The Dirty Dozen: A List Of 12 Things The Blues Must Do To Defeat the Bruins In Game 4

OK, let’s move on and take a look at Game 4: Bruins at Blues, 7 p.m. faceoff at a roiling Enterprise Center. It’s a critically important game for the home team.

It’s rally time. Again.

The Blues are down to the Bruins 2-1 in the Stanley Cup Final and can’t afford to let the Bruins go back to Boston with a 3-1 lead and a chance to order the duck boats for The Hub’s latest sports parade.

Here’s a list of what the Blues must do to even the series. I’ve repurposed this from a piece written Sunday to give it more focus (on Game 4) and have added additional commentary and info.

Anyway.

1-Um, win. With Saturday’s sorrowful 7-2 loss, the Blues are 5-6 at Enterprise Center this postseason. They’ve been outscored 33-28 overall at home. That includes a visiting-team goal margin of 25-18 at even strength. More home numbers at even-strength play: visitors have cashed in 21 scoring-chance goals to the Blues’ 12. And visitors have outscored the Blues 16-6 in high-danger shots from the slot and crease.

2-The Blues must terminate their lease in the penalty box. The Bruins pelted the Blues for four power-play goals in Saturday’s rout, going 4-for-4. The Bruins are 23-for-64 on the PP this the postseason (36 percent.)

If that excellent rate holds, or improves, the Bruins could finish with the best power-play success percentage by a team in NHL postseason history (minimum 12 games.)

The only postseason teams that have scored more frequently on the power play than the 2019 Bruins are the 1981 NY Islanders (38.5%) and the 2018 Bruins (36.4%.)

During the last two postseasons this Bruins’ core has 35 power play goals in 32 games and have clicked on a PP success rate of 36.1 percent. That’s preposterously potent  … so why do the Blues continue to put themselves at a disadvantage by arming the league’s best power play?

The Blues had the fewest penalties among playoff participants through three rounds — an average of only 2.1 per game — but have set up the Bruins’ lethal power play 14 times in three games. (Average: 4.6 per game.) And the Bruins have converted six of 14 (42.8 percent.)

3-Craig Berube must hope that his ploy to influence NHL officials will work. In comments made Sunday and devised to get the media to take the bait,  the Blues’ coach is angling for the officials to call fewer penalties on the Blues. Berube was upset by the seven minors (and four PP stings) in Saturday’s wipeout. Nothing new here. This is a time-honored coaching maneuver that’s been part of the game since someone first dropped a hard piece of rubber — or maybe a rock? — on a vast slab of ice and smacked it with a tree limb.

Here’s what Berube declined to mention: In the first three postseason rounds the Blues had 62 power plays to their opponents’ 41. That’s a massive gap in favor of the Blues, who were the most physical team in each series.

Three games into the Stanley Cup Final, Boston has four more PP than St. Louis (14-10.) But really that’s 13-10 because one of the Bruins’ PP goals came after a STL coaching decision to challenge Boston’s goal (offsides?) with 10 seconds left in the first period. The challenge was rejected which means an automatic delay-of-game penalty … which meant another power play … and a PP goal … and a 4-0 lead for the Bruins.

For the first time this postseason the Blues have fewer PP than their opponents.

I have a theory on that, which I discussed on my Monday radio show…more on that in a minute.

Is that such a big thing? No, but Berube hopes the media will run with his complaint and influence the officiating for Game 4. And of course we’ll run with it. It’s fresh content. Good fodder for off-day stuff. But I can’t knock Berube for trying.  He should  try  it. And NHL officials can be swayed, right? Well, I think they can be swayed. There’s no telling what goes on inside the minds of these gentlemen. The head wires don’t always connect properly.

Just my view, but here’s what’s going on — at least partially so.

In the first three rounds the Blues were successful at distracting, disrupting, annoying and goading Winnipeg, Dallas and San Jose into committing silly penalties. But the Bruins are a different creature. They’re pretty devious at instigating and baiting opponents. For the first time this postseason, the Blues are on the other side of this postseason psychology. The Jets, Stars and Sharks reacted to the Blues. In the Stanley Cup Final — so far — the Blues are reacting to the Bruins.

4-The Blues say all the right things about avoiding penalty-box time. Saying the right things means little unless the Blues actually do the right things.

That’s the second part of this: the Blues’ penalty-killing must improve, and dramatically, to have a chance to win this series. Those four Boston power-play goals in Game 3? According to Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic, here’s how quickly the Bruins scored each of the goals: 21 seconds, 51 seconds, 31 seconds, 23 seconds.

The Blues’ PK percentage this postseason (72.7%) ranks 13th among the 16 teams that made the playoffs.

The Blues did a commendable job in the first two games of this series, with Boston scoring on two of 10 PP chances, 20 percent. Time to tighten up … if it’s possible.

I say that because:

5-Boston’s top line had a breakout performance in Game 3. The Blues can’t let that continue.

After being largely quiet in the first two games, the No. 1 line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak combined for two goals and three assists on Saturday.

This wasn’t surprising given the way the top guns have led Bruins in games that follow a loss this postseason. In the six aftermath games (five wins) Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak have combined for 11 goals and 12 assists.

And the power-play boost is significant in the top line’s increased impact.

The Blues have done an outstanding job of containing Boston’s top line at even strength: no goals, one assist. But through three games Bergeron (1-2), “Pasta” (1-1) and Marchand have worked the PP for a combined two goals and four assists.

6-The Blues’ top line must resurface as a force in Game 4.  Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Vladmir Tarasenko combined for 10 shots on goal, six by No. 91. But all in all it was a bland evening of hockey for the trio, which managed only five scoring chances and one high-danger chance at 5-on-5 play. The Blues need much more than that … especially with Boston’s top line ratcheting up their impact.  After scoring 12 goals during a torrid 14-game stretch earlier this postseason, Schwartz hasn’t scored in his last four games — with only nine shots on goal .

7-Jordan Binnington must get back on track.  He had his first legitimately substandard performance of the postseason in Game 5, yielding five goals on 19 shots. And The Binner didn’t make a save on any of the three Bruins’ power plays that resulted in goals against him.

Binnington has been stellar since taking over as the starting goaltender on Jan. 7.

Without Binnington’s emergence, the Blues wouldn’t be competing for the Stanley Cup.

But …

For whatever reason Binnington hasn’t been real stingy on the penalty kill. Perhaps this is random. Maybe his teammates have gotten out of position too many times, leaving him unfairly vulnerable. Perhaps he’s defended the goal better, on the PK, than his numbers indicate.

Or maybe it’s a combination of factors … but the numbers aren’t healthy. And the same applies to the penalty kill during the regular season.

In the regular season, Binnington had 117 minutes of PK time in goal. Among 52 NHL goalies with at least 117 PK minutes during the regular season, Binnington was tied with teammate Jake Allen for 28th with a save percentage of .870.

In the first three rounds of the playoffs, Binnington ranked fifth among seven goaltenders (minimum 50 minutes) with an .833 save percentage.

For the entire postseason, among the seven goaltenders with at least 50 minutes of PK time, Binnington has the worst save percentage at .803.

Boston’s Tukka Rask is No. 2 at .925.

Here’s the statistic to cling to: As the Blues’ starter, The Binner is 12-2 with a 1.82 goals-against average after a loss.

 

7a-St. Louisan Mike McKenna, a professional/NHL goalie for the last 14 years, defended Binnington in a perspective-rich piece written for NHL.com.

“Binnington allowed five goals on 19 shots, but three of the five were deflected. Another was on a 2-on-1 break and forward David Pastrnak scored the other when he was left alone in front of the net with enough time to phone in a take-out order. Three of the five goals came on Bruins’ power plays.

Sure, a few of the goals allowed didn’t look good. Sean Kuraly’s quick five-hole goal with 10 seconds remaining in the first period to make it 3-0 immediately comes to mind, but a few things happened that made it a much tougher opportunity than it appeared. Binnington was screened by his own defenseman, and the puck was deflected off the shin pad of Alex Pietrangelo. How do you contend with that as a goalie? The only way Binnington makes the save is if he somehow manages to see the puck released from the stick blade through traffic, which wouldn’t have been easy with several bodies crossing in the high slot.

