Five Minutes For Scribing
The Blues have won two in a row, with their motley crew of hockey collectibles scrambling for a 7-6 win Saturday at San Jose, then moving southward to stave off Anaheim 5-4 on Monday night.
The victories were on the wild side, often turning berserk … and I’m not even talking about Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington’s amusing audition for the Charlestown Chiefs during the shenanigans at San Jose.
The third period was a frantic adventure in both games, with the understaffed Blues under siege and desperate to hang onto leads and survive.
Combining the third period stats of the two wins (all situations) the Blues had only 25 of the overall 75 shot attempts, 16 of the 39 shots on net, 12 of the 40 scoring chances, and four of the 19 high-danger shots.
And they won.
And won again.
They’re 12-8-2 on the season.
It could be worse.
A helluva lot worse.
Despite squandering a pair of one-goal leads in the third period at San Jose, the Blues won the final 20 minutes and the game by outscoring the Sharks 3-2. And despite nearly flubbing a 4-1 lead at Anaheim — getting outscored 3-1 in the third period — the Blues endured.
And their road hearts beat harder and faster; the Blues are 8-2 away from St. Louis, and have the third-best road points percentage in the NHL. If the Blues could only bring this fervor home to Enterprise Center where they’re a weak 4-6-2 this season.
In these last two road wins the play was anything but smooth. Emotions flared. False teeth were dislodged. Pucks caromed off faces. An obscure Blues rookie, Dakota Joshua, scored a goal in his first NHL game Monday by charging into the crease and chesting the puck into the net. Yes, grubby goals were scored. Grubby goals that became something handsome. Anything goes. Anything will do.
After landing in California, the Blues scrapped and thwacked their way out of a 3-6-1 slide and metaphorically applied fresh bandages to their wounds. They snatched two straight wins worth four points in the standings … the real point being, the Blues are still standing.
“We’ve got to stay with it, and it doesn’t matter what happens in the game at times,” veteran winger David Perron said via Zoom after Monday’s win. “We just found a way to win.”
This attitude isn’t optional. It’s a necessity. The Black-and-Blues — as in bruises — are working through injuries and extreme disorder. They are trying to function and compete at a respectable NHL level with eight players sidelined. I don’t need to list those names here; if you follow the Blues you have the injured-list identities memorized.
Monday, Blues manager Doug Armstrong offered an update on the battered parts of his roster. Except for the imminent return of Vladimir Tarasenko, the injury report was depressing.
There’s no sighing in hockey. Message from Armstrong: the Blues must deal with it. Forget about the April 12 NHL trade deadline. Forget about trades, period.
Worry about winning.
Sharpen a survivalist mentality.
The boss sees this happening now.
“It’s all hands on deck,” Armstrong said. “The good thing, too, is our players aren’t looking for outside people to help them. I really get a sense they believe there’s enough in there and they understand too if we can get mentally and physically hardened by going through this, when these guys come back, we’re going to be in a very strong frame of mind to make a very strong push.
“With the way the NHL is right now, trades are difficult to make even if you wanted to use future assets to get players to come in. Most teams are in a playoff race. No one’s ready to make those decisions yet. The short of it: We have to find a way to make this work.”
The thinned roster is being supplemented by depth players who now have an opportunity to establish and reinforce their place — or, in some cases, launch a career.
Dakota Joshua, 24, is a perfect example. He was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs (No. 128 overall) in 2014. In 2019, the Leafs moved him to the Blues for future considerations. He’s played at Ohio State, Sioux Falls, San Antonio, Tulsa, Utica. A prospect … but, with all due respect, not in the elite category. Dakota has been on an expedition, grinding for the chance to reach the NHL.
The Blues had an emergency. They had to replenish their roster. Joshua was summoned. And though the rookie center was not in the Blues’ original plans at the start of the season, the past was irrelevant.
The team needed help, and Joshua had his dream fulfilled Monday night in Anaheim, plugged into the fourth line with Kyle Clifford and Mackenzie MacEachern.
The Blues gave Joshua an opportunity to achieve his goal. And he gave them a goal — and a 4-1 lead over the Ducks.
Joshua did more than that. He skated 11 shifts, playing 7 minutes and 15 seconds. He had two hits, a takeaway, blocked a shot, and won four of five faceoffs.
Perron said that he was inspired by seeing Joshua in the dressing room before Monday’s game, noting the rookie’s energy and wide-eyed nervousness brought back some fond memories … those feelings that Perron himself experienced as a kid breaking into the NHL many years ago. Not that Perron needed a reminder, but at times it is good for the soul for a player to realize how special it is to have an NHL career. It should be savored, and never forgotten.
And the Clifford-Joshua-MacEachern fourth line was arguably the Blues’ most effective unit against Anaheim. In their 7:04 of even-strength time, the trio controlled 75 percent of the shot attempts, pounded out a 6-0 advantage on shots on goal, had a 3-0 edge on scoring chances, and were 2-0 in the high-danger shot count. They outscored the Ducks 1-0.
“It was all I expected and then some,” Joshua said. “For sure. To play in the National Hockey League is the biggest honor that you can have in the sport of hockey. It was an unreal experience, getting to be a part of the club today.”
Joshua’s new teammates and brothers include guys like MacEachern, winger Nathan Walker, and rookie defenseman Niko Mikkola. They are not regulars. They are playing because others are physically incapable of doing so. But their value is potentially enormous. Just doing their part to push the Blues through calamity would be a huge lift.
And younger veterans — defenseman Vince Dunn, and wingers Zach Sanford and Sammy Blais — can use the increased minutes to reaffirm their value. The same goes for rookie goaltender Ville Husso; he must be strong when counted on.
“I think that you can evaluate the growth of your younger players, the growth of your depth players — how they’re taking advantage of the situation, and are they prepared for it?” Armstrong said. “I think we’re getting to the point now where it’s going to become easier to survive because we know what we have to do.”
With so many injured regulars weeks away from returning to the lineup, this won’t be easy for the Blues. The wins over San Jose and Anaheim were anything but easy. But this is reality. The players will be defined by how they handle this hardship. The direction of the season is up to them.
Thanks for reading …
Please check out Bernie’s sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.