(Photo credit usatoday.com)
The Blues Needed a Win
If someone told you that the Blues were playing the Maple Leafs in Toronto and that one team would dominate the other, based on the results of the first two weeks of the season, most fans wouldn’t have guessed correctly as to who dominated who.
The Blues, off to one of their worst starts in 20 years or so, came into tonight’s game at the Scotiabank Arena with their backs against the wall. With a record of 1-3-2 and showing a penchant for giving up late leads in several games, things just haven’t gone the way the team and fanbase had expected, and this franchise needed a win.
Toronto, on the other hand, started out as one of the hottest teams in the NHL with a 6-2-0 record. They’ve built a powerhouse offense in the hockey hotbed of the world, signing the most-coveted center this past offseason in John Tavares, who has 6 goals and 5 assists in just 8 games. With other players like superstar Auston Matthews off to a blazing start (8 GP, 10 G, 6 A), Mitch Marner (8 GP, 4 G, 7 A), defenseman Morgan Rielly (8 GP, 3 G, 10 A), and a loaded roster from top to bottom, they were definitely the favorite coming into this one.
I felt that this would be a different game than we’d seen previously this season when Vladimir Tarasenko dove to break up a pass in the defensive zone early in the first period. It was the first evidence of many times throughout this game that players were playing for each other. They finished their checks, were relentless on the forecheck, and everyone was back-checking. It looked like Blues hockey is supposed to look. Finally!
The Blues created a couple of scoring opportunities in the period. Alex Steen led an odd-man rush that was turned away by Toronto goalie, Frederik Andersen. Tarasenko had another chance with a breakaway when he poked a puck out of the d-zone, but he seemed a little too winded to finish. Before he could reach the net he ended up losing the puck on a back-check by Ron Hainsey
The St. Louis pressure produced a man-advantage opportunity in the closing minutes of the period when Hainsey was whistled for tripping on Sammy Blais at the 17:13 mark. The Blues failed to convert on their best chance when Ryan O’Reilly found Tarasenko open in the right circle as his shot hit the post and bounced out.
Although Toronto had a couple of scoring chances in the period which Jake Allen stopped, they were limited to just 4 shots on goal by the hounding defense of the Blues.
Brayden Schenn (my favorite player) was called for interference just 1:22 into the second period. The Blues continued their defensive play and didn’t allow any shots on goal while killing off the penalty.
Just a minute and 23 seconds later, defenseman Robert Bortuzzo scored his first goal of the season to put the Blues on top. He was assisted by David Perron who now has 7 points in 7 games and has been a bright spot since re-signing with the Blues for his 3rd stint.
St. Louis continued with lots of offensive pressure and good puck possession through the middle of the period, which led to a goal by Zach Sanford at the 13:05 mark. Perron assisted on this goal as well. It was Sanford’s first goal of the season in only his 2nd game up with the club. He missed most of training camp after tragically losing his father during pre-season to an unexpected heart attack. It was good to see him score after all he’s been through the past couple of seasons. (He missed all of last year after a shoulder injury in pre-season)
Another power play for the Blues led to a 3rd goal in the period, although it wasn’t scored until just after the penalty was over. Four seconds after Toronto had killed off a tripping penalty, O’Reilly scored his first goal as a Blue at the 16:37 mark. It was another goal produced by gritty board play when Pat Maroon fished the puck away from a Toronto defender and found Tarasenko behind the net. He quickly passed to O’Reilly in front, who buried it for a three-goal lead.
The period ended with Toronto on a power play for the last 28 seconds. Matthews got to the net with a nice move and a backhand shot but Jake made a nice save to keep it 3-0.
The Maple Leafs started the period with 1:32 remaining on their power play but couldn’t manage much of a threat. Bortuzzo put a nice hit on Matthews deep in the corner near the end of that penalty kill.
The Leafs finally managed a goal at the 4:22 mark when a Morgan Rielly shot trickled between Allen’s right arm and his body. Deja vu crept into my mind as I feared another late collapse from my beloved Blues. But, tonight was different. This was a different team on the ice tonight. And it would be the only goal Jake allowed.
They never quit. They kept up their menacing play and didn’t give Toronto a chance to get back in it, even killing off another Maple Leafs power-play with just under 8 minutes to go in the game.
The final tally came in the closing minutes with an empty net goal by Ivan Barbashev.
This is the way we expect to see our Blues play.
This is the kind of team that nobody wants to play against. We took one of the highest-powered offenses in the league and held them to 8 shots on goal in the first two periods. They finished with 23 SOG for the game, but only after a desperate push in the third.
We didn’t manage a power play goal, but we got 3 goals in 5 on 5 play. It was an area that needed improvement so it was good to see.
The Blues outhit them 33-22. We also blocked 23 shots to their 14 and only had 9 giveaways to their 21. That’s the way the stat sheet looks when our team plays their game.
The line combos seemed to work well tonight. Coach Mike Yeo has been criticized for juggling too much, but it seems he found some combos that worked tonight. The reuniting of last year’s trio of Jaden Schwartz, Schenn and Tarasenko worked well. The fourth line got a little more ice time tonight. It’s good to see that they are starting to trust the youngsters against a team like Toronto.
We play Winnipeg on Monday and it would be nice to get a win back after they beat us in the season opener. Let’s go Blues!