Monday, November 22, 2021

This time, Blues don't allow Golden Knights to walk over them in 5-2 win

Falling behind 2-0 early usually recipe for disaster against rush team 
that thrives off puck possession; Blues reverse trend, lock down game

ST. LOUIS -- It felt like a snowball was about to mount into an avalanche.

The Vegas Golden Knights thrive off these things, and the Blues, who had won just one of their previous six games, were vulnerable to another defeat.

Not this time.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Ryan O'Reilly (right) got the Blues going against Shea Theodore and the
Vegas Golden Knights with the first of five unanswered goals.

Vegas has been known to pounce when they get the momentum on the Blues, and they use their siege to put teams on their heels.

"They put you on your heels as much as any team in the league I think," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "Probably them and Colorado for me because we play them a lot, see them a lot. They come at you all the time in waves. You've got to be on your toes, you've got to check well and you've got to manage the puck against them."

The Blues didn't do any of it early, and fell in a two-goal hole less than seven minutes in. 

Uh, oh. 

But this time things turned, and not for the worse. The Blues scored five unanswered in a 5-2 win on Monday at Enterprise Center, keeping with their recent theme of play well, play poorly, play well. That's hot the three recent games went and even stretches of the games prior to the past three.

At 10-6-2, the Blues have played some good hockey this season, but they've also played some wonky games as well. Thanks to their franchise-record five-game winning streak to start the season, they're where they are but in the past 13, they're just 5-6-2, which doesn't sound great.

However you look at it, they sit just one point off first place in the Central Division and in a good spot ... as long as they can string some good games in a row together.

"You just can’t get complacent," said Blues center Tyler Bozak, who scored his first of the season to tie the game 2-2 in the first period. "I think you've got to keep working hard. You've got to keep focusing on the little things out there that make us successful working as a team, playing well defensively. Sometimes when you win a few games in a row, it starts to seem like it’s getting easy and you try things that you normally wouldn’t or try to make plays that you know you shouldn’t because things have been going well. That’s something we've got to get away from."

The Blues, who received goals from Ryan O'Reilly, Bozak, Justin Faulk, Brandon Saad and Niko MIkkola Monday, feel as if they know what they have. They have a hard-working team with no superstars, or game-breakers, that have to work in unison to get results.

"Some of those (recent) losses, I thought we played pretty well, but you make a mistake at the wrong time and I talked about timely saves, they're important," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "Those things are really important. I thought three of the games were right there for us, whether we go into overtime or we win the game and we made a mistake and we ended up losing the game. I think that we've got work to do, we've got to keep improving. I think we can still be more consistent with what we're doing with our game and stay on it and stay on it and keep pushing like the third period tonight. I would have liked to come out and really made a push right away in the third period. That's what I thought we should have done, we didn't do it and we let them kind of push us. So there's still things we need to improve on."

The Blues fell behind 1-0 just 36 seconds into this one on a Chandler Stephenson goal, then were down 2-0 when Reilly Smith converted a breakaway.

The natives were restless early, but the Blues got on the hunt. That's who they are. They hounded pucks, they crowded the crease in front of Vegas goalie Robin Lehner, they worked for loose pucks, created offense by working the zone and not feeding Vegas' strength: its transition.

"We just kept playing. The start of the game, it was what it was," Berube said. "I think the first goal is just a shot, but the second goal, Kruger's getting pushed against the boards by their bench and couldn't recover. Kind of a funny play and they get a breakaway. One of the forwards should have backed him up and recognized that and they didn't. We just talked on the bench. I thought O'Reilly did a great job of keeping guys motivated and keep working. We ended up coming back and guys did a nice job."

Bozak said, "Not the start we were looking for obviously, but at that point in the game you know there’s lots of time left. Some big goals to get the lead and then I thought we played well the rest of the way."

Goals weren't ones that would be dialed up on ESPN's Top 10 plays of the day, but they were effective.

Take for instance O'Reilly's first in 10 games and first in nine since returning from COVID-19 protocol. Colton Parayko works the puck behind the net to David Perron, who does what he does best: protect the puck as he curled around and up near the top of the zone before pinpointing a pass to O'Reilly, who beat Lehner from a sharp angle off the netminder's skate and in.

O'Reilly needed it. The Blues needed it. It was 2-1. Game on.

Fall down 3-0, and in all likelihood, it's goodnight Gracie.

"Sometimes it's just a bounce," said Faulk, who netted his 100th in the NHL, the first defenseman from the 2010 draft class to do so. "It's not the started we wanted, obviously. I think everybody knows that. We had to find a way to get some rhythm and start to feel good about our game. With O'Ry's goal there, I think that kind of jump-started us and got us going. 'DP' made a great play, a strong play, before that. Those are two big players in our lineup, they know how to step up and they got us going there."

They sure did.

Perron may not be scoring right now, going 13 straight without a goal, but he has nine assists in that span, including five in the last three.

"I thought O'Reilly and Perron, they've played really well against Vegas over the last few years," Berube said. "And again tonight, I thought they were good again."

It started a frenzy of three goals in 2:15, with Bozak converting a rebound of Klim Kostin's redirect from the slot after Faulk fed him from the right point that tied the game. And Faulk, who stripped Nicolas Roy of the puck in the Blues' zone and jaunted off on a breakaway, wired a wrister into the top netting for a 3-2 lead, one the Blues would lock down.

There would be no late-goal back-breaks on this night. 

"That's how we play a system," Faulk said. "When guys do what they did there, I had to poke it away and get the puck. I wasn't expecting a breakaway by any means. I looked to my left and just saw a Blue jersey and realized I had some space. So, I was able to go out there and have some fun, I guess."

Saad stayed hot, scoring his fourth in three games, in the second period by doing what he does best, go to the net and win loose pucks, to make it 4-2, and Mikkola, playing in just his third game of the season and first since returning from COVID-19 protocol, scored off a pretty wrister from the left circle. 

Game. Set. Match.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues defenseman Scott Perunovich (left) races for a puck ahead of Vegas
forward Jonas Rondbjerg on Monday at Enterprise Center.

Despite allowing the Golden Knights to possess the puck and zone time in the third, the Blues did a nice job of locking the game down after getting the lead in the first.

The Blues dictate the game when they lock things down defensively. It's still a work in progress, but it was good enough Monday.

"Since I’ve been here at least, that’s how I felt," Bozak said. "Whenever we play as a five-man unit and we’re tight-checking and creating turnovers and breaking out together and our 'D' are up in the play and making good breakout passes, that’s kind of when we have our best games and limit the chances against and create more chances for."

It'll be interesting to see if they can continue it Wednesday in Detroit against the Red Wings, then come out of the Thanksgiving break for an afternoon tilt in Chicago Friday.

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