ST. LOUIS 2
Seriously, this is so much fun. Even on an early Sunday where either afternoon or 6pm games are always slow starters for whatever reason and the fans are always a little bit out of it, this was absolutely awesome when we got going.
What I'll take from this game is that we can win with a seriously subpar defensive group even when playing a physical team...and that when teams have to open up and try to catch us, they are dead. The Blues realized part way through the second that they weren't going to squeak this one out and weren't generating enough solid chances. As soon as they tried to stretch out the play, we were rushing at them like mad men. It could easily have been 6 or 7 goals for us tonight.
To give some insight into how far the forwards have come...once Ales is healthy again, we'll have to sit someone and it may well be Sam Gagner...and we're not terrified. I'd greatly prefer it be Jones but that seems unlikely. The logical choice is Lander...but he sure is doing some nice things on the PK and in tough spots against tough players. We have some very very good problems right now up front.
They're certainly not perfect...but no team is at this point in the season. Most aren't also missing two of their very best players. What we are doing though is building a ton of confidence in the fact that we can make games go the right way for us. We have the ability to lock the barn door and wait for an offensive chance; or to push other teams into giving us one. In games where the refs haven't been a joke...we're drawing penalties. STL was allowed to get away with some serious liberties tonight, and we should have drawn a number of additional powerplays. That we didn't get them doesn't change the plays that should have drawn them.
We're obviously heading out on a pretty serious-looking road trip here...and this is both a massive challenge and massive opportunity. For once, we've taken advantage of a nice stretch of home games (even though we played some really solid hockey teams) and are in a position where we know we can run and now have the opportunity to announce our presence to this whole league. This is huge...and it's going to be a serious ride. If they went out and grabbed a #2/3 defenceman without sacrificing significant resources, I'd say they'd be totally ready to roll some teams. We shall see what is to come.
- Just another ho-hum night for #35 this year. The two goals he allowed were both fairly exceptional; Backes shot was not only perfectly placed but straight through Petry and the other goal was an ugly scramble. Everything else was gravy. Once again, focused and active are the words I'd use to describe Khabibulin which is something I just couldn't do last year. I can see how it'd be hard to focus through our last two years...but man, it's just a different guy there. He didn't have to be spectacular tonight, but there were two specific sequences in the third where he was money and kept our lead at 2. He allowed our inexperienced and thrown-together D to play a much more comfortable game. Lovely.
- Stepped right in and played a really solid game when we needed it badly. Aside from not playing Backes' goal very well (that's a must block), he was really good. The most noticeable thing he did tonight was grab the puck at around his blue line and skate it with authority into the opposition zone on multiple occasions. He also jumped in very nicely on Eberle's goal to pressure the STL defence into allowing a mismatch. He needs to stay and to play. Too good to sit when among this current crop.
- We needed him to step up very very badly and for pretty much the whole night he did that. Aside from a couple shaky corner battles late, he made solid decisions with the puck and stayed in position most all night. His pass to set up Hall's breakaway was a thing of beauty...quick read, couple quick steps and fired it right onto Hall's stick. Awesome. Also did a really nice job in supporting Plante. We need more of this from Theo plus a whack of physicality.
- The Corey Power Potter Play rolls on...lovely little pass to Hopkins at just the right time to allow him to set up Horcoff for the goal. He generates the lanes and chances that more experienced defencemen haven't been able to provide us with. Tonight was a repeat of his other games...solid D positioning, walked the line in the offensive zone and intimidates opposing forwards trying to contain him. So steady. Lock him up before he commands 3 mil.
- He struggled...but struggled well enough. Unfortunately for Alex and for us, he's just not an NHL defender. When you watch him play, you'll notice that he spends way too much time worrying about having one hand on his stick and staring out at the play rather than getting involved in it. What he managed to do though was not have any ugly blow-ups and that certainly is worth something for a guy pressed into action like that against a pretty decent hockey club with some big, powerful forwards.
- Beautiful game. He was in superb defensive position the whole game and even excelled when necessity required him to be separated from Gilbert. As usual when #5 plays a solid game, he skated the puck beautifully to positions where he could make a strong and safe pass. This is the key to his game and when he's on he's tremendous at it. Awesome shot-blocking tonight as well.
- I remember one awkward sequence in our defensive corner that resulted in a giveaway. Aside from that...if you'd like to see what the definition is of a perfect game from a team's #1 defenceman, go watch the game over and observe Gilbert. WIth the puck tonight he was absolutely stupendous...every decision was good and most were perfect. He was everywhere on a night when they needed him to be huge. So glad to see him back to playing this way and there's zero reason he can't keep up his game this way because it's perfectly within itself.
