Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Secondary skaters provide heavy lifting in Blues' come-from-behind win at Minnesota

Hoffman, Kyrou, Thomas account for all four goals of 4-3 win in which 
Blues needed three-goal rally in third with top skaters having an off-night

It's no secret that as the Blues go, they go based off what their heavy lifters accomplish.

Heavy lifters, as in the guys asked to do much of the body of work necessary to win hockey games. Guys like Ryan O'Reilly, Brayden Schenn, Justin Faulk, Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko, Torey Krug, David Perron, guys getting paid to be the go-to guys.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Robert Thomas (right) celebrates his late-winner with Mike Hoffman against 
the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday.

What can make the Blues really dangerous is getting that secondary scoring, that secondary lifting from guys that have the capabilities to pick up the slack when the big guns don't have the energy to do it, or it just isn't their night.

It didn't look good for the Blues there after 40 minutes against the surging Minnesota Wild through 40 minutes, being down a pair of goals, but then the third period happened. 

Mike Hoffman happened. Jordan Kyrou happened, and finally, Robert Thomas happened.
It was a trip Blues coach Craig Berube put together for the third period, and they had a hand in each of the three third-period goals to help the Blues stun the Wild with a three-goal third-period comeback, 4-3, Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center.

Hoffman, who started on a line with Sammy Blais and Zach Sanford, was elevated to play with Thomas and Kyrou, who were generating from the start of the game but couldn't quite connect when pushing in the offensive zone.

As the game wore on, they kept generating and pushing until the damn finally broke, with Thomas scoring with 23 seconds left to dramatically lift the Blues to the win in which they trailed 3-1 after two.

It wasn't one of those nights in which the top guys were carrying the load, so it was evident that some of the guys that play fewer minutes, guys that maybe don't get those clutch opportunities to come through, and they did.

Hoffman finished with two goals and an assist on the Thomas winner, and Thomas and Kyrou each finished with a goal and an assist and combining to be plus-5 for the game.

"We need scoring up and down the lineup," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "I've said that a number of times. It's got to continue. We need scoring from everybody. Everybody's got to contribute playing 200 feet. You've got to play good defense, be responsible defensively and you've got to be responsible offensively. You've got to help the team produce offensively, so we need everybody."

The Blues needed Hoffman, who has 11 points (seven goals, four assists) his past seven games, to give the power-play more bite and he's done that with eight power-play points during this seven-game stretch. He scored twice on it, the second setting off the comeback with a one-timer from the right circle off a seam pass from Perron.

"There's not many guys that have a one-timer like that," Thomas said. "It seems like he's able to find the back of the net at every angle, whether it's up top, down low, hard pass, low pass, it's kind of cool to watch. Last bunch of games, ever since he's been scoring there, it's brought a lot of life to our 5-on-5 game and it's a big momentum swing for sure."

Berube had that trio on the ice for late-game, important matchups and Thomas' key read off a Matt Dumba reverse pass behind his net, picked it off and found Kyrou alone coming down the slot, and Kyrou was the beneficiary of a fortunate break when the puck slid off his stick and right between Cam Talbot's pads at 7:41 to tie the game 3-3.

"I was just stick-handling and kind of went to go do the Kucherov," Kyrou said of his first in 15 games, referring to a goal scored similarly by Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov. "That's what I did there and it just went in. 

"It's awesome. I've kind of been a little bit of a slump scoring myself, but obviously feels good to get that one and that's a huge win by the boys there. ... It's a big goal by our line to tie it up 3-3 late in the third there. That was a big win by us there, for sure."

And then there's Thomas, who took Hoffman's flipper from near center ice as he hoisted it inside the Wild blue line. Thomas, streaking in, won a stick battle with Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin, quickly was in front of Talbot before lifting the game-winner over the Wild goalie's blocker.

"It just happened quick," Thomas said. "You see a lot of goals, those stick battles off high flips and I was just trying to poke it through and get a shot off. Very fortunate it went in.

"Those pucks, they're tough when they're kind of dribbling and you're both trying to just do a little stick battle there. It's hard as a d-man to contain it. I got pretty lucky on the bounce there. ... I wanted to score there. It's always a nice feeling scoring. I definitely wasn't letting anything stop me."

The Blues (22-19-6), winners of three in a row and three points ahead of Arizona -- pending Arizona's late game at San Jose -- for fourth place in the West Division, felt that positive vibe even as the Wild (31-14-3), who were 20-0-2 when leading after two periods and winners of seven in a row, were giving it to the visitors through two periods with their tenacious forecheck and sustained offensive zone time.

"Going into the (second) intermission, we were talking as a group (that) we've come back from plenty of games this year, so why not do it again," Hoffman said. "... We never gave up, stuck with it. It's a game of momentum and I thought we had it for the majority of the third.

"I just think we controlled the puck a lot better. Obviously they're a good forechecking team and when we have it, they can't forecheck. We held onto it in the offensive zone and we entered with control coming into their end and made some plays. We ended up making good forechecking plays too, which I think you saw on Kyrou's goal."

Berube trusted this line to do the lifting on this night, and it bodes well for the Blues to add a third scoring line that has this kind of speed and skill with the ability to be responsible off the puck, which it was.

"I thought even from the get-go, they had a lot of puck touches in the offensive zone," Berube said. "They just weren't quite clean getting their shots off. Maybe a little bit slow, but they had good jump all game. They were determined, I thought, and worked hard, and then I liked Hoffman. I thought that Hoffman, he got that goal, so I moved him up there (with Thomas-Kyrou) and it obviously worked out. ... I thought Hoffman had good jump all game too. He was on his toes, he was determined out there. Not just the goal he scored on the power-play, the first goal he scored on the power play, but just his play in general.

"They were feeding off last game, too. I thought they had great jump and they seem to enjoy playing with each other. I think they feel comfortable with each other. I think that's a big thing. When they skate and they attack, and they make good puck plays, they're dangerous. They've got good puck skill and speed."

Consider this: the Hoffman-Thomas-Kyrou line had a Corsi-for, Corsi-against of 8-0, and a Fenwick-for, Fenwick-against of 6-0. That trio also had four scoring chances for to none against. 

"I think it's our speed and our creativity," Kyrou said. "It's definitely tough to defend when all three guys are forechecking like that and backchecking. We were just all over the puck creating turnovers and attacking the net."

The Blues and Wild will do this again on Thursday, and it's safe to say this line will be assembled from the start of the game and rightfully so. If it can provide the quality minutes it provided on Wednesday, the Blues will not only be dangerous down the stretch but also in the playoffs if they get in.

"Any time you can get offense from up and down your lineup, it makes your team that much more dangerous and successful," Thomas said. "That's been a key of our the last couple years is we're able to chip in from our defense to all the way up and down our forward lines. I think it was a good game for us. We started well, but we still got a lot to improve on and I think we can be even better.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues needed secondary skaters to step up in a 4-3 win against the
Minnesota Wild, including Niko Mikkola (77) and Robert Thomas (18).

"We're a team that always keeps on fighting and that's been the story of my years here. You're never out and we're always going to bring it in the third."

They certainly did.

"I thought in the third period we came out with a different mindset than we did in the second period," Berube said. "I was happy first and third period tonight. Second period, obviously not so happy.

"We just (had) to get back on our toes and be aggressive again. There's certain situations that they had us hemmed in our zone and there's reasons why. I tell the team why and what's going on, but it's a mindset with me more than anything. It's just staying on our toes and being aggressive. I thought we did again in the third period and we had a pretty good third period."

No comments:

Post a Comment