The Blues encountered the cranked-up New York Rangers on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. After recovering from a two-goal deficit to volley for a 3-2 lead, the Blues succumbed to the Blueshirts’ third-period blitz, losing 5-3.
I didn’t think the Blues would win this game for three reasons:
First, the NYR hadn’t played well since returning from their scheduled holiday, averaging two goals per game while going 3-2-1. The Rangers clearly viewed this game with the Blues as a must-ace test and were determined to silence former teammate Pavel Buchnevich.
Second, the Blues hadn’t faced a quality team since winning at Toronto on Feb. 19 and were due for a shimmy. The boys seemed a little frantic with the puck early on.
Third, when a visiting team sets up in New York City for an extended stay as part of a three-game roadie against the three NHL teams in the Gotham area … well, the kids will have themselves some fun.
The Blues had to whittle away at a two-goal deficit after trailing 2-0, clapped back to take a 3-2 lead, and stave off the Rangers, who scored the final three goals.
All of that said, the Blues had the lead and blew it in the third period. “I think we were just a little nervous,” team cap’n Ryan O’Reilly said, and with all due respect, I have no idea what that means.
Let’s roll four lines …
1) Goaltending Controversy? No, and I’ll explain me old self in a minute. But you just knew that some of the media peoples and fans would go into the kvetching mode as soon as Ville Husso experienced his first stretch of performances that weren’t up to the level of, say, Ken Dryden. And here we are! Husso yielded four goals to the Rangers and was a bit squirmy at the net. Our friend Jeremy Rutherford at The Athletic seems a little nervous about the recent trend, and he included a bad-Husso-goal piece of video in his game story.
Roll out the fainting couch! Husso has a .902 save percentage and a 3.00 goals-against average in his last five games. He hasn’t been as sharp as we’re used to seeing … and yes, he’s given up 13 goals in his last four games … but I don’t think this is along the lines of, say, the Cuban Missile Crisis of October, 1962.
Husso has been so damn good all season, I think it’s fair to cut our Helsinki brother some slack. A downturn was inevitable. Then again if we can’t overreact about goaltending – then what are we supposed to do for fun?
Jordan Binnington has restored his confidence and played very well in his last two games. If he sustains his recovery from mediocrity, then coach Craig Berube will lean on both goalies. Don’t worry about the postseason. It’s March 3.
Just a thought here … but I don’t see anything that’s particularly alarming about employing two effective goaltenders. Binnington had his plunging phase, and now Husso is tilting a bit. But lo and behold the Blues still rank fifth among the 32 teams in goals-allowed per game, 2.72. They’re also fifth in the league in save percentage at five on five, and at all strengths. Their five on five save percentage on high-danger shots is No. 1 in the league.
Trust coach Craig Berube. He knows what to do with his goaltenders.
2) The Rangers stifled the Blues’ hottest line. Buchnevich, Robert Thomas and Vladimir Tarasenko were outscored 2-0 at five on five, had 38 percent of the shot attempts, and came in with an abysmal expected-goals percentage of 14.8%. The threesome had no points in the loss and were a combined minus 8. Ouch. (Buchnevich did put five shots on net.)
The Rangers used the line of Dryden Hunt, Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin to muffle Robbie & The Russians. And that NYR line combined for two goals and four assists and a collective plus 8.
But even with their tough shift at the office, the Blues have outscored opponents 11-4 with Buchnevich, Thomas and Tarasenko on the ice at five on five.
The Blues’ line of O’Reilly, Brandon Saad and David Perron was magnificent in defeat, outscoring New York 2-0 and posting an outstanding expected-goals rate of 76.3 percent.
The Blues had 23 shots blocked by the Rangers.
The Blues blocked only six NY shots.
3) Colton Parayko and Niko Mikkola: They’ve been a terrific defensive pairing over the last few weeks … but that wasn’t the case against the Rangers. Parayko’s careless delay of game penalty set up the power play that netted the go-ahead goal by Chris Kreider. The Blues were outshot on unblocked shot attempts 16-9 when deploying Parayko-Mikkola, and the duo had an expected-goals percentage of 37.7%.
4) The Blues vs. The East: With the setback in New York, the Blues dropped to 10-7-2 in games against teams from the Eastern Conference. The record is OK, but not great. Some of the other strong teams in the Western Conference – including Calgary, Colorado, the LA Kings, Vegas, Dallas and Anaheim – have cultivated more success than the Blues in competition vs. the East. The Blues have 29 regular-season games remaining on the schedule, and 13 will be played against Eastern teams. In seven of the 13 games the Blues will face off against Eastern teams with a winning record.
The Blues have the league’s seventh-easiest strength of schedule the rest of the way, with an average opponent rank of 16.9 in the overall standings.
Before returning home the Blues have Saturday-Sunday games against the NY Islanders and New Jersey Devils. The Isles (.500) and Devils (.463) rank 24th and 25th in the league respectively in home points percentage.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated 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 by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
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Statistics used in this column were sourced from Hockey Reference, Money Puck and Natural Stat Trick.