Game one of the NHL Western Conference Finals for the Blues was a disappointment, to be sure. Like in game three in the Winnipeg series or game four against Dallas, the Blues appeared to be skating in mud for much of the game, spending too much time in the penalty box, giving the puck up to a dangerous opponent, and failing to generate nearly enough offensive zone time.
Fortunately, the Sharks didn’t win game won because they were clearly better. The opponent won because the Blues never got to their game. There are some quick fixes for the Blues before Monday night’s game two. Here they are…
Don’t take penalties: Throughout the series, this will be the biggest factor for the Blues. Coming into game one, the Sharks led the NHL in playoff goals with ten, and they got one in four chances in game one. When Jay Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko BOTH took penalties midway through the first period, San Jose scored on their 5-on-3 advantage. Joe Pavelski finally scored on his third whack at the puck while it was in mid-air. Like against Dallas, the Blues need to be disciplined and avoid putting themselves at a disadvantage.
Build offensive zone time: When the Blues have lost in these playoffs, they’ve failed to get the puck out of their zone consistently. When they’ve dominated, they took the play to the opposition and controlled the puck in the offensive zone for long stretches. In an epic example of this style, in game five at Winnipeg, the Jets possessed the puck in their offensive zone for just thirty seconds in the final 10:50 of the game. In game one at San Jose, the Blues had trouble transitioning out of their own zone and getting the puck deep and keeping it there. There were times in the first two series…particularly in the third period of game five in Winnipeg, game six against the Jets, and then the second and third periods against Dallas…in which the Blues were nearly one hundred percent effective in that pursuit. There’s no doubt that the Blues can carry the play to the Sharks, but they didn’t do it in game one. They must.
Don’t give the puck up in their own zone or the neutral zone: On the first goal, Alex Pietrangelo fell in the neutral zone and gave up the puck to Gustav Nyquist, who flew in and delivered a perfect pass to Logan Couture, who scored for a 1-0 lead. Kevin LaBanc grabbed a loose puck in the neutral zone just over seven minutes into the second and skated to an unoccupied slot…right between Joel Edmundson and Pietrangelo…and fired the puck past Jordan Binnington for a 3-1 lead. The cruncher for the Blues came when Parayko gave up the puck to Timo Meier at his own blue line, and Meier made two spectacular moves to score a highlight reel goal to make it 4-2. And then at 17:34 of the second, Pietrangelo couldn’t corral a Vince Dunn pass at his own blueline, Nyquist picked up the puck and the Sharks converted that into their fifth goal, from Meier off Dunn and Binnington. The Blues lost by two (San Jose scored an empty netter), and three Blues giveaways led to three Sharks goals.
Get something out of Vladimir Tarasenko: Tarasenko is simply a better player when he plays with Ryan O’Reilly. That’s a line change that Craig Berube must make. Number 91 has one even strength goal in fourteen playoff games this year. In game one, he had an assist on the Blues first goal, but had just one shot with two missed shots and a minus-3 plus/minus rating. As we know, this is a league of stars. And the Blues biggest star must be among their best players if they’re going to win this series. The best way to get something out of Tarasenko is to get him on a line with O’Reilly.
This series is a long way from being over, and there are some relatively easy fixes for the Blues to make to win it. I’d be surprised if they aren’t made for game two at SAP Center.