A Tough Loss vs. Detroit; Scenarios for Tomorrow Night vs. Phoenix

With two days left in the regular season, the Blues could be playing one of three teams in their first round playoff series: The Sharks, the Kings, or the Coyotes. Moreover, the Blues could still finish first in the Western Conference if they win both of their remaining games, tonight against Phoenix at home and Saturday in Dallas. Vancouver, after a 3-2 regulation loss in Calgary on Thursday night, has relinquished its hold on the West. In a crazy game in Los Angeles, the Sharks beat the Kings in a shootout, which leaves the fate of the Pacific Division in limbo.

The Blues’ 3-2 shootout loss on Wednesday against Detroit was a bitter pill to swallow. Brian Elliott extended his shutout streak deep into the 3rd period, and after a shorthand goal by David Perron and a tally by Andy McDonald, the Blues led 2-0. Johann Franzen and the Wings came back with a fury as the Blues retreated into a shell. Franzen scored 2 quick ones with under 6 minutes to play to tie the game. It was a disturbing result for a Blues team that has been inconsistent of late, particularly struggling to finish games with the same intensity with which they start them.

Here’s what will happen after tomorrow night’s game against the Coyotes:

With a regulation win on Friday against Phoenix:

The Blues will move to 109 points, tying with Vancouver. By virtue of the Blues’ extra non-shootoout wins (ROW), they would own the tiebreaker for 1st in the conference. Phoenix would remain in 8th, with 93 points and would be slated for a rematch with the Blues in the 1st round, each team with 1 game left.

If the Blues win in OT or a shootout, they would still move into 1st in the West because of the ROW tiebreaker over Vancouver. Phoenix would then have 94 points, the same as LA and San Jose, but because Phoenix has an extra ROW over San Jose but not LA, so the Coyotes would move into 7th.

If the Coyotes win in regulation, they would move into first place in the Pacific, the #3 seed with 95 points to SJ’s and LA’s 94. The Blues would remain in 2nd in the West and would then find it very difficult to win the West. The Kings would slide into the #7 spot and the Shark #8.

A Coyotes win in overtime, and the Blues would gain a point and would then need to get 2 points against Dallas and need Vancouver to lose on Saturday against Edmonton to win the West. The Coyotes would still move to the #3 spot.

Phew. Now on Saturday, that’s where things get REALLY interesting. LA plays SJ at the Shark Tank and the Coyotes visit Minnesota.

While it’s interesting for us fans to think about, the Blues need to focus on winning their last 2 games of the season. Stumbling into the playoffs is a recipe for disaster, and that scenario has doomed too many Blues teams in the past to count. Brian Elliott could very well earn the starting job in game 1 of the playoffs with another shutout tomorrow night, although Jaroslav Halak will have one last chance to establish himself as the go-to guy on Saturday. It’ll likely be Halak, as it should be, but Ken Hitchcock is taking nothing for granted. The Blues can go a long way toward righting the ship (3-3-4 in their last 10) this weekend.


Blues Dominated, Miss Chance to Clinch Central, Lose 4-3 (SO)

The Blues just can’t get it done in Chicago. Something about that building, those colours, that team, and that m**#^&$*@*ing goal song that signify doom for the Note. Whatever it is, it’s an annoying trend. Make no mistake aboot it: the Blackhawks dominated the Blues tonight at the United Center in Chicago, outshooting them 40-20 and winning 4-3 in the shoot out. Yes, the Blues come away with a point, but only on the strength of a 3rd period comeback that, in the grand scheme of the game, was undeserved.

Chicago started the scoring midway through the first on a long wrist shot by Brian Bickell that Jaroslav Halak should have stopped. Alex Steen responded 9 seconds later to tie the game. The 2nd period was sloppy on both sides, but the Blues especially were unfocused and unable to establish a forecheck. So it was unsurprising when the Hawks scored a couple quickies early in the 3rd to build a 3-1 lead.

If there’s one positive from tonight, it’s that the Blues never gave up. Jason Arnott scored on a wraparound midway through the 3rd and then in the last 2 minutes, David Perron tipped home a Kris Russel slapshot to force overtime. Again, the Blackhawks dominated OT but were robbed by several dramatic saves by Jaroslav Halak, the somewhat controversial starter after Brian Elliott’s 3 consecutive shutouts. Halak didn’t disappoint, turning away 7 Chicago shots in overtime, many of them high quality scoring chances.

The shootout…well, who cares? It was scoreless through 3 rounds, some loser for the Blackhawks scored in the 4th round, and Patrick Berglund rang his attempt off the post, and the Blues were denied the chance to clinch the Central Division. They’ll get to try again, this time at home, on Saturday night against the last place Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blues had better start rounding into playoff form, because tonight was bad, and they’ve been inconsistent here down the stretch. Roman Polak’s absence is really hurting this team. When he comes back, a lot of the problems should begin to fix themselves.

