This story first appeared on Page 5 (The Five Hole) of the Jan. 15, 2020 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
We in St. Louis have seen too much losing hockey to complain about wins, but, yeah: The games on this homestand have been boring. If the Blues win another 4-1 or 5-2 game tonight, the ice at Enterprise Center will be at seven weeks and counting (Dec. 18 vs. Edmonton until at least Feb. 4) without seeing a competitive game. And yes, that will include next Saturday’s game of shinny.
Five thoughts while packing my bags for the misty mountains.
1. The Tyler Bozak contract suddenly doesn’t look so bad.
Doug Armstrong realized on June 30, 2018 that he wasn’t going to land Ryan O’Reilly, so he woke up on July 1 and signed his Plan B center: Tyler Bozak. Bozak was 32 years old, and the contract was for three years, $5 million per season — a classic, “Let’s get him here and worry about the back-end of the contract later” because, well, it’s not like Bozak was exactly an all-star to begin with, and he was only going to slow down as he aged.
Just about the only thing I know about Bozak’s nine years in Toronto is that he was a capable player (365 points in 594 games is nothing to sneeze at) but was thrust into a top-line role for which he wasn’t suited. Good as he is, he went undrafted for a reason: The top-line talent just isn’t there. In the alternate universe without the addition of O’Reilly, let’s see: Bozak would’ve been similarly miscast here; Armstrong would have egg on his face for signing an old player to a big contract; and Mike Yeo, then Craig Berube, then Berube’s replacement would’ve been taken to task for trying to make Bozak into something he’s not.
In the real world, we’re more than halfway through the contract, and even if we set aside the fact that he helped bring the Cup to St. Louis and look only at his individual performance, it’s looking better all the time. In his last season in Toronto, he put up 43 points. He missed nine games last season, but his point pace was … 43. This year, you betcha, he’s on pace for 43 points. He has been exactly what he’s always been, and for this team, that’s enough.
2. The Jaden Schwartz Pull-up is gorgeous. If you play the NHL video games, you’re familiar with the move, but in the real NHL, it’s not seen that often. Streak into the offensive zone, slam on the brakes, wreak havoc with the opponent’s defensive structure, and make a play. Simple, but effective. No one does it better than #17.
He made the same, swift move earlier in the game, moving in the opposite direction:
3. Ivan Barbashev’s gift-wrapped goal on Monday elicited different reactions from different color analysts.
On the Ducks’ broadcast, Brian Hayward said this:
“Cardinal rule is, the goalie goes to the inside. And Lindholm got all crossed up. Defenseman’s gotta come to the outside of the goaltender, the path is [the goalie’s] path to come back to the inside post.”
Meanwhile, on FSMW, Darren Pang said this:
“Whenever the goalie’s facing out like a defenseman is, it’s hard for the defenseman to read, ‘Where exactly does he want me to go?’ When the goalie goes back there, I think the defenseman wants him to play it … There was nowhere else for Lindholm to go, in my opinion.”
4. I don’t know why it bugs me, but I can’t be the only one: Jake Allen’s reaction when he doesn’t see the puck is infuriating.
We’re a little too used to it, unfortunately, and we saw it again on Anaheim’s goal on Monday: Allen drops into the butterfly, realizes the puck is behind him, and then just freezes. He doesn’t mean to show up his teammates, obviously. It’s probably not even a conscious thing. But to me, it looks like he’s trying to remove all blame from himself by drawing attention to the fact that he was screened.
A few more examples:
It’s kind of amazing that Brian Elliott is still in the league. He’s sporting a 89.6 save percentage this season, and put up just a 90.7 last season. But when you consider that he was drafted, way back in 2003 in a round that doesn’t even exist anymore (the ninth), and that he battled through Ken Hitchcock mind games and Armstrong’s constant desire to replace him with lesser or equally talented goalies, and that he even survived a demotion to the AHL in 2013, perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise. He’s a fighter, and the way Carter Hart is playing (just 90.5 this year), wouldn’t it be something if Moose, somehow, ends up getting more Stanley Cup Playoff starts? Here’s hoping that he, Yeo, and the Flyers can at least sneak in.
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.