- This crew got the job done very nicely for us tonight. I have to wonder if it is difficult for teams to transition from playing this line to playing Hopkins' line and then back again because it is so drastically different. Horcoff had himself a pretty stupendous game. His goal was a nice little read in a spot that has become a strong point of his game especially this year. When the play goes to the front of the net on the PP, Horcoff is either screening, driving or getting a stick on the puck. That's pretty much exactly what you need. He absolutely owned the faceoff dot tonight and seemingly out of nowhere is on a 7-game point streak. Second-best hockey of his career for sure. Smyth is doing what he does best; playing well and making it look incredibly awkward! Both goals were the result of him driving the net and went through Halak's pads. I won't complain though because it looks so much better than the super slow motion slapshot. I'm not sure what happened to him in the third, but that fluffed breakaway was just ugly...The thing that he and Horcoff have done though is brought a level of stability and responsibility to the defensive zone from their combined effort...it makes the D's job much easier. Jones was fairly decent tonight in that he won some battles and was physical. I'm still waiting for him to use some speed to get open, but perhaps this line just doesn't generate rush chances really.
- Great little play by Hall on the Horcoff goal driving through to distract the D...such good fundamental hockey. It is these things that make the difference between wins and losses. I'm guessing Hall actually goes home tonight pretty frustrated because he missed a breakaway (stop going backhand-fivehole Taylor...it's a low % move and you have a great forehand), an absolutely filthy juke-and-feed from Eberle (why whack at that rather than holding it for a fraction of a second as Eberle would have?) and just about scored the goal of the year after making a STL defender look absolutely stupid. The pass he made to set up Eberle's goal was stupendous...but it says something about a player when he's a big part in two goals and we're able to look and clearly say he should have had more. Eberle was Eberle...silly-solid and constantly generating offensive chances. You don't have to worry about him in an even more solid way than you don't have to worry about a guy like Smyth. I love how he's adapted so well to his role of helping control the point with Potter and there were several excellent examples of that puck exchange tonight. The thing about Eberle is he was actually frustrated with having not been able to shoot that goal he scored in...he's so demanding of and confident in himself that he thinks he should have shot that puck into the net. Love that guy. Hopkins obviously made an absolutely perfect read and pass to Horcoff for the goal (all while showing that the Hall and Potter pass options were still there), but what I liked about his game were the subtle offensive plays where he turned on the speed on even if he didn't get a good chance he took the puck to a safe area, his wicked-hard shot in the third period that just barely missed, and his subtle D that kept STL from getting several solid chances. Lovely effort from these guys tonight.
- For a line that got no points tonight, they were pretty impressive. Sam pretty much turned off the giveaway machine he's been operating these past couple games. He got his slapshot on net and generated some rebounds, as well as making a great little move and read that was stopped by Halak in the third. He needs to build on tonight's performance. Magnus blew by several defenders and used his speed once again to keep plays alive in the offensive zone. He was also very good in the defensive zone. I understand he's got to be frustrated and you could see that in the third when he worked himself into a really nice chance, was stopped by Halak and hung his head for a time. The thing is, it hasn't impacted the other aspects of his game on most nights and specifically tonight. Poor Eric Belanger had a really tough game despite playing quite well. He got his head bashed into the boards twice, then got the most ludicrous boarding penalty I've seen in some time. I'd have forgiven him if he snapped on someone before the end of that game. Thing is...he was once again very solid on the defensive zone including a couple of absolutely key defensive breakups and got some pretty solid offensive things happen. He owned the dot too.
- These guys right now are precisely what a fourth line should be. They're generating a really solid forecheck and some decent chances while not really giving up anything offensively. While Eager had a pretty solid game in terms of skating with speed and being in the right place, I actually thought he could have been better as he whiffed on a couple shots and missed some passing opportunities. Still a solid game, but I wonder why he doesn't seem to take wrist shots ever...Petrell again was super solid defensively, hit when he had the chance and played his position wonderfully. Lander? Again, broken record. In position, took beating, moved puck forward. Excellent job from this crew tonight.
The thing I think I like most about this team right now is their attitude. They are saying they saw this coming. They are very very demanding of themselves. They are very calm about things. The young guys and the veterans are on the same page and enjoying themselves. This is what the beginning of special teams often looks like.