Another 2 Points for the Note; A 3-1 Win over Anaheim and FIRST IN THE LEAGUE

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – I’ve run out of good things to say about this team. They just don’t play bad games anymore.

After Tuesday’s 5-1, emotional beat-down of the rival Chicago Blackhawks, Blues fans were concerned about a letdown tonight against the 12th place Anaheim Ducks. But not only was there no letdown, the Blues played one of their best 3rd periods of the year and picked up another 2 points. In the process, coupled with The New York Rangers’ loss to Ottawa (with Ben Bishop picking up the win) the Blues moved into sole possession of first place in the NHL.

Today’s date is March 8th. There is less than a month remaining in the regular season. And the Blues are the best team in the NHL. Let that soak in for a minute.

Tonight, it was about surviving the first 2 periods against a desperate Ducks team. Anaheim took a 1-0 lead on a Corey Perry snapshot over the blocker of Jaroslav Halak early in the 2nd period.

Anaheim was out-skating the Blues and beating them to loose pucks. But it was the Blues’ (suddenly red-hot) power play that bailed them out. David Perron let a shot fly from the left wing, David Backes got a stick on it, and it snuck through the legs of Jonas Hiller. The Blues tied the game at 11:38 of the 2nd.

It was still tied heading into the 3rd. Early in the 3rd, the speedy Andy McDonald sped into the offensive zone, had a give-and-go with Ian Cole, and then fired a pass right onto Patrick Berglund’s stick, which poked the puck through Hiller’s 5-hole for a lead.

The Blues put the game away with another power-play goal 2:01 later, when Kevin Shattenkirk took the face-off, got the puck through traffic, and into the back of the net.

The Blues moved to–brace yourselves–35-0-0 when they score at least 3 goals. The penalty kill has killed off 35 consecutive penalties. And in their last 24 home games, the Blues are 20-1-3. Those stats tell the story.

The Blues are in first place in the entire league at 43-18-7. The next two are a home and home against the last place Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday and Sunday.

Blues Trade Bishop to Ottawa for 2nd Round Pick

The Ben Bishop era in St. Louis is over almost before it began. Regarded as the best goalie not currently in the NHL, Bishop was rumored to have been shopped to several teams before landing in Ottawa. The native St. Louisan and graduate of Chaminade High School, Bishop went 4-5 in 13 games with the Blues over 2 years, with 2.83 goals against average and a .896 save percentage.

Some fans are upset with the return for Ottawa (a 2nd round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft) but unproven goaltenders don’t usually fetch much. Speculation was rampant that the Blues could have packaged Bishop with another player or a draft pick to bring back something more substantial, but GM Doug Armstrong decided against that strategy. The Blues’ negotiating position was made weaker by the fact that Bishop will be an unrestricted free agent after this season unless he plays in 28 NHL games by the end of the year. The Senators only have 19 games left this season but are currently 7th in the Eastern Conference standings.

This is a good trade for the Blues. They weren’t going to get anything major for him, and they were going to lose him after the year anyway. Once Brian Elliott was re-signed, the writing was on the wall for Bishop in St. Louis. 2nd round picks are pretty valuable. It’s another asset the Blues have, and keep this in mind: David Backes was a second rounder.

Blues Lack Composure in Detroit, Lose 3-1

DETROIT – Make no mistake aboot it: the Blues were ready to play tonight. They came out like a pack of hungry dogs tonight at Joe Louis Arena. The first period saw the Blues dominate on the forecheck, win races to puck and puck battles along the boards, play solidly in their own end, and score the first goal of the game, a Scott Nichol one-timer after a bad Red Wings line change.

But everything changed in the last minute of the 1st, when Brad Stuart of the Wings laid a hard but clean hit on Alex Pietrangelo and Chris Stewart went right after him. Stewart pummeled Stuart, landing countless rights, but he ended up with an instigator penalty in addition to a 10 minute misconduct. The Wings, therefore, had a power play to begin the 2nd and wasted no time tying the score at 1 as Pavel Datsyuk came off the far boards, danced around Pietrangelo, and roofed a backhander over Jaroslav Halak’s glove.

Midway through the 2nd, a loose puck found its way onto Johann Franzen’s stick, and he slid it past the outstretched pad of Halak for a 2-1 lead. The Blues were pitiful in the 2nd; they were skating slowly, thinking slowly, and reacting slowly, while Detroit took control. The impressive forechecking of the 1st gave way to lackadaisical effort, and only because Halak made some timely saves were the Blues even in it after 2.

