It’s not that what the Blues need to do to be successful in this series is a mystery. Players and coaches and pundits alike have been saying it since before the Stanley Cup Final even started: stay off of the penalty kill. Do not give the Boston Bruins the man advantage.
The Blues are trying to walk a line between physicality and penalty killing, and they have apparently chosen penalty killing as their hill to die on. Oskar Sundqvist gets suspended for game three on a borderline hit, throwing the team’s penalty kill akimbo? Sure, just hit more.
“No, just go about business as usual,” Berube said. “We’ve got to play physical.”
After the briefest of pauses, Berube added with emphasis: “We’re going to play physical.”
Does physicality mean that they were going to be smart about it? Apparently not. The Blues lead the Bruins in two stats last night: hits and shots. Everywhere else, including the very important face off circle, the Blues lagged far behind. The Bruins had 19 blocks. The Blues had seven. The Bruins won 56% of the face offs. The Blues won 44%. The Bruins went a perfect four for four on the power play, requiring just four shots to do so. The Blues snuck one past Tuukka Rask with the extra man.
Across the board, it was abysmal. But they hit.
I’m sure the Bruins cared.
One of the biggest offenders of the night was, again, David Perron. Perron was mostly benched for the Vegas Golden Knights’ trip to the Stanley Cup Final, and he wanted a chance to prove himself this year. Pierre LeBrun wrote a piece for The Athletic (subscription required) about how badly Perron wanted to prove himself. It reads like parody after last night’s interference and roughing penalties, as well as Perron’s other shenanigans.
When asked during the post-game press conference about Perron’s in your face moment, Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask shrugged it off and acted like it was no big deal, saying that Perron was just accusing him “of diving.” If Perron wants to get into Rask’s head, going in hard on the goalie isn’t how you do it. You score on him. Rask hates that.
After the game, Alex Pietrangelo seemed perplexed at the root of his team’s loss:
“We’ve got to keep this thing 5-on-5,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. “We gave them too many chances early on. Five-on-five we actually did a pretty good job, it’s just a matter of keeping them off that power play.
”It’s just a matter of moving our feet and not taking penalties. It’s as simple as that. I mean, I don’t see every call. We’ve just got to find a way to not take penalties.”
“Find a way to not take penalties.” It’s odd, then, that moving the feet is probably not what caused Pietrangelo to slash Noel Accari in a frustrated response to Accari’s goal, which lead to a Marcus Johanssen power play goal not long after. I highly doubt that not moving the feet is what caused Colton Parayko to hi-stick Brad Marchand, which lead to Torey Krug’s second goal of the night.
Frustration leads to things like this. Reign in your frustration and take care of business. During last night’s post-game press conferences, Craig Berube seemed hesitant to answer questions about his team’s penalties. He was asked about the four power play goals on four shots and immediately went to deflections, not the penalty. The most he said was that “the penalty kill has got to be better.”
The Blues have taken 17 penalties so far this series. At some point, you need to stop relying on your penalty kill and rely on your even strength players to not put your team in a bad position.
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy spoke during post-game like a man who knew what he had and a coach who knew what his team was capable of. Berube spoke like he was covering for his team’s obvious failings.
“I think we’re confident that we can respond. We’re going to obviously do video review and make the adjustments that are needed, but even though it wasn’t what we wanted, we know that we can respond. We know it’s going to be a long series.”
It certainly is starting to feel like a long series. Whether or not it will be one is up to the Blues.