Friday, October 29, 2021

Blues finally fall, 4-3 to Avalanche, gave themselves chance despite being outplayed

Penalties, costly mistakes, missed calls all factor into first loss without O'Reilly 
in lineup; bodes well that team can stay in games even without their best

ST. LOUIS -- Well, it had to end sometime.

And even though some of the statistics heavily favored the Colorado Avalanche in their Central Division showdown with the Blues on Thursday, it was still a winnable game for the home team, which was looking to extend it's franchise-best season-opening winning streak to five games.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues forward Jordan Kyrou (25) and Avalanche defenseman Jack Johnson
battle for puck possession in a matchup Thursday at Enterprise Center.

But alas, in the end, the Avalanche got the best of the Blues, 4-3 and dash those hopes of an 82-0-0 season.

Well, that wasn't going to happen obviously, but everyone can dream, right?

It's just the fashion in which the Blues (5-1-0) lost in that was frustrating for them, including playing without their No. 1 center and captain Ryan O'Reilly.

First off, let's start with the penalties.

Justin Faulk decided that Brayden Schenn sticking up for him in the season-opener when he fought Nazem Kadri, who delivered the dirty hit that knocked Faulk out of the first-round playoff series last year, wasn't enough, so Faulk decided to take matters into his own hands and fight Kadri himself 47 seconds into this one.

What ensued was that Faulk was assessed 17 minutes in penalties, five for fighting, two for instigating and a 10-minute misconduct.

Huh? First off, Faulk allowed Kadri to get up and challenged him. It was mano-i-mano, man-for-man. No third wheel, not jumping him from behind, anything of that nature. To get an extra minor and 10 additional minutes was questionable what was an less than stellar officiating crew here tonight assigned to a big boy game that couldn't handle the big boy game, Michael Markovic and Corey Syvret. It was apparent that these guys were out of their league tonight.

"I didn't really know what was going on, but not overly (surprised)," Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said of Faulk. "We obviously all kind of know the history behind it and what happened in the playoffs. It's on him to do that, I think, to stick up for himself. It's good to see."

"I'm not surprised on either one of them to be honest with you," Blues coach Craig Berube said of Faulk and the instigator. "He initiated it, so …"

OK, so the Blues were fine with what happened. Move on. But then came another penalty on Klim Kostin (tripping) in the first, and another on Torey Krug (holding) also in the first. Then Marco Scandella (hooking) in the second, Faulk for a no-excuse delay of game minor in the second. Those are avoidable, and those are execution-killers and take the Blues out of their rhythm and element.

They came into the game No. 1 in the NHL in penalty-killing efficiency, but the Avalanche made the Blues pay on just one of them, a J.T. Compher goal in the second period to make it 2-1.

"I mean there's no point of saying you agree or not but at the end of the day we've got to stay out of the penalty box," Blues center Brayden Schenn said. "Giving that team six, I'm not sure how many (goals) they had tonight one, maybe two? PK did a good job, but at the same time, it just takes our whole bench and rhythm out of it, I think. Guys don't play as much as they need to and stoppages and whistles and TV timeouts, think guys kind of get a little bit cold. So I think as far as the rhythm goes,  PK did a good job killing penalties tonight, but the same time, it takes guys out of it."

So the PK did more than an adequate job, foiling four of five Colorado PP's, which is pretty potent, although it hasn't been all that good this season and was missing Mikko Rantanen (lower-body injury) tonight.

But the Blues had to play this game without captain Ryan O'Reilly due to COVID-19 protocol, his first game missed since his arrival in St. Louis July 1, 2018, a span of 214 consecutive regular-season games and 253 games including the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It showed often.

"Well, I mean, you miss his full game," Berube said. "But that’s no reason to play the way we played for two periods, in my opinion. Again, he’s out, but we have capable guys of filling the roles. We kept (Nathan) MacKinnon and that line off the scoreboard tonight and we still lost. We have to do a better job as a whole team of understanding how we need to play the game, and we didn’t do that tonight. We didn’t skate and we were in penalty trouble, so we had a lot of guys sitting and it makes it difficult on everybody. We looked spread out tonight. We didn’t look tight like we normally do. Our forecheck was spread out. And then I thought overall they were a little bit more hungry than we were."

