THE BLUES REVIEW:
The Outcome: It wasn’t easy, but the Blues pulled out a 5-4 shootout win at Vegas on Tuesday night, picking up two points and improving to 4-2-1 on the season. For at least the next 24 hours or so, the Chicken Littles will stop cackling and pacing in fear of the end of times. Miraculously, the Blues have more wins (4) and points (9) than the Colorado Avalanche, the greatest team in the history of this or any other professional hockey league.
Penalties, penalties, penalties, penalties, penalties, penalties: In their first visit of the season to the Vegas arena named after a mobile-phone service, the Blues immediately toured the penalty box. They were ordered to kill off six penalties, and succeeded five times. But their third-period lead dissolved, in part, because of excess whistling, with the Blues called for four minor penalties in the first 10:15 of the 3rd. After a being comped on a ludicrous crosschecking call on Blues defenseman Marco Scandella, the Golden Knights used the 5-on-3 PP amenity to creep within 4-3. That was a big goal. It changed the momentum.
Until now, the Blues largely have avoided the consequences of inept officiating, but that’s changed during the early days of the new campaign. Only Vancouver (39) has had to kill off more penalties than the Blues (36) this season, but the Canucks have played one more game than STL. Here’s the stat that shows the extreme nature of the Blues’ penalty troubles: the Blues are one of 16 teams that have played exactly seven games so far. But while the Blues have been on the PK 36 times over their seven games, the other 15 teams have averaged 23 PK demands through seven contests. That’s a substantial difference.
And while it’s true that the Blues are guilty of committing too many knucklehead infractions — delay of games, too many men on the ice, etc. — the overall disparity is absurd.
Let’s measure this on power-plays for and power plays against. Here ya go: The Blues are 31st in the NHL in special-teams differential, at minus 13. Their opponents have had 36 power plays compared to the Blues’ 23. Only one NHL team is even close to having a gap that wide; Washington is minus 12.
The Blues have had their penalty-kill unit on the ice during 12.3 percent of their total minutes of competition. This is new. Under coach Craig Berube, the Blues have ranked among the NHL’s least-penalized teams in each of the past two seasons, with the PK unit on the ice for 8 percent of the total minutes played. With their important 5-on-5 foundation chipped away by whistleblower madness, the Blues can’t hunker down in the strongest part of Berube Hockey. Get the Blues out of their 5v5 fortress, and it’s a problem.
The Chief is hellfire ticked off.
“Scandella’s penalty is a joke, like I don’t get it,” Berube said. “You keep going about your business, but come on, we’re playing hockey here. Like let us play hockey. I’m just tired of it, going to the box six, seven times a night. Let us play hockey. It’s a tough game out there, things happen, but you’ve got to let them go.”
Added captain Ryan O’Reilly: “That 5-on-3 call I think was very soft. We all thought that. That was a tough time in the game to give them that.”
After his venting Berube may be fined by the league office. No pun intended, but that would be fine with him … as long as the officials quit being Snow White with the constant “Whistle While You Work” song loop.
And by the way: I never liked that song, even as a kid. And if I tried to whistle while typing these columns, my alarmed wife would be have me carted away to undergo psychiatric observation. Hell, she may do that anyway.
Jordan Kyrou Is Fun: Another goal, and on this occasion he all but untied the skate laces of former Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who looked like one of those gawking Vegas tourists at a David Copperfield show. What a goal. Kyrou has three goals and four assists, producing at a point-per-game pace. Among NHL forwards that have played at least seven games so far, Kyrou ranks third in points per 6o minutes (4.6.)
The Blues Best Line: Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Kyrou was exceptional again. In their 7:51 of 5v5 play, the trio controlled 61 percent of the shot attempts, 70 percent of the scoring chances, and had an edge of 4-0 on high-danger shots.
That line’s 61% Corsi rating stood out . The Blues’ other forward lines struggled throughout at 5v5.
— David Perron, Ryan O’Reilly, Zach Sanfoford: 42.8% Corsi, but they did score a goal.
— Kyle Clifford, Ivan Barbashev, Oskar Sundqvist: 19% Corsi.
— Robert Thomas, Bozak and Mike Hoffman: Because of Stone’s cheap shot that put Bozak out of the game, this line was operative for only 4:24. But … sheesh. The boys had a Corsi rating of 20%. With Bozak gone, Berube had to mix and match a bit; in their brief time as a line connection Schwartz, Thomas and Kyrou were very good.
Let’s Be Honest: The Blues were outplayed for much of this game, and don’t tell me about the penalties because I’ve already written 11 paragraphs about that. But over three periods at 5v5, the Blues had 38 percent of the shot attempts, 37 percent of the shots on goal, and 44 % of the scoring chances. In the expected goals for and against metric, Vegas came out ahead 2.4 to 1.5. But the Blues won the game, surviving the VGK’s pressure and bozo officiating. That’s worth a round of applause. But they’ll have to be better at 5v5 in the Thursday’s scheduled rematch.
He’s Still Jordan Binnington: At 5v5 he stopped all seven of VGK’s high-danger scoring chances. Bravo. For the season, among 12 NHL goaltenders that have played at least 200 minutes at 5v5, Binnington ranks 4th in save percentage (.926) and is No. 1 in high-danger save pct (.913.) He’s given up only two goals on 23 high-danger shots.
Good on Ya, Justin Faulk: Among other high blood-pressure events, Berube and his players had to watch VGK’s Mark Stone get a tap on the glove for a two-minute minor after Stone knocked the Blues’ Tyler Bozak out of the game with a dirty, cowardly cheap shot. At minimum, that had to be a five-minute major. There’s no cure for awful officiating, but at some point you’d think the NHL would want to install a standard of at least medium-level competence … especially when it comes to player health and safety. “Terrible call,” Berube said. “We’re getting penalized six penalties a night. I don’t see it, I really don’t and I’m tired of it.”
Bozak may have a concussion. The Blues already are playing without defenseman Robert Bortuzzo who likely suffered a concussion after being wiped out from behind on a disgusting sneak attack by Colorado’s Valeri Nichushkin. Bortuzzo has been out for the last four games. The NHL looked the other way and didn’t level any fine or suspension for the Bortuzzo hit. We’ll see if the people who make these decisions will find some misplaces nerve to do something about Stone.
After Captain Courageous (Stone) refused to accept Brayden Schenn’s challenge to a boxing match, he had to save face when Faulk refused to take no for an answer. Kudos to the Blues defenseman for going after the miscreant in an effort to impose some on-ice justice. Just another example of Faulk’s ascendance to a higher level of play and leadership in his second season with the Blues.
Next Up: Unless the Covid concerns spread from the Vegas coaching staff to players, the Blues and Golden Knights will engage in another round of entertaining hockey on Thursday night, 8 p.m. STL time.
Thanks for reading …
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For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.