A friend of mine asked how I would sum up the Blues game one performance. I replied that I thought it was “weak”. For too much of the game, the made weak plays with the puck, took weak angles to fore-check and defend, chose the weak way of defending (using their sticks rather than defending with body position), too much perimeter play from some of the Blues better forwards, etc.
Remember the play where Saad could have been hit for a breakaway with a good pass from the offensive Blue line but the weak pass was intercepted? Remember, shortly before one of the Avs goals where the puck was moving along the wall toward the Blues defensive blue line with three Blues players in proximity but nobody went to the puck and Girard was able to skate by and keep it in by slinging it down the wall. It didn’t lead to a goal but it is a good example of their poor play and the building effect these plays have by forcing you to defend more and more. Jordan Kyrou was caught and went to the offensive zone side of Avalanche players with the puck so many times that I lost count. Cute plays aren’t going to work against the Avalanche. You have to make the strong plays. Staying with Kyrou for a second, other than his goal that he almost fanned on, there wasn’t a lot to like in his performance but more on that later.
Overall, I thought the Blues played a decent road 1st period, especially against one of the best teams in the NHL. Sure some bad giveaways led to the Avalanche hitting some posts and Ryan O’Reilly’s goal included a bit of luck on how it bounced off his shin pad but overall, the Blues were likely pleased where they were after one period.
The second period was one of the worst performances I have seen. Yes the Avalanche are good and deserve credit but the Blues were making simple, fundamental mistakes.
Look at Colton Parayko’s wall play before the Valeri Nichushkin goal. Look how he hits Mikko Rantanen and then rolls off and away from Rantanen, making the hit worthless and leaving Rantanen free to make a play, which he does.
Parayko's poor effort at a board battle
Look at Scott Perunovich’s play on the Avalanche second goal. He makes a poor attempt at a blocked shot, screening Binnington. He’s no Robert Bortuzzo. Perunovich may be a wizard quarterbacking a power play but his play in his own end should make Blues fans nervous. He is often over-matched in front of the net, stuck in areas where he isn’t really defending a threat and in this case screening his goalie. Of course, he is very young and did lose development time due to injuries. I’m not knocking his potential but he is being forced into a hard spot, defending against one of the better teams in the NHL in the second round of the playoffs.
Bortuzzo needs to teach Perunovich how to block shots
The Blues were able to send the game to overtime thanks to a very smart play by Justin Faulk, catching the Avalanche in a rare, sloppy line change. Kyrou lost the puck a bit which worked to his advantage as it allowed him to move through the defense and, more importantly, it changed the expected angle of the shot.
Unfortunately, it was all for not as the Avalanche dominated the long change ice again in overtime, outshooting the Blues 13-0 in overtime. I think there are a few things to note on the overtime goal. The first is that the Avalanche run subtle interference, pick plays, etc all the time and do it in a smart way, averting penalty calls.
Watch how Artturi Lehkonen interferes with and holds Niko Mikkola, preventing Mikkola from getting control off the puck.
Lehkonen interferes with Mikkola
Even if the referee thought this penalty worth, they likely wouldn’t call It because Jordan Kyrou should get the puck anyway. By erasing Mikkola, the Avalanche now have Gabriel Landeskog against Jordan Kyrou for the puck battle, a matchup the Avalanche would take all game log. Kyrou makes a weak play on the puck and doesn’t protect against Landeskog and it starts the sequence to the overtime losing goal.
As a side note, the scorers did not give Kyrou a giveaway on that play. One of the reasons I believe that analytics aren’t that useful yet is that the underlying data appears to be woefully inaccurate. Perhaps I’ll write a blog on this in the future but for now back to game one.
If the Blues want to have a chance in this series, they are going to need a lot more from their core forwards. Vladimir Tarasenko was mostly invisible in game one and has been in three of his seven playoff games this year. In those three games, he had a combined one shot. Compare that to the other games where he averaged almost four shots per game.
Robert Thomas looks very similar in that he has three games this playoffs with no points and one shot or less, getting no points and no shots in game one. Three assists in seven games isn’t a pace that will lead the Blues past the second round.
Game one was Pavel Buchnevich’s second no point, no shot, -2 game this playoffs. He’s been more consistent and productive than Tarasenko and Thomas but the Blues need him to elevate his game.
Some people are beginning to wonder if Ivan Barbashev is hurt. Barbashev has one assist in seven games and his shot doesn’t have normal pace that it usually does. He also had a game where he played less than ten minutes and played less than thirteen in game one even with the Blues only dressing eleven forwards.
Calle Rosen struggled some during the game, much like he did during his early action in the Minnesota series. Hopefully he settles down like he did against the Wild.
Jordan Binnington got the second star of the game, stopping 51 of 54 shots, including some spectacular saves. The Blues special teams were perfect. Ryan O’Reilly and Brandon Saad had good games.
The glass half full crowd will take solace knowing that they were shot away from a victory even though most of the team played poorly while the half empty crowd will say that only the goal posts and an insane performance from Jordan Binnington kept the game from being a blowout.
I’ll try to come back tomorrow with why I said before this series (on twitter) that I thought comparing this year’s series to last may be that accurate and how last year’s series wasn’t as lopsided as some are remembering.
It’s a great day for hockey.