The Blues didn't possess the puck a ton tonight. The Avalanche did. It was a case of chasing it for much of the night, and the Avalanche want a track meet. Their game is predicated on it. 

"I think a lot of times you get the puck, but you’re isolated and they close on you quick," Berube said. "This team does not give you any time. You’ve got to fight for space and create your own space. I thought we did a much better job in the third period, but the first two periods we did not do it well enough. Like, even in our zone they just won more battles, and in the offensive zone, our forecheck, they just won more battles for two periods."

It was called no legs.

"You're playing lots in your own end and then it's hard to grab the momentum and turn it the other way," Schenn said. "I don't think we did a very good job of, maybe shifting the tide tonight or changing the momentum, maybe until later in the game. They're a good team over there. They play fast. We knew that. I don't think we had skating legs tonight, I don't think we moved our feet enough and the result was for us to play probably way too much in our own end."

Even though they were outshot 14-5 in the first, the Blues managed to escape tied 1-1 thanks to Avs goalie Darcy Kuemper gifting Parayko's first of the season, a slap shot that Kuemper thought he had squeezed between his pads, but the puck trickled through and in the net.

But Compher's tying goal at 18:12 of the first came as a result of of not winning a puck battle behind the net with Jake Walman and Dakota Joshua.

It didn't get better in the second when the Avs took control with two goals, Compher's second of the game (he tied it in the first) came after Faulk's delay of game, and Kadri's goal to make it 3-1 after Jake Neighbours, instead of dumping a puck into the zone late in his shift, tried to skate by defenseman Ryan Murray at the Colorado blue line, got it stolen and the Avs' transition made the Blues pay. That's a 19-year-old teachable moment for Neighbours. But it's also a goal one would like to see Jordan Binnington, who did make 38 saves, stop on the short side from the right circle.

It got feisty and dicey late in the second when the Avs thought they had the dagger goal, by Cale Makar, with 30 seconds remaining, but the goal was waved off because Colorado's Logan O'Connor had knocked the net off its moorings with Jake Walman draped all over him.

O'Connor took a shot at Walman and a heavy scrum ensued that lasted long enough for Ivan Barbashev and Compher to get matching minors (O'Connor and Walman, who started it all, got nothing), and Kadri and Binnington each received 10-minute misconducts.

Seems that Kadri didn't want to de-escalate the situation and exchanged words with Binnington, who fired a puck towards his counterpart and swung his stick towards Kadri.

"I have no idea. I don't know why I got a 10-minute penalty there," Kadri said. "I stayed out of the scrum. I stayed out. We exchanged some words. I got a stick swung in my face. Then I end up with a 10-minute penalty. I'm not quite sure what it was for. I started skating towards him, but I'm about 50 feet away from the guy. I'm getting misconducts for just talking now. Not quite sure what that's about. What are you going to do?"

Avs coach Jared Bednar understood why.

"I mean I like the play from us. We had a good entry. A good pass across. Put it in the back of the net," Bednar said. "We're driving the net hard and their guy pushes us into the net and it's off. It's off just a split second too early. Sometimes you can count it even with the net off but we weren't in the act of shooting when the net went off. It was the important play to me. After that, it's just guys competing hard. It is what it is. Binnington gets a 10. Kadri gets a 10 for going back and continuing the conversation. It was the right call. That would have been a big goal for us. Kadri, you can't continue to try and escalate an altercation. It's no different from getting into a fight. Sometimes they'll let you get away with it but, that had dragged on long enough. You can't go back and try to fire things back up."

Fair enough, and Berube didn't feel Binnington's actions were unnecessary.

"Yeah, he gets fired up. He’s a fiery guy," Berube said. "He wasn’t happy about things. It is what it is, so … I’m not going to look into it too much."

So, the Blues trailed by two (3-1) after two, a spot they hadn't been in all season long, and outshot 30-12. It was fitting for the time being.

