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The Points Thief

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What can you do when a goalie plays like that? At least Boom Boom was able to score a memory-lane goal.

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at St. Louis Blues Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

This story first appeared on Page 5 (The Five Hole) of the Feb. 8, 2020 edition of the St. Louis Game Time paper, sold outside of every Blues home game. For more information or to subscribe, email gtbradlee@gmail.com

Connor Hellebuyck has stolen four points from the Blues in the past week. Last Saturday in Winnipeg, he made 38 saves on 40 shots. On Thursday night, he went 35 of 37. In both games, the Blues outshot the Jets handily, but sometimes, you dominate a game and just happen to run into a goalie who stands on his head. What can you do? It’s not the outcome you wanted or maybe even deserved, but it’s gonna happen.

I don’t know if NHL coaches realize this internally and feel the need to just say something, anything, to the media after games, or if they truly think that working harder is the answer to every problem in hockey. But Craig Berube’s “We’ve got to dig in more. We have to have a better mindset going into games of being harder to play against. It’s a lot of playoff hockey going on. I’d like to see us get in more of that mindset right now … You’ve to ask yourself are we playing hard enough for 60 minutes?” is nonsense. The Blues are playing their asses off, and at least in the past two games against Winnipeg, have been playing well. But the better team in a given game doesn’t always win. Just ask the Boston Bruins about Game 7.

Five thoughts while living on a thin line.

1. Unfortunate as it was for Zach Sanford, his point streak, and the Blues overall, Hellebuyck made a cool, throw-back, stand-up save. With 3:43 left in the third, Sanford teed off on a slapper from the deep slot, and Hellebuyck did his best Mike Vernon impression, making the save on his feet, then falling backward onto his blocker as the puck skittered into the corner.

I’ve been thinking about that style lately, as Alexander Ovechkin starts to threaten Wayne Gretzky’s goal-scoring record. Plenty of people say, “If Ovechkin would’ve played in Gretzky’s day, imagine what he’d do to those stand-up goalies.” Fair enough. But at the same time, Gretzky victimized goalies like no one else in the league could, and it wasn’t because everyone else was too stupid to take advantage. If it had been that easy, everyone would’ve done it. In some cases, Ovechkin might not have been able to keep the puck low enough to hit the right spots of the net.

As @67Sound said on Twitter, “Everyone knows the vulnerability of modern goalies is high but no one’s good enough to exploit it like Ovechkin. Just like everyone knew the vulnerability of 80s goalies was low corners but no one was good enough to exploit it like Gretzky.”

2. The Alexander Steen tribute video reminded me of one of the coolest Blues goals in recent history. I know what you’re probably thinking, but it wasn’t his strip-and-wraparound OT winner against LA in Game 1 in 2013. Nor was it his winner in triple OT in Game 1 against Chicago in 2014. Think back to the 2016 series against Chicago. The Blues led 2-1 in the series and had just taken a 3-2 lead in Game 4.

Chicago’s weak points all year long had been their lower defense pairs; for the Blues to win the series, we all knew they’d have to eat guys like Trevor van Riemsdyk and Erik Gustafsson alive (indeed, it was Gustafsson who coughed up the puck in Game 7 that led to Troy Brouwer’s goal.) And so, it felt like confirmation that the Blues had the series in the bag when van Riemsdyk tried to flip a d-to-d pass and Steen knocked it out of mid-air, at hip height, streaked in on a breakaway, and beat Corey Craw4rd high-glove to give the Blues a two-goal lead. That they could win both Games 3 and 4 in Chicago, in that house of horror on Madison, was a statement: This was a different Blues team that had no intention of wilting when the pressure cranked up.

3. Speaking of 2016, this Stars team has done a full 180 since then. That team was high-flying, run-and-gun, no-goaltending-no-problem helter skelter. They led the league in goals for, and at the same time, had the third-most goals allowed in the Western Conference. This year’s version has outscored exactly three teams: the Kings, the Ducks, and the Red Wings. Tyler Seguin leads the team with a pedestrian 39 points; only he and Alexander Radulov are north of 30.

4. On Thursday night, Carl Gunnarsson beat the goalie to the blocker side with a slapshot from the point.

I’m sure that’s the first time in that’s ever happened, right?

5. Colton Parayko has scored in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. I fully believe he’s one of the 10 best defensemen in the league — but he’s never cracked 35 points, and might not even get to 30 this year. That will have to change if a certain other right-shot defenseman leaves after the season.

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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.