This story first appeared on Page 5 (The Five Hole) of the Nov. 23, 2019 edition of the St. Louis Game Time paper, sold outside of every Blues home game. For more information or to subscribe, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday night saw the most aesthetically pleasing Blues game of the year, and maybe in many years. It wasn’t just the jerseys, but let’s start there: I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Jordan Binnington’s pads in particular, with the red-and-yellow lightning bolts and dark-red knee stacks, were dead-sexy. They’re worth another look:
And the way he and the rest of the team played, well, maybe Zach Sanford wasn’t kidding in his post-game interview with Darren Pang when he said they made him feel faster.
The jerseys, of course, weren’t the only old-fashioned part of Thursday night: The game itself was a throwback to a wilder, perhaps more fun time in hockey history. The Blues and Flames combined for 71 shots on goal, half-a-hundred scoring chances, and I lost-count-of-how-many breakaways. We had a fight, too, and even a bone-crushing hit from Vince Dunn that would’ve made Scott Stevens proud.
Five thoughts while you watch me clean the floor and walk out the door.
1. What’s unfortunate about the Dunn hit was Calgary’s reaction to it. Watch Andrew Mangiapane, the actual victim of that clean hit: He just gets to his feet and continues to play hockey. Meanwhile Zac Rinaldo jumps Dunn. I’ll never quite understand why hockey players (ok, maybe sewer rat Rinaldo doesn’t qualify) feel the need to instigate brawls after clean hits.
2. Speaking of Vince Dunn, maybe physicality is leading to offense. The heat on Justin Faulk has allowed Dunn to sneak under the radar a bit. Now in his third season, seven points in 23 games (a 25-point pace) is a step backward. However, in the last couple of weeks, he’s gotten into a tussle with Milan Lucic, racked up multiple hits in two separate games, and has two goals in his last three.
3. I’ve been hard in this space on Jay Bouwmeester. And the facts still remain: He was overrated when acquired from Calgary, subsequently overpaid (over too long a term), and has had his play decline as he’s gotten older, slower, and undergone more medical procedures. Elliotte Friedman has said on his 31 Thoughts podcast that last season, the Blues were a day away from waiving JayBo. But I’ll be damned if he doesn’t look like a competent, maybe even good NHL player again.
I remember Jeff Marek, also on 31 Thoughts, extolling Connor McDavid’s speed after an Oilers-Blues game: “McDavid is so fast,” Marek said, “he made Bouwmeester show him his numbers! [I.e. turn around and skate forward to get back into position.] No one gets to see Bouwmeester’s numbers.” This season, I’ve caught myself thinking a handful of times, after seeing bursts of acceleration or precise turns, “Hey, that looks like the guy we kept hearing about but never actually saw in St. Louis!” Well, ol’ #19 was everywhere on Thursday. He broke up a 2-on-1:
... hit a post, and had two other scoring chances — including one in which he very smartly joined a shorthanded rush.
Credit where credit’s due: On ‘90s night, Jay Bouwmeester played like he did in the 1990s.
4. What’s wrong with Nashville? This squad, perpetually considered a Stanley Cup contender, comes into tonight 9-9-3, five points out of a playoff spot, and losers of four in a row. And now they have to face the Western Conference’s best team for a home-and-home.
Sometimes, these things are complicated conglomerations of bad luck, poor chemistry on the ice, poor attitude off it, poor play throughout the lineup, and on and on. Other times, it’s not complicated at all. With Nashville, it’s this easy: The goaltending.
The important metrics are all still there for the Preds: They’re top-10 in possession, scoring chances, expected goals, and they’re even third-best in the league in even-strength shooting percentage. But old man Rinne and Orange Juuse have put up matching 88.8 save percentages (how cute of them), and that’ll pretty much sink a team no matter how good their metrics are.
5. Nashville, by the way, is the last team to beat the Blues in a playoff series. Jake Allen gutted the Blues to the second round in the spring of 2017. Yes, really! The 8-seed Predators were coming off a stunning sweep of Chicago, and it seemed the Blues’ path was open for another trip to the Conference Final. I’ve written about this before, but the image of Colton Parayko scrambling to get back into the play as Nashville converted a 2-on-1 to finish off the series is burned into my mind.
Things worked out ok for the Blues, though. They went on to (very selfishly, in my opinion) not allow anyone to beat them in a playoff series in 2018 or 2019.
If you enjoyed this story — and even if you didn’t — you should check out my book, Ticketless: How Sneaking Into The Super Bowl And Everything Else (Almost) Held My Life Together.