ST. LOUIS 5
I felt pretty good headed to the game tonight to be honest. This seemed like the kind of night where we might really storm out of the gate. I was actually surprised when that didn't happen. Silly me.
We had a whole lot of nothing going on in the first period. I'm sure some of this can be credited to the fact that STL is a good hockey team. but in the first period you also saw the Eager-Horcoff-Jones line get an absolute ton of shifts. There's no reason for this. The line isn't great defensively, has very little offensive capability, and despite the fact that all the players on it are "quick", can't keep up. This combo was a mistake by Renney that I'm sure was somewhat aided by management sending Paajarvi down (which we can debate the merits of separately) and hurt our team tonight. The lines that need to be out there in the first getting us the lead did not get enough icetime to impose their will on the Blues and break them out of their system (which is a good one).
The Blues seemed to enjoy a bunch of success pushing our breakout to the left wing with strong pressure. This ability waned as the game went on but in the first period it appeared to be quite obvious. One thing I've noticed over the course of the year is that our team always lags behind in terms of adapting its breakout. Often times, it will take until the second or third period for us to change when another squad has us shut down. That's unacceptable. Tonight it was obvious that the boards were effectively closed off and it took forever for us to try a passing game geared more towards the middle of the ice. Once we did that we were much better for a time.
This one got away from us for a lot of reasons. There were several occasions where the momentum seemed to be headed our way only to be stifled.
Smyth's major was an obvious one. It looked very clearly from the live POV that Smyth's stick got caught which pushed Polak off balance, then Smyth let up quite a bit but still managed to take his man into the boards. I can't see why this should have been a major outside of local minor hockey and there certainly shouldn't be a suspension. The thing that bothers me most though, is the way the refs refuse to make a call, and instead stand around staring at the injured player as if they're taking their cue from that. That is no way to officiate a sport.
Then we had the Hall/Hemsky collision. The game may already have been done due to the fourth goal, but this shift was really buzzing when Eberle left to be replaced by Hemsky. Ales saw Hall with the puck and read that he'd probably loop back and tried to hit a lane to the net with speed where Hall could get him the puck. Obviously this didn't work out, the puck went the other way and a penalty shot resulted. Pretty crummy turn of a events and a mistake (though one based in trying to make the right play) from Hemsky. The thing is. Renney's understanding of this was different...and completely incorrect. He seemed to blame Hall for being out on the ice too long and said something to the effect of "he should have dumped it". What idiocy. The guy has the puck on a string all shift and you're losing...you have to try to create there and the best way to do that is for your best players to have the puck on their stick.
There were many other little things that didn't go our way, including multiple chances for defencemen to score. Between Whitney (3), Barker (2), Schultz (2) and Potter (1) at the very least, all of these guys could have been on the scoreboard. I don't know why they were jumping in so much, but the pucks came to them and they couldn't finish. It doesn't surprise me from Schultz (other than that he jumped in), but it does from the other three.
St. Louis' finest efforts were reserved for the front of their own net. They made several pokes, stick lifts and positional plays at just the right times to squelch the scoring chances of guys like Eberle, Hall and Eager. Pietrangelo and Colaiacovo led the way in this department (Carlo especially).
- You know #40 is going to have a bad night when he's not coming out of his crease. Tonight he played well back in the net and got burned repeatedly because of it. More than this, he didn't look into the game at all. No focus, very slow and unreactive (at least three other pucks hit him without him even looking in their general direction), and just bad positionally as well. One of his poorer efforts and he should have been pulled after the second goal. Renney is bad for leaving his goalies in. The Nichol slapper was completely embarrassing and if that isn't an obvious sign that a goalie is off, I don't know what is. The MacDonald wrister was nothing to write home about either. He had clear looks at both. Brutal.
- I suppose this was part of the reason Renney didn't use the hook earlier. Danis made a couple decent stops but also played like you'd expect an AHL goaltender to. This is no Martin Gerber. Both goals scored against him were moving quite slowly and went past the left pad. I'm not saying I expected him to stop them (especially the penalty shot), but that doesn't mean I'm not disappointed in the quality of goals he allowed.
There is almost no point to going on. If you get goaltending that bad, you probably shouldn't win. Still, we had moments...and OTHER moments.
- I feel as though I should start with the positive no matter how limited it may be. I remember one solid pinch up the boards, a couple strong drives to the net that could have resulted in goals, and a lot of unpenalized crosschecks that surely wore on the Blues backs and patience. Aside from that, he was horrible and the major reason outside of shoddy goaltending that we lost this game. Perhaps tied for that honor in fact. He pinched horribly on multiple occasions (some of which led to goals), took a bad penalty that led to another, and generally made more work for his poor defensive partner all night. There is no way #13 should see the ice next game and I'm still perplexed as to why he played tonight.
- Made the best of a bad situation. He fumbled the puck a couple of times at the opposition blue line, but tried to play physically and did his best to cover for Barker's defensive gaffes. He did okay at this. The thing is, when you play Potter with a guy like Barker, he can't use the strengths of his game such as skating with the puck, jumping in, making plays and making some daring passes. He still managed to get to the net a time or two, but his effectiveness was limited in his role tonight. Great shot on the goal. He picks corners well.
