For the second time in this second round series the Blues once again find themselves trailing the Predators. This is also exactly two more times than the Blues ever trailed the Minnesota Wild in the first round so it is understandable that Blues fans are somewhat less than thrilled with their favorite professional hockey club.
After an encouraging game two, in which the Blues appeared to be headed in the right direction, game three was a step backwards. Once again, despite having a better start to the game than their opponent, the Blues failed to get an early lead. Nashville was able to weather the storm and then got another timely goal from their defense, again. I have to admit, it’s starting to get a little old.
Regardless of whether or not you think the puck is bouncing in Nashville’s favor, the Blues are certainly not doing themselves any favors.
For starters, the Blues are getting zero offense from any of their secondary players not named Sobotka. David Perron and Patrik Berglund have been down right horrible in this series, registering a pathetic 5 combined shots on goal through three games. Thats right, they are averaging 1.67 shots per game. Not goals mind you, shots on goal. That has to be much, much better for the Blues stand a chance in this series.
Keep in mind that I am the President and CEO of the Berglund fan club and that there was no one more excited about Perron’s play during the regular season but it is impossible for me to defend their play during this series and really the entire post season. Unfortunately, there may not be an easy fix to get these two back on track.
I do think adding Magnus Pajaarvi to their line could help. Hopefully, the speedy winger will assume the role of the first man in on the forecheck, beating Nashville’s slick moving defensemen to the boards and allow for some cycling of the puck. Perron can once again take up shop in front Pekka Rinne instead of getting stuck down low. This should also allow the big Swede to work the high slot and hopefully get some rubber headed in the general direction of Nashville’s net.
Secondly, the Blues have got to play more disciplined. Primarily that means staying out of the penalty box but it also means sticking to the style of play that has proved successful. Strong defense that will cause some turnovers. Strong, quick exits that go up the boards instead of the middle of the ice. Get the puck in the zone with a soft dump into the correct area or with a lateral pass to a cutting forward. Get the cycle going and do not, under any circumstances, get in a track meet with the Predators.
Honestly, I think one will beget the other. Staying out of the box will keep the game 5 on 5 and allow the Blues to get some rhythm going. Initiating the pace of play, instead of chasing the game, most certainly will keep the Blues from getting flat footed and thus leading to the bad penalties that have plagued this team.
Lastly, the Blues have got to find a way to start winning some face-offs. That goes for everyone on the roster. I don’t care if you have to beg, steal or cheat, do whatever it takes to get the job done. Everything that I have mentioned in the previous paragraphs will become monumentally easier if the Blues can start with the puck instead of spending precious amounts of energy and time trying to get it back.
The task at hand is not an easy one. The Predators European, high-cycle style of play has proved difficult for the Blues to adjust to. Instead of a team trying to work the puck down low, i.e. Minnesota Wild, the Predators are content to work the puck around using their highly skilled defensive corp, open up shooting lanes from the point that are allowing pucks to get to Jake Allen.
The Predators are converting on their power play opportunities while the Blues simply are not. The Predators are getting scoring from a lot of different players while the Blues are relaying on Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz to carry the team. The Blues top defensive pair of Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester have looked a step slow while Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban have led the way for their team.
The good news is that all of the things I just mentioned are fixable. During his post game conference and again yesterday head coach Mike Yeo made it clear that roster changes are coming and while he wouldn’t commit to specific names I am going to offer up a few guesses.
Like I mentioned before, I think Magnus Pajaarvi will make his return to the second line. AHL call up Jordan Schmaltz could draw in for either Robert Bortuzzo or Carl Gunnarsson in an attempt to get some offense out of that bottom pairing. Zach Sanford could come in for Ivan Barbashev who finished Sunday’s game on the fourth line.
It’s not that Mike Yeo doesn’t think his current line combinations can be effective, it’s just at this point he needs to find a way to manufacture a spark for his sputtering team. I don’t believe the Blues are in panic mode yet but they also do not want to return to St. Louis for game 5 facing elimination. We have all seen how that has worked out in the past.
Stay disciplined, get on the score board early, get bodies on the Predators defensemen and everything will be fine. Believe me, this series is far from over.