Here’s a roundup of what’s swirling in my head in reaction to the Blues’ frustrating 4-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on Saturday afternoon at Enterprise Center.
1. Remain calm, NoteHeads.
Going into the second game, I was pretty certain of these things:
(A) This would be a long series, most likely seven games, and we’d experience jolts of joy, followed by sharp pangs of sadness. This is will not be a smooth ride for either side. The Blues and Stars are aligned and tightly matched. “It’s not going to be easy,” Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington said. “These teams are here for a reason.”
(B) Dallas would receive a super-saver performance from the goaltender Ben Bishop who wasn’t his towering and unyielding self in the Blues’ 3-2 win in the series opener. To no one’s surprise, Game 2 reaffirmed Bishop’s rep as one of the best goaltenders on the continent. In addition to holding the Blues off with timely saves, Bishop’s slick puck-handling skill is neutralizing the Blues’ forecheck. And Bishop’s physical play is distracting the Blues.
(C) Only the truly uniformed would be stunned by Dallas prevailing in Game 2, turning the place into the Starship Enterprise. Through Sunday, road teams were 6-2 in the first eight games of the second round.
This continues a rip-tide of a trend. The eight teams that got through the first round went a remarkable 15-8 on the road overall; Western Conference teams won eight of 12. St. Louis (3-0) and Dallas (2-1) were two of the NHL’s more resilient and impressive road teams in round one, so an EKG shouldn’t be necessary after watching the Stars go 1-1 in St. Louis
And it would stun absolutely no one to see the Blues scrum for a split of the next two games at American Airlines Center Dallas.
(Yo: about the name on the Dallas arena … does that mean the games played there start much later than scheduled? Just asking.)
It’s time for the Blues to win on the road again.
We know that they’re capable of getting it done — but Dallas is better, and has more competitive character, than Winnipeg. So the road turns tougher now.
The Blues have been so erratic at home — they are now 2-3 in the postseason — that winning on the road has turned into a mandatory mission.
Time to modify a popular media narrative, OK? Yes the Blues have elevated themselves with great play on the road. But here’s what your friendly neighborhood media person forgets to tell you: Just about EVERY team worth a box of pucks is winning on the road during this tournament, OK? This virtue is hardly exclusive to the Blues.
More emphasis should be placed on winning home games. I suspect the teams that make it to the Stanley Cup final will secure a good number of wins on home ice.
And to this point the Blues aren’t getting the necessary results at Enterprise.
But onward … on the road again … the Blues need to triumph in at least one of these games.
2. The Blues were embarrassingly inept during the 4-on-4 segment that essentially determined Game 2.
Trailing 1-0, the boys gave up two goals during the 4-on-4 fumble during the 1st period … each goal popped in after the Blues’ weak puck management and blank-headed decisions. With the Blues scrambling around — so disoriented — the Stars swooped for ridiculously easy goals. As the Blues discovered, Dallas has fast wheels and a helluva transition game.
3. During the first intermission on NBC there was some chatter about the Blues possibly sitting Binnington and plugging in Jake Allen.
Look, when the locals overreact and momentarily misplace their minds … well, that’s understandable. But I was surprised to hear such pablum on the network. Binnington wasn’t the issue in the first period. His wandering, careless teammates left Binnington flopping around like a fish on a deck.
During 5-on-5 play, Binnington stopped 22 of 23 shots (.957 pct.) including seven of eight high-danger chances. And with the Blues getting outshot 18-10 in the third period, Binnington made money saves to give the Blues a shot to rally.
Was Bishop better than Binnington in this one? Sure — just as Binnington outplayed Bishop in Game 1. In other words: PLAYOFF HOCKEY.
4. Let’s return to Bishop for a minute, OK?
(A) At 6-7, Big Ben is a massive and physical goaltender who doesn’t hesitate to be the aggressor with opponents in front of the net. Bishop doesn’t require special protection from officials; he’s often the instigator. Smart officials know this. And dumb officials call penalties on opponents that stand up to Bishop when the big fella gets ornery. Yeah, that was a really dumb call in the third period, sending David Perron off for goaltender interference.
(B) Memo to Blues’ fans: I love you … but I have no idea what you’re doing in thinking that you’ll unnerve Bishop with the predictable “Bish-op, Bishop” chant and taunt. Bishop loves this. He thrives on this. He welcomes this. That angle was explored by media in both markets before the series got underway. As a St. Louis teen, Bishop was in the stands as part of the “Bel-Four, “Bel-Four” chorus during a Stars-Blues playoff series. This is entertaining to him. Your taunts were a compliment to the man. And Bishop sure appreciated it.
As the smiling Bishop told the assembled media platforms after Game 2: “It’s pretty crazy to think you were that kid up there in St. Louis screaming (Eddie) Belfour’s name, and now you’re on the ice and they’re screaming your name. You don’t think about it during the game. Never in a million years did I think about it as a kid, that I’d be here playing against the Blues. But it’s kinda cool.”