- Made some interesting things happen, especially offensively. The slap-pass he made to Hall in third, though likely too late, was sublime. It seems to be the one play he has in the repertoire that has not been impacted since he was at his best. He also drove the net, sometimes at strange points (such as a rush with Hemsky and Hall where he overtook Hopkins...why?) but he was unable to get a strong puck at the net to capitalize. Defensively, he was just okay as he missed his check on a few occasions and didn't really impose his will physically.
- Very interesting first game from our new recruit. I wasn't expecting him to go to the net aggressively and get a couple chances but he did, which was nice to see. I don't see a lot of close-in shooting or finishing ability though as he kinda flubbed both. Defensively he relies mainly on skating it would appear. In 50/50 races, his quick start and smooth stride serve him very well and he won just about every one of these that I recall. I can only remember one "pass to no one" up the boards as someone had mentioned might be a problem. and even this one was likely due to miscommunication. He doesn't really look for the hit, but that also means he's in good position a lot of the time. I look forward to seeing more from him...though I think his ideal partner may have been Gilbert...crap.
- One of #5's weaker games in a while. He missed his check on a few occasions, including the fourth St. Louis goal. I also didn't see a lot of work on the opposition blue line, much physical play or skating strongly with the puck. I'm sure he'll rebound.
- He was also a little off tonight, but not as much as Smid. There weren't a lot of times where he skated the puck up, but there were still a couple. He hammered a shot off Halak's mask after making a nice little play that was very impressive. He also maintained his hitting for puck separation style of play, and used his size well in tonight's game. This guy's certainly improved a bunch this year.
- I sometimes wonder if Hordichuk doesn't fall on purpose when he goes for the first punch in a fight and misses. He fell after such an effort tonight and it looked a little too easy. He landed a couple of hits but didn't really do too much. That assist he got was, I suppose a solid hockey play anyway. The shift that resulted in that goal was a good one for the team, as was a shift near the same time that drew a penalty, so they were effective in this way. Petrell did a bunch of solid work on the PK, got in well on the forecheck and made an effort but couldn't get a decent shot off. Belanger wandered around the lineup as the game went on, never really doing much of anything other than very very slowly getting a shot or two on net. Blah.
- I noted some complaints about this line above. Eager was probably the best of the three, as not only did he give a good effort in the offensive and neutral zones, he broke up a couple dangerous looking St. Louis rushes including one where he was the last man back. Impressive stuff from a player like him. He couldn't get any offence going tonight, but I'm mostly going to lay that at the feet of Jones and Horcoff. Jones hit a couple people, but had the chances to do more of that and backed down. He couldn't provide a spark and couldn't use his speed to get in behind the St. Louis D. Because he was not pushing for offence and Magnus is no longer on the line, this group looked like it was playing in mud half the time. Horcoff once again struggled mightily with the puck, overskated his check more often than usual, and just didn't make a lot happen. This line was boring and not particularly great and getting the puck headed the other direction.
- Smyth was struggling from the get-go tonight, as he was not winning any races and was forced to rely on an outstretched stick to try to make plays. As those of you who play or have played hockey know, this rarely works. He also wasn't passing the puck in a particularly effective manner. Gagner was a little better but not much. He wasn't getting the puck as much as he usually does and seemed to be out of position for some reason. There was just no pop to his offensive game. Because of this, Eberle essentially had to get the puck and get himself to scoring position rather than go to that position and get it from Gagner or Smyth. This is hard work and the Blues took advantage by impeding him well and often taking the puck. Eberle still could have scored, and probably should have at the end of the second. This would have tied the game and I'd guess we would have had a very different third period. Twas not to be tonight. Good to see Eberle on the PK as well.
- This line was oh so close to having an amazing night. There were too many dynamic little efforts to count by all three of these guys and for whatever reason the finish wasn't there. Hall missed a half-empty net in the first after great passes from the other two. Hopkins was making little flick saucer passes to himself and the others all night long as well as getting shots of his own on. Hemsky was cruising the open lanes and filtering the puck to the front of the net for both his linemates and the defence. The only thing they got to show for these efforts was pretty but not enough. Hopkins skated to an open spot at the Blues blue line and just missed a solid pass effort from Schultz. He didn't peel off but instead headed to the net. Hemsky was first in, and knowing Hall was directly behind, lifted the STL defender's stick and kept him going out of the play, Hall then swooped in for the puck and fed a wide open Hopkins who made no mistake on the roof job. Beauty goal. I'm going to say here that you cannot play Potter and Barker (emphasis on the Barker) with these guys. I've never understood why coaches match 3rd pairing D with first pairing forwards and tonight was a perfect example. They had zero support on the opposition blue line and that meant the three forwards had a much larger area to control. It just didn't work out. The line broke up for a short time after the Hall/Hemsky mix-up, but got back together and looked good. I would strongly consider Gagner with these guys, or the crazy part of me would recall Paajarvi and try Hall at C. Try and keep up with those freaks. So, despite the minus-2, I think they were right on the cusp.
Disappointing but understandable loss. Inconsistent goaltending, shoddy D and missed chances will get you every time.