By Lou Korac
The first period was set up as a game in which the Blues would find a way to win.
They were crisp, they were aggressive, strong on the forecheck, they were for the most part clean with their play, even though they came out of Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens Saturday at Enterprise Center tied 1-1 after 20 minutes.
Everything was fine, on equal footing, on home ice. Just build on the game and continually get better is the Blues’ way.
But then came the “whoops” moment.
A harmless shot — not even a shot, more like a whipping in of the puck into the offensive zone — from the blue line that caught the stick of goalie Jake Allen, a shot that appeared to be going wide from the dump-in. But instead, it caromed into the net for a 2-1 Montreal lead.
Ouch. Ugly. A what-the-heck-just-happened moment.
Ryan O’Reilly won the center ice face-off, and Sammy Blais got outworked by Gallagher for the initial puck, then took a swipe at it in an attempt to possibly get it to teammate Colton Parayko, but then Parayko lobbed his stick forward in an attempt to poke-check it away from Gallagher. Instead, Gallagher won that battle too and caught Allen in perhaps an unfocused moment.
Yeah, we’ve seen this before, a bad goal from No. 34.
Most of the crowd didn’t even see it, or knew what the heck happened, because many of them had yet to get settled into their seats yet.
Six seconds is all it took, and the Blues were cooked.
They shouldn’t have been, but they were, because we’ve seen this before. Dejected instead of picking things back up and get on the hop again.
There were still 39 minutes 54 seconds of hockey left to be played, down just one goal, but the defending Stanley Cup champs were defeated, and that’s what angered coach Craig Berube most.
“It definitely happens, but we can’t allow … our team, veteran team, we’ve got to be better than that to let that affect us that much,” Berube said. “We’ve got to be mentally tougher than that.”
Can’t, and won’t, argue with the coach on this one. This is a team that just four months ago went through the most grueling stretch of season it will ever see and made it through as battle-tested as can be.
This shouldn’t affect the remainder of this, the eighth game of the regular season that dropped the Blues to 3-2-3 on the season, or in simpler terms, just three wins in eight games to start. Good teams should find a way to motivate themselves even more, stay the course and play the right way, which is what the Blues were doing.
But they’ve seen this before. After all, this is Allen, who has either been so incredibly good on many nights and so incredibly bad on others. There seems to be no in-between with the veteran. He made some terrific saves of the 24 he faced (20 saves) Saturday, but that second goal is the kind of deflating goal we’ve been before, and too often.
“I’m going to take a lot of responsibility for that one on that goal,” said Allen, who has allowed eight goals on 53 shots in two starts (1-1-0), good for a 4.17 goals-against average and .849 save percentage. “I think it took a lot of wind out of our sails. I thought we had a pretty decent first period … That’s on me for losing that momentum for the boys.
“It hit my stick and somehow hit my shaft and went the other way, but hey, there’s no excuses.”
Allen is right, there are no excuses, and to his credit, he owned up to it, but this isn’t the first time he’s had to do that, unfortunately. Goalies will have bad games, even the best of them, but he’s had them more often that the Blues would certainly care for.
However, Berube is right, it shouldn’t deflate a veteran-laden team, not at that time, not at that scoreline, not like that. But a lot of these players have witnessed some of those deflating types of goals before, almost as if they’re waiting for them to happen, and that’s a bad recipe for playing the game the right way.
“I’m sure he’d like to have that back, but it’s the other goals he has no chance on,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said of Allen. “If we don’t give those up, we win the game.
“I think we had a decent answer to the (following) shift. Again, we shot ourselves in the foot on the (fourth) goal. [Colton Parayko’s] playing without his stick. We’ve got to find a way to protect that and get the puck in and not allow them to come on the rush. It’s tough to defend when you don’t have a stick. There’s nothing you can do about that. So we’ve got find a way to just keep protecting each other, and keep being simple, especially in the second.”
Pietrangelo is speaking of Nick Suzuki’s goal, which made it 4-1 for the Canadiens, the one where he walked uncontested down the slot and could have camped out waiting for the puck to arrive. But that didn’t happen.
Why is Ivan Barbashev making a careless play in the neutral zone knowing his teammate has been without a stick for 25-30 seconds instead of putting a puck in deep to protect his teammate and allow him to get off the ice? Why were the Blues, rock solid on the penalty kill the first seven games (16-for-17, including 15 straight kills) allowing two wide gap cross-ice seam passes to help set up two Montreal power-play goals? Why isn’t the puck distribution crisp yet? Why are the Blues turning pucks over in the neutral zone? Why this, why that?
It all seemed like a trickle-down effect to what should have been a simple, harmless dumping of the puck into the Blues’ zone.
A second goal that ruined what was a solid 20 minutes of play but shouldn’t have.
“It’s not a buy-in right now, not enough of a buy-in to team play,” Berube said.
“Yeah, everybody,” Berube said. “Everybody’s accountable. Everybody, you know.”
We’ve used the term ‘It’s early’ already, and it still is, and as David Perron, who along with Jaden Schwartz scored Saturday, pointed out, the Blues just have to find a way to get on the same page.
“We have to find a way to build our game a little bit more and be a little more structured and have the mentality that wave after wave we’re going to go on the ice and make a difference and set up the next line for the right success,” Perron said. “I think it will come but obviously we’re working on that.”
This is how the Blues won the Stanley Cup. This is how they swept the NHL by storm last spring and summer. They definitely have some catching up to do. There have been spurts, at times lengthy ones, but this is definitely a work in progress, trying to recapture some of that structured play of a season ago.
“Every team’s playing their best against us. We know that,” Pietrangelo said. “And we’ve got to expect that throughout the entire season. Teams are going to keep pushing against us, they’re not going to stop.
“Everyone’s got to get on the same page. I think everybody is trying to do so much, trying to be a difference-maker. We just got to keep things easy and simple and be able to read off each other a little bit easier.”
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports