Lackadaisical Blues Drop Game 1
First, let’s make one point very clear. This was one game. If you recall the Blues also dropped Game 1 against the San Jose Sharks before ultimately winning the series four games to one. That being said this was a discouraging and disappointing loss that can be best described by the word in the title – lackadaisical. Fans may be quick to blame the officiating, which again was subpar, but this loss falls squarely on the shoulders of our favorite team that came out of the gate flying only to retreat to a sloppy, uninspired approach.
The first 10 minutes of the first period saw the Blues come out flying. They hounded the puck, putting immense pressure on the Los Angeles Kings. This resulted in several scoring chances that were narrowly kept out by Jonathan Quick’s legs (Note to the Blues – Aim high). The Blues hard work eventually paid off with David Backes deflecting in a shot from Alex Pietrangelo. Things appeared to be on the right track.
In the last few minutes of the first period the tide shifted. Los Angeles woke up and suddenly had the momentum in their favor. No longer were the Blues able to easily contain them in the neutral zone. LA used this spark to find a late goal in the first from Slava Voynov. Voynov was found by Dustin Penner after the Blues committed an ugly turnover. Good teams make you pay for your mistakes. The Blues need to learn this lesson in a hurry.
As we have seen repeatedly this season, the Blues struggle in the final few minutes of games and periods. They can’t close out when they need to. They can’t hold on to an edge late. The Blues were three minutes from entering the dressing room with a lead. Instead, a lapse in judgement sent them in square.
The second period is where the Blues committed their worst offense by allowing a short-handed goal. If you read my series preview, found here, you may recall I mentioned this series would be won by whichever team won the special teams battle. LA not only killed three separate St. Louis power plays but also scored what ended up being a decisive short-handed goal late in the second period. What is it about the final five minutes of periods for the Blues? The offense here was criminal. You simply can not make this type of mistake against a team that’s as good at defending as the Kings are.
As for the officiating, it was horrible. There is no avoiding that point. It’s baffling how T.J. Oshie can be assessed a four-minute penalty for drawing blood with a high stick while Dwight King only receives two minutes for boarding Alex Pietrangelo – a check that also drew blood. Similar hits have been ruled a five-minute major. There were plenty of other instances where the officials looked lost, uncertain what they were supposed to call. Unfortunately, such is life in the NHL.
I’m not pinning this loss on the officiating. While it was dreadful it wasn’t responsible for the Blues looking dreadful on the power play. It wasn’t responsible for the short-handed goal that silenced what had been a rowdy crowd. It wasn’t what caused the Blues to take a foolish delay of game penalty. It wasn’t what caused the Blues to struggle to even exit their zone. It didn’t force the Blues to make bad pass after bad pass.
The Blues had their chances, most of which came in the first period. Jonathan Quick rose to the challenge, stopping shots quite literally from right outside his crease. The Blues peppered pucks right at his pads when he was sprawled out on the ice. These were high-percentage opportunities. This failure to capitalize on high-quality chances proved costly.
Finally, going back to the title, the Blues looked sluggish. Being there in person it was clear the Kings were the stronger and more determined side. When battling for the puck it was the man in the white sweater that typically came out the victor. Blue sweaters seemed to bounce off white ones. The Blues seemed to always be caught on the wrong foot. As a result the crowd struggled to get into the game after the short-handed goal was scored. Until the final two minutes of the third, the Blues looked like a team that had already been defeated and was in the dressing room. No fire. No spark. No anger.
This lackadaisical attitude carried over to the St. Louis offense for every spell of the game excluding the first 10 minutes. After their brilliant 10-minute stretch, the Blues resorted to a repetitive strategy – bring the puck over LA’s blue line, move it out wide to the boards. Attempt to cycle along boards. Repeat. The Blues continually were being forced wide, both by a combination of LA’s defense and seemingly by their own choice. The Kings cut down a lot of the lanes but constantly, especially on the power play, the Blues opted to hunt for the dream pass rather than fire a puck at the net. This lesson to get pucks on the net and see what happens should have been perfectly illustrated on the team’s only goal.
Looking ahead, the Blues have to play with more fire in Game 2. LA now holds the momentum and the home ice advantage. They bullied the Blues around for the majority of Game 1. They made the St. Louis offense look feeble. We expected this but we didn’t expect every St. Louis forward to get muscled off the puck on such a regular basis.
Game 1 was a game the Blues could have won. Eliminate the short-handed goal and clean up some of the mistakes and you’ve got yourself a victory. If one of the team’s shots in the opening period was a few inches higher we might have a recap where the Blues survived a barrage yet walked out as the victor.
The next couple days offer the Blues a chance to regroup and bring the series level on Monday night. Alex Pietrangelo suffered an injury on the previously mentioned boarding call and will be evaluated on Sunday.
Stay tuned. This series has a lot of hockey left.