5. All in all, the Blues have done a stellar job against the Dallas top line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov.
Benn scored a power-play goal in Game 1. But in the predominant even-strength situations in the first two games, the Stars’ star trio had a total of nine shots on goal and one assist. But Dallas coach Jim Miontgomery is at home now, and he’ll have the last change before faceoffs. Montgomery can keep his top three away from the Blues excellent defensive pairing of Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester.
6. Problem is, the Stars’ other lines are doing damage to the Blues.
Especially the No. 2 grouping of Jason Dickinson, Roope Hintz and Mats Zuccarello. That threesome combined for seven points in Game 2. The trio of Mattias Janmark, Justin Downey and Jason Spezza is playing very well. And line of Blake Comeau, Radek Fasa and Andrew Cogliano has nothing to apologize for, either. Going into this event, I was among many who believed the Blues’ forward-line depth would give The Note an edge. Not so. Not yet, anyway. Let’s see what develops in Dallas for Games 3 and 4.
7a. Dickinson, Janmark, Comeau and Cogliano were the lead attack dogs in the Stars’ disruptive forecheck.
They (and others) turned the Blues’ power play into a busted puzzle. Defensemen Esa Lindell, Ben Lovejoy and old friend Roman Polak cleaned up the penalty-kill litter in front of Bishop. But was this a case of the Blues’ power play self-destructing through incompetence?
8. Answer: I suppose both things can be true.
The Dallas PK was effective. The St. Louis PP was ineffective. And the Stars deserve praise; after all they had the league’s fifth-best PK during the season, and blanked Nashville on 15 power plays over the six-game, first-round series. But the Blues were abnormally rattled by the Stars’ rabid forecheck during the home team’s Game 2 power-play opportunities. Why were the Blues so unprepared to deal with the Stars’ penalty-kill tactics? There is video, yes?
9. The Blues went 0 for 5 on the PP in Game 2, and flubbed a 5-on-3 opening.
The inability to score was disappointing and the No. 1 reason why the Blues couldn’t complete their comeback bid. But here’s the worst part about it: getting only eight shots on goal in 9 minutes and 36 seconds of PP time. That’s horrendous. Dallas had one PP … and flicked nine shots on Binnington. Just awful.
10. Until Saturday, the Blues PP had been rolling along without many breakdowns. And it’s premature to assume that their power play will be a blundering liability the rest of the way. But as my friend Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News pointed out, power-play futility can get inside a team’s head and siphon the confidence.
Mostly the Stanley Cup playoffs are all about 1 on 1 contests, players now too familiar with each other battling for inches that might provide the two most precious commodities in hockey — time and space. As Hall of Famer Bob Gainey once explained the playoffs, “It’s me and you, buddy.”
But man-advantage opportunities are viewed as gifts from heaven. Refs are known to swallow their whistles after the regular season and it gets particularly tough to earn power-play time late in games or especially in overtime.
The Blues got lots of power-play time Saturday and went scoreless. That can stick with you if it happens over and over as it did with the Predators. The Stars’ penalty kill ranks No. 1 in the postseason, having stopped 21 of 22 attempts. It’s an aggressive style, more aggressive than most, anyway, and the strategy benefits from knowing the 6-foot-7 Bishop provides the last line of defense.
11. Blues center Ryan O’Reilly may be the best faceoff man in the NHL, but the Stars handled him pretty easily in Game 2.
O’Reilly won only 14 of 34 faceoffs (41 percent) overall, was 2-for-6 on extra-man draws, and 7-for-16 in offensive zone faceoffs. Through two games O’Reilly has won 46 percent of his faceoffs overall. But he’s only 9 for 22 in the offensive zone (40.9%) and 3-for-8 on the power play (37.5%.) All together now: this must change.
12. Blue Notes, Blue Notes, Blue Notes: The Stars blocked 18 shots to the Blues’ five in Game 2 … I don’t know how the Blues could come out flat in the first period (again), but it happened … I also don’t understand how a team that’s trailing can be outshot 18-10 in the third period … according to the Corsi Relative possession metric, the Blues’ worst forwards at even strength during Saturday’s game were Robby Fabbri (minus 14.1), Alex Steen (minus 10.5), Brayden Schenn (minus 10.05), Jaden Schwartz (minus 6.43) and Ivan Barbashev (minus 5.13.) The best forwards were David Perron (plus 13.4), Ryan O’Reilly (plus 13.4), Vladimir Tarasenko (plus 10.3), and Oskar Sundqvist 10.0) … the worst defensemen were Joel Edmundson (minus 14.1), Alex Pietrangelo (minus 9.04), and Carl Gunnarson (minus 6.75) … the best defensemen were Colton Parayko (plus 8.44), Vince Dunn (plus 6.71) and Jay Bouwmeester (plus 2.86.) … this 19-year-old rookie Dallas defenseman, Miro Heiskanan — what a sensational talent. I can’t believe he was snubbed as one of the three finalists for the Calder Trophy (for NHL Rookie of the Year.)
Thanks for reading …