It was more of the same for the first half of the 3rd. But eventually, a sense of urgency kicked in and the Blues started to find their game. Stewart earned himself a great scoring chance by maneuvering around a Detroit defenceman and was in alone on Jimmy Howard, but Howard made a glove save. The Blues still had the momentum with under 4 minutes to play, and the 4-on-4 action, after David Backes and Franzen took coincidental minors, was in their favour. But after Pietrangelo was hit behind his own net by Darren Helm, Carlo Colaiocovo attacked him and practically jumped on his back, drawing a roughing call. With the 4-on-3 advantage, Niklas Kronwall blistered a shot above Halak’s blocker for the backbreaking 2-goal lead.

In the dying seconds of what was a physical game, a scrum in front of the Detroit net resulted in a slew of penalties. Howard threw some punches with his glove and blocker, and Backes and Pietrangelo were right in the middle of it.

It was a disappointing night for St. Louis, who so desperately wanted to establish themselves as one of the elite teams in the Western Conference. And while they’ve done that at home, they’re 0-3-0 in Detroit this year. After such a beautiful first period of hockey, the Blues lost their composure. And you can’t afford to do that against the Wings.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, winners of their last 6, visit the Scottrade Center tomorrow night at 7. It’ll be the Blues’ last game until after the All-Star Break, February 3rd against L.A.

A 1-0 Win That Should’ve Been a 4-0 Win

St. Louis– All the Blues did on Thursday night was come out of the gate and outshoot the Oilers 15-0 in the first 7 minutes. That’s right: 15-0. In the first 2 minutes and 10 seconds, the Blues peppered Oiler goalie Nikolai Khabibulin with 7 shots on goal, including 2 great chances by Patrik Berglund and one by Vladimir Sobotka. Edmonton iced the puck 3 times early on and were out of gas for a majority of the 1st.

Oilers enforcer Ben Eager goaded B.J. Crombeen into a fight that lasted only about 10 seconds, in an attempt to fire his team up. It was unsuccessful. Until the last 3 minutes of the period, when Jason Arnott took a penalty for holding the stick and Edmonton had its first scoring chance, the Blues dominated the game in every way imaginable…except on the scoreboard. The Blues, despite 19 SOGs in the first, just couldn’t put one in the net. Khabibulin was outstanding, of course, Jaroslav Halak only had to face 4 shots, and the game was scoreless after 1.

The Blues came out and had 3 excellent scoring chances in the first minute of the 2nd…but still couldn’t score. 3 minutes into the period, the Oilers and their 2nd-best-in-the-league power play got another opportunity, but the Blues penalty kill was fantastic and didn’t allow any great chances. That power play did, however, shift some of the momentum to the Oilers, and they pushed back, keeping the SOG tally even at 7 in the 2nd period. With about 4 minutes left in the period, the Blues earned a 5-on-3 power play and Arnott sent several blistering slap shots toward the net. None of them found the BACK of the net though. After a beautiful poke check and steal by David Perron in the offensive zone, Sobotka had the puck on his stick all alone in the slot, but he tried one too many moves and had it knocked away by and Edmonton defenceman.

At the very end of the period, the Blues wound up with a 4-on-3 power play that carried over into the 3rd. Once again, no dice for St. Louis. When Edmonton took yet another penalty a minute into the 3rd, giving the Blues yet another 5-on-3, you figured they HAD to score. They threw everything they could at the net once again, to no avail.

Finally, with just over 5 minutes left in regulation, after some sustained pressure in the offensive zone, Alex Pietrangelo had a wraparound chance on his forehand that was kicked out by Khabibulin. About 10 seconds later, he had another wraparound chance, this time on his backhand, and he banked it off the left skate of the Edmonton goalie and into the net for the only goal of the game.

The Blues held on for the win and have not allowed a 3rd period goal in 10 consecutive games. The final shots on goal were 38 for the Blues and only 15 for Edmonton. Halak, who wasn’t very busy but did have to make a couple tough saves, earned his 4th shutout of the year and dropped his GAA to an even 2.00. It was his second shutout in a row (including Monday’s Dallas game) and 3rd in his last 4 games (Montreal). He’s won 6 games in a row.

Don’t get me wrong: the Blues dominated a team they needed to dominate and came away with 2 points. But what has become painfully clear is that the team needs a scorer. They need a true sniper, whose only job is to score goals. What’s Brett Hull up to these days? Backes, Oshie, Arnott, Perron…they’ve been great this year. But they’re not “pure” goal scorers. And in the playoffs, when games get even tighter and lower-scoring, the Blues will need one. Doug Armstrong, you’re up.

The slumping Buffalo Sabres come into town for the last of this 5-game home stand on Saturday night at 7:00.