremy Rutherford, Robert Bortuzzo will make his return to the lineup tonight taking the place of Jordan Schmaltz and Zach Sanford is in for Jori Lehtera. I approve of these changes.