This story first appeared on Page 5 (The Five Hole) of the Jan. 9, 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
Rewind this in your brain: Carl Gunnarsson one-times the puck past Tuukka Rask in Game 2. It’s the first-ever Stanley Cup Final win in team history, and it puts the Blues in the driver’s seat for the series. The crowd at the watch-party is going nuts as Gloria blares. At bars and in living rooms all over town, strangers are hugging and beer is being spilled in joy.
Ten seconds later, when the jumping and hugging and beer-spilling begins to die down, fans throughout St. Louis look at the TV in horror. The referees are skating over to the penalty box. The celebration must be put on hold. Boston coach Jack Cassidy has nothing to lose by challenging, and zone entries in today’s NHL happen so fast that he might as well take a shot. Moreover, he wouldn’t — and shouldn’t — give two shits if he pauses, puts a scare into, or otherwise mars the greatest moment (to that point) in Blues franchise history.
No, Jordan Kyrou’s waved-off goal on Tuesday night doesn’t compare to Gunnarsson’s pisser-winner. But it was a sick goal that was robbed from us and it emphasized, again, that replay review has outlived whatever usefulness it had. It’s time to kill it.
Bad calls happen (although not as frequently as it might seem.) That’s life. But getting them right (which is plenty difficult anyway) isn’t worth putting fans into this post-goal purgatory, where they don’t know if they can celebrate. It’s not worth killing fans’ excitement for a scoring chance because there was a close play at the blue line. And more generally, it’s not worth disrupting the flow of the game. In basketball, for example, when late-game close calls are reviewed, it often gives a team with no timeouts remaining a freebie. If review in the NHL continues to expand — if John Tortorella has his way — a dead-tired line will ice the puck at the end of a game, and the coach will ask the referees to review the clock. For a difference of three-tenths of a second, those exhausted legs will get a minute of rest. The benefit of replay review is simply not worth the cost.
Five thoughts, while out tiger hunting with an elephant and gun.
1. This is a different Blues team without Colton Parayko.
I’ve had this note floating around since Clown Jersey night on November 21. Early in the third period, with Calgary trailing and upping their pressure, Parayko dismantled their forecheck with, like, four strides. (You can hear Darren Pang chuckle in amazement when he does so.) He’s the only Blues defenseman who can do that.
Because the Blues are a good team and tend to earn a lot of leads, opposing teams inevitably will be forechecking hard late in games. Without Parayko, as we saw on Saturday in Vegas, that threat becomes more dangerous.
2. Sometimes, hockey is perfect.
Ivan Barbashev was stopped on a breakaway on Tuesday night, but he got the goal he deserved six seconds later anyway.
3. Jordan Binnington’s save late in the second on Radim Simek was massive — and underratedly difficult.
As Pang pointed out on Blues’ broadcast, making stops when the play starts below the goal line is never easy, and on this save, Binnington had to push out and to his right at the same time, at a perfect angle, just to give himself a chance. Those plays are all instinct; if he’s half an inch deeper in the net, it’s probably a 2-1 hockey game. Just more proof that he’s the real deal.
4. I’ve written it before and I’ll write it again: Trying to improve by five percent is exactly what a GM should be doing.
It wasn’t that Doug Armstrong’s thought process was misguided when he tried to improve the goaltending situation in 2014 by a tiny bit, by completing a trade with the Buffalo Sabres. In the NHL, that’s all you really can do. The problem was that Ryan Miller was never really five percent, or even one percent, better than Jaroslav Halak.
5. “Throughout the year, I’ve lost the love of the game multiple times.” - Ryan O’Reilly, April 9, 2018, Buffalo, NY.
A guy in the know once told me that O’Reilly’s issues in Buffalo stemmed from being seen as a teacher’s pet. First one on the ice, last one off, always hustling and dedicated to getting better. Perhaps Craig Berube knows better than Phil Housley or Dan Bylsma how to appreciate and utilize that kind of passion. ROR lives and breathes hockey, and that’s why his quote was so jarring. He said those words exactly 21 months ago. He sure seems to be loving the game again.
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.