Thursday, April 11, 2019

Blues thinking defense first in series with Jets

Limiting Winnipeg's top scorers a key priority, important heading 
into a pivotal Game 2 with chance for St. Louis to go up 2-0 in series

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- The Blues came into their Western Conference first round series with the Winnipeg Jets knowing defense and discipline were going to be paramount.

Not only did the Jets boast the league's fourth-best power-play at 24.8 percent, but they have a lineup that features five guys with 20 goals or more, led by Mark Scheifele's 38.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ryan O'Reilly (left), Jordan Binnington (50) and Jay Bouwmeester (19) form
a solid barrier for the Blues in Game 1 of the Western Conference First
Round against the Winnipeg Jets. The Blues won the opener 2-1.

But the Blues, who finished tied with the fifth-best mark in goals-against with 223 this season, are taking notice that the Jets have Scheifele, Kyle Connor (34 goals), Patrik Laine (30), Nikolaj Ehlers (21) and Blake Wheeler (20) at its disposal, and simply focusing on a guy like Laine, who lit the Blues up for five goals on Nov. 24 and scored Winnipeg's lone goal Wednesday, isn't the proper way to go.

So what do the Blues have to avoid doing?

"Turnovers," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We kind of played into that (in Game 1). I think early on we were trying to make plays that weren't necessarily there. I think they played off those turnovers. We took care of the puck better later on in the game."

But Laine was dangerous, and his shot can be lethal at any given time. He had a chance to perhaps bury the Blues early in the third period and make it 2-0, but his wired wrister dented the inside of the left post and stayed out. 

"He's a goal scorer," Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said of Laine. "Those guys, once they start feeling it, they start feeling good. I don't think you're specifically worried about one guy or anything like that. I think it's more focusing on how we need to play and all the cliches and all that. They have a lot of skilled guys and guys you don't want to give a lot of room. It falls into that category."

On the road, the Blues don't have the final change, but interim coach Craig Berube would preferably have Ryan O'Reilly's line going against Scheifele's line with Wheeler and Connor. And if at all possible, Bouwmeester and Colton Parayko will be on the ice to shut down any potential Jets threats.

"The matchups are their top line versus our top line. Head to head," Berube said. "We will see what happens next game.

"Any time [Laine] is inside the blue line shooting the puck, it's dangerous. That's how I view it. That's it. ... We have to be tighter to him. He got a goal, hit a post. Any time he shoots the puck inside the blue line, it's a dangerous shot. So we have to do a better job. We have to be tighter to him."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (right) absorbs a check from Jets forward
Blake Wheeler on Wednesday in Game 1 of their playoff series.

The Blues, aside from Scheifele's one-timer from the left circle that Jordan Binnington made an incredible stretching right leg save with 12.4 seconds, did a good job on limiting the Scheifele line to eight shot attempts (only five on goal) in the game.

"We showed some good resilience," O'Reilly said. "I think our game progressed. Obviously I think they came out with a lot of jump. That first period was theirs. The second, we started finding it a bit. The third, we defended well. Obviously 'Binner' played outstanding, but we put ourselves in a decent spot going into that third. Once we found our game, we had some good bounces that we capitalized on and we rallied for a good win."

As for the discipline, the Blues, who were ninth in the league on the penalty kill at 81.5 percent, had to go to the PK just once, and killed the lone Jets power play.

"I think as a group, we want to continue to grow all the time," Bouwmeester said. "Going back to our season, that's the mindset we had and that's the mindset we're going to have here moving forward too."

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