But they found life when Schenn slammed home a one-timer from in tight off Jordan Kyrou's nifty no-look, behind-the-back crease feed, making it 3-2 at 4:13 of the third period against a leaky Kuemper.

Game on, right?

Well ... 

Before the 16,558 at Enterprise Center could get their juices flowing for a frantic finish, the air was sucked back out when Makar scored 38 seconds later for a two-goal Avalanche lead, 4-2.

It started with defenseman Marco Scandella attempting to clear the puck on his backhand off the glass and out of the zone. It fell near the blue line and kept in by Makar instead of Vladimir Tarasenko or Robert Thomas locating it and stayed in the Blues zone before Nathan MacKinnon, who the Blues held in check, found Makar streaking into the high slot that beat Binnington, who seemed to swim too far to his left and was not square to the shooter.

"Yeah, it is. It's obviously difficult," Parayko said. "That was a good goal by 'Schenner' and gave us a little momentum. I think that's where on us we've got to continue to bring that momentum and stick with momentum. Obviously when they get one, it kind of brings it down a little bit. But I got to say, we battled back again and we gave ourselves another chance. Credit to us for that, but at the end of the day, not good enough."

"Yeah, that fourth goal is tough, it’s a killer," Berube said. "That puck has to get out. It’s right at the blue line there, we’ve got to do a better job of getting that puck out, and they ended up capitalizing on it. But we battled back, Vladi scored a great goal and we’re back in the game. Goalie out, we had a couple of looks."

Tarasenko did score, at 16:01, a wicked wrister that whizzed by Kuemper's ear and gave the Blues some life, but their comeback efforts came up just short.

But not without some late controversy, one on a questionable icing call by linesman Kilian McNamara when Kyrou clearly beat former Blues No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson to a puck with 2:45 left, and then a tripping penalty on Tyson Jost ignored when he took down Parayko with two minutes remaining that would have given the Blues a power-play.

It would have been their first full power play the entire game. They certainly deserved a couple in this game, but Syvret, in full view, completely ignored what was a blatant penalty.

"I don't know. It's tough to call one I guess maybe that late with a one-goal game," the politically correct Parayko said. "I don't know, it is what it is. It's going to come back and we'll get one of those maybe later on in the year. They always seem to even out. It's part of the game and there's nothing we can do about it."

As was stated earlier, these officials were way out of their league. Sorry, a penalty is a penalty whether it's early in the game, middle of the game, late in the game, close game, rout, doesn't matter. A call is a call is a call, period.

Would the Blues have tied it? Who knows, but in fairness, one would like to see them given a deserved chance.

But in any light, overall, Colorado was the better team on this night, but given all the circumstances, the Blues were one shot away from possibly extending their streak.

Berube mixed and matched his lines, other than Tarasenko, Robert Thomas and Ivan Barbahev because, "I’m just trying to find some momentum and guys that had good legs. Looking for legs and things like that, just trying to find some chemistry."
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues center Dakota Joshua (left) looks for the puck near the Avalanche 
goal in front of goalie Darcy Kuemper (35) and defenseman Ryan Murray.

Being outshot 42-18 is not optimal. Not only did the Blues miss O'Reilly, but they also missed Brandon Saad, and still gave themselves a chance. 

"Yeah, it obviously was a good game. Central Division game," Parayko said. "They're a good team, we're a good team, so those games are always tough. They're always exciting. Big points between teams within the Central. We have a very tough division. They're always definitely high-emotion games and very good games."

"They’re a very good team, they’re hard to play against and if we want to consistently beat them and compete with them, we have to play for 60 minutes and we only played for 20 tonight," Berube said.

Lesson learned. Now move onto the next challenge and begin anew.

"Got to have your skating legs every night," Schenn said. "There's a lot of fast teams, teams play different styles. We're going to get good teams in the East that play a little bit more run and gun compared to maybe a team like L.A. that we played or Colorado plays fast so, we've got to be ready for every team every night and there's going to be a new challenge. You just can't be happy that you're 5-0. We got to worry about this loss now and get ready for Chicago."

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