“But the real culprit was the timing of the goal. Going down by two goals in the first period is difficult but manageable, down three much less so. When the second and third goals happen as quickly as they did in Game 3 — 2:10 apart — it can suck the life right out of a team.

“It’s doubtful Binnington was pulled solely because of his play. Rather, coach Craig Berube was showing mercy on the man that has provided his team with so much confidence since early January, when he made his first NHL start.

“Simply not worth it to leave your starting goalie out there getting beat up, and a professional like Binnington knows and accepts his coach’s reasoning for the hook.”

8- The Blues have to win more faceoffs. They did a fine job in Game 2, and for now I’ll just focus on Game 3. The Blues won only 46 percent of the draws in Game 3. And their inability to win faceoffs on the penalty kill was a factor in Boston’s PP spree. The Blues lost six of seven faceoffs on the penalty kill.

The weakest link was Ryan O’Reilly, who rates among the league’s best faceoff men (55.3%) in his 10 seasons. But O’Reilly won only eight of 23 overall in Game 3 (35%.) He came up short in draws in the offensive zone (43%), defensive zone (33%), and neutral zone (29%.) On the penalty kill O’Reilly lost four of five faceoffs, winning 20 percent.

9- The return of Oskar Sundqvist from a one-game suspension should make the Blues a lot more well-rounded in Game 4. He’s important to this team … more than many assume. 

Oskar’s contributions have been plentiful this postseason. Among Blues forwards he’s sixth in total minutes, third in penalty-kill minutes, fifth in goals (four), fifth in shots on goal (41), seventh in points (nine), tied for second in blocked shots (10), third in hits (63) and third in takeaways (seven.) “Sunny” has also drawn opponents into 10 penalties, the most by a Blues forward this postseason.

10-Vince Dunn, anyone?  The Note could use that smooth passing and skating ability and keen vision for reading the ice and making plays. And he’s underrated defensively.

Related note: Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson has averaged 15:26 of ice time over the first three games. He’s had the most official giveaways on the team (four), doesn’t have a shot on goal, and is minus 3. His puck-handling poise was alarmingly shaky in Game 3.

Dunn was on the ice Sunday … as  was rookie forward Robert Thomas.

Related note: Forward David Peron has taken 67 shifts in three games, averaging 17:50 of ice time. He doesn’t have a point in the series. He’s put only five shots on goal at 5-on-5 play. He’s committed three penalties. And he’s a minus 3.

I’m not saying Berube will bench Perron. But if Thomas can play, the coach has the options to adjust his lineup. Zach Sanford played well in Game 3 in his first game since the first round. Robby Fabbri has been plenty feisty. And Thomas (“upper body injury”) would be another consideration — but how close is he to actually returning?

11- The home team must have more resolve in Game 4.

As expected the boys came out flying in Game 3, recording the game’s first five shots on goal. But a failed STL power play changed the momentum. And the Bruins took over, scoring on their first PP attempt of the game.

The final stats were terribly misleading. This game was decided in the first 21 minutes, with the Bruins bagging three goals in the first period and their fourth goal only 41 seconds into the second period.

In the first period at even strength the Bruins had an 11-4 advantage in shots, scoring chances (8-2) and high-danger chances (3-1.)

The Blues had the edge in those same categories over the final 39 minutes (essentially the second and third periods) but it doesn’t matter. The home team’s wobbly response to the first blast of adversity gave Boston complete control of this pivotal game.

12-The Blues have some work to do … and fast. In NHL history, when the Stanley Cup Finals were tied 1-1, the team that won Game 3 proceeded to win the series 80.8 percent of the time. (42-10.) And the percentage jumps to 89.2 percent (33-4) when Game 3 is won by the team that opened the series at home.

Thanks for reading…

If you’re going to the game, or just watching the game with fiends and family …

Enjoy!

–Bernie