Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Aware of opponent, Blues assert themselves in early-season statement game

3-1 win over Avalanche with league's best record, determines defending 
Stanley Cup champs are sending message they are still kings of throne

ST. LOUIS -- Early in the season for the defending Stanley Cup champions, games are supposed to be a measuring stick for the opponents, to see where they measure up and where they have to get to so that they can try and be in the Blues' shoes.

But this was no ordinary opponent. This was the Colorado Avalanche, which was obliterating its opponents to the tune of a 7-0-1, the lone remaining unbeaten team in regulation left and that had scored four or more goals in six of its eight games, leading the NHL at 4.38 per game.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jaden Schwartz (17) and the Blues played with dogged determination on
Monday against Andre Burakovsky (95) and the Colorado Avalanche.

This was the 'Young Guns' ready to take it to the champs and make a statement that the Avalanche are the talk of the town.

As the famous Lee Corso proclaims every Saturday on ESPN's College Football Countdown to Gameday, 'Not So Fast My Friend.'

This was a statement game for the Blues. This was their calling card, to see if they've shed the Stanley Cup hangover that's shown its true form at times during this early season, and a four-game losing streak (0-2-2) was a monkey the Blues were ready to shed. 

A 3-1 win over the Avalanche on Monday at Enterprise Center showed that the top dogs still got game. 

Don't think for a second the Blues (4-2-3) didn't know the Avalanche (7-1-1) came in with a swagger. Don't think for a second the Blues weren't aware Colorado had already built up a six-point lead on them and put themselves among the top of the crop in the Central Division and Western Conference.

This was all about the Blues asserting themselves again, getting that feeling of winning it all the confidence they gained from the franchise's first Stanley Cup.

"That was probably our best game of the year throughout the entire game," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "I thought we played really well. I thought everybody skated well, good energy. That's what we were looking for.

"I thought it was a statement game for us. I don't think they've lost, right? They're first in the league. I thought we answered the bell real well. We've been piecing things together, but this is the first time I think so far this year that we've really played the way we've wanted to the entire game."

In assessing the Blues, they haven't been bad, as in bad like the first half of last season that turned into management making a coaching chance from Mike Yeo to Craig Berube, but they haven't been great either. This had the makings of a bludgeoning if the Blues didn't get to their game.

And their game, to be quite honest, isn't one that will draw all the ooh's and aah's draw. It's put on your work boots, grab your lunch pail and let's get down and dirty in the trenches.

"We played a great game tonight," said goalie Jordan Binnington, who made 17 saves. "That's how we need to play every night. Hopefully we can build off this. That's how we need to play every night. Hopefully we can build off this.

"We played hard. We stuck to our systems. We had good forechecks and good dumps. We got good special team tonight, penalty killers were fantastic. It was good to see."

The Blues at times looked disconnected on the ice, and it showed throughout the early part of the season. There was a reason they had already lost three games (two via overtime and once in a shootout) when leading by two goals in a game. We just haven't seen that relentless forechecking game, the support on the ice, the five-man cohesive unit, making smart plays, blanketing opponents' high-powered, skilled forwards on a regular basis.

But with Colorado and its top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog terrorizing the Avalanche opponents this season already to the tune of 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists) in eight games, the Blues had no choice but to put on their work boots.

"We know their record. We know they play pretty well," said Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko, who had a goal and two assists tonight. "They was best team in the league. It was really big game for us, especially after last couple games. We need to bounce back, especially against division opponent, a really good test and it was the game plan, try to stay tight. Don't let them get some speed because they have really high-skill players there. They have really good players. I think we play well and make it happen.

"We have some games where we lost two-goal leads. We talk about it inside the locker room. I think that game, we stay on the plan for 60 minutes and it was pretty good effort by everyone today."

Berube scoffed after Saturday's 5-2 home loss to Montreal, saying that the Blues hadn't bought in yet to the team concept. It's never bad to have the coach ruffle the locker room's feathers, sending a stern reminder that it's time to refocus again and get locked in on the objective. 

With a veteran-laden locker room, the Blues got back to it.

"I thought it was a real solid game throughout," Berube said. "We were on the right side of things the whole game. We checked well. Just worked, and we were stingy tonight, good defensively. Our game without the puck tonight was our best game for me.

"None of the guys were very happy after the last game at home. This is a good, veteran hockey team. They're good pros. They understand the situation and they understand that wasn't a very good performance at home and it was going to be better tonight for sure. Guys did a really good job. I thought everybody did a good job just buying into the team game tonight."

Some of the players besides Tarasenko earning high marks tonight included defenseman Vince Dunn, forward Jaden Schwartz, who was buzzing like a bee on Monday in Schwartz-like fashion and David Perron, who was flying to pucks and had a shooter's mentality all night. But instead of naming names, what's best for the Blues is to simply say it was a team effort, everyone was on the same page, and the result was predictable when those things happen.

"We like to win. We play as a team," Binnington said. "We're feeling good about this one. A day off tomorrow and right back to it.

"We obviously were aware of their record. They're a talented team, got some talented forwards. We've got a good team over here too. I think you just take care of what you can control and keep working."

Brayden Schenn and Perron also scored for the Blues, who by the way, limited the Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen line to one goal, and it came via a 5-on-3 man advantage. Other than that, nothing.

"We've done a good job against that top line when we've played them," Pietrangelo said. "That's obviously where they get a lot of their offense and good play from. We did a good job on them again tonight.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jordan Binnington, who made 17 saves in a 3-1 win over Colorado Monday,
said hopefully the Blues can build off this win.

"They want to play with speed, especially that top line, but when we're over top of them making life hard, we seem to really control the game when we play against them. That seems like the way we had success again."

The Blues know what over the top means. It helped them to the promised land last season. It's a start, but they're determined to build it again in that direction.

"It's only one game. We win one game," Tarasenko said. "It's really important how we react. We will move on and win more games after."

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