One would think that the mere sight of real hockey being back would erase any nasty feeling about a St. Louis Blues loss, but this is sudden death August playoff hockey, so that simply doesn’t apply.
The Blues took the ice in a near-empty Rogers Arena in Edmonton to face off against the Colorado Avalanche in game one of their Round Robin series. I don’t need to deeply explain what that is or how they came up with the name because really, at this point, who gives a shit? The Blues will face Vegas and Dallas this Thursday and Sunday to figure out where they will be seeded for the playoffs. It’s all weird and let’s hope they get to all of it, because if there is one sport doing things right at the moment, it’s the NHL.
If you need the recap, give my man Justin’s cap a read. I am going to pull five things away from the brutal 2-1 loss at the hands of Colorado for you to then pull apart and tell me how right or wrong I am. Let’s crack a beer as midnight approaches and my kid hums himself to sleep in the room next to me here in Princeton Heights, which according to the previews, used to be a peaceful town until I moved in.
5) Where are you, Alex Steen?
Save me your “defend Alexander The Not So Great Anymore” love speech. Use your words more wisely. He was missing in action in Game 1. His stats included 13:18 of ice time, with a single hit and a two-minute penalty. No shots or takeaways. Steen did put in 3:23 of shorthanded ice time, so there’s something there. But I should expect more out of a guy making BIG money. Yes, it’s always about the money. For a salary cap-strapped team desperately trying to retain their captain this summer (fall?), Steen sticks out like a sore thumb. I need goals, action, and more than the little things. Little things can be done by Sammy Blais or someone else.
Steen’s time in St. Louis is coming to an end. Let’s hope he does the right thing and steps down next season, saving the Blues the embarrassment of asking the league if they can buy him out. He will be 37 years old in March and looks 57 out there at times. He fared well last year, but these are his point totals over the past six seasons: 64, 52, 51, 46, 27, 17. Yikes.
4) Binnington stood tall
Are you really surprised? I bet the answer is similar to the one JB gave when asked about nerves. If there was any question about the one who doesn’t get nervous, the goaltender answered the bell on Sunday night. He stopped 36 of 38 shots, with the last one going in with less than 0.1 seconds left. It counted, but I won’t hold it against Binnington. The guy who carried the Blues for six months last year looks strong and denied the Avalanche early and often. It could have been 4-1 Colorado very easily-but #50 kept saying no.
A few parts of the team don’t look right. Binnington isn’t one of them.
3) Ryan O’Reilly doing O’Reilly-type things
The 200 foot ice beast didn’t waste any time crawling back inside the hearts of Blues fans with his always aggressive play. I swear the man hasn’t looked like a player carrying less than a full tank of gas since the Winnipeg series a year ago-and I think that’s because they were targeting the shit out of him. Outside of those 2-3 games, O’Reilly has been on and working all over the pond. He logged an assist, three shots, over 21 minutes of ice time, and work on both special teams units. He’s always on the door step of a goal if he’s missing one, but there’s always a setup happening with this guy. His mind goes beyond mere shots and poke checks; O’Reilly does things many players only dream of. He does those things a lot. I wonder what the Buffalo GM was smoking that day. I can assure you it wasn’t named, “Anderson.”
Shots on goal for Blues top line ...— Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) August 3, 2020
2) The top line stunk
Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, and Brayden Schenn accounted for two total shots on goal, and the returning Russian had both of them. When these guys are on, the team can’t be stopped. When they are off, the Blues are a lot more vulnerable. They are streaky, but the NHL isn’t making much time for streaky play right now. You’re on or you’re off, and the whole league was off for four months. Those excuses ended at puck drop Sunday night, so the top line has to wake up. This happens again and the seeding won’t stink as much as the first round exit. This team has the tools to run the gauntlet, but they need their top guns clicking. A night off is one thing; two nights off is a problem.
1) Ivan Barbashev is fun to watch
If Steen is the anchor on that grit line, “Barbie” is the adrenaline injection. He didn’t record a point, but the man plays with reckless abandon out there. He recorded seven hits, two shots on goal, and had a blocked shot. He made good use of his 11:48 on the ice, and has the speed to finish most plays.
Both Sammy Blais & Ivan Barbashev credited with 7 hits each tonight.— STL Blues History (@STLBlueshistory) August 3, 2020
That's the 1st time the Blues have 2 players with 7 hits in a Postseason game that ended in regulation since May 6 2013 vs Chicago (Sobotka 10 hits & Chris Porter with 9).#stlblues
Barbashev is the kind of spark plug the Blues will need this kind of game out of more often than not. He keeps the other team honest and doesn’t mind getting dirty. You always know what you are getting out of him. Every team needs those all or nothing type players. Barbashev gives you that with more skill attached. He needs more minutes.
There were more positives. David Perron scored his first goal in four months (OHH!), and Justin Faulk didn’t suck. Marco Scandella continues to form an alliance with Colton Parayko, which is something that will only grow the next few seasons. The Blues didn’t play a great game, but they were right in there until the very last millisecond. You take a few things away from that, but here’s the biggest one: they are close and should bring it Thursday night. I don’t care much about seeding. The home crowds don’t make a big difference this time, and the Blues were a solid road team anyway.
The Blues lost in classic gut-wrenching Blues fashion on Sunday, but I’m not losing my mind until Thursday and Sunday’s result. I believe in Craig Berube’s words when he sees these Round Robin games as a mere tune-up for the real playoff show.
Thanks for reading and always drink more bourbon.