The St. Louis Blues finally broke through and won their first game in the Edmonton bubble. It took them an exhibition game, three round-robin games and three playoff games for them to get a win.
Look for the Blues to try and keep their momentum going into Game 4 with puck possession and physicality. Here are three things to watch from the club in tonight’s pivotal Game 4.
1. Special Teams
This series has been marked by the Blues’ inability to score on the power play and kill penalties. Last night was a prime example of how poor their power play has looked in this series, as they had two power plays and recorded zero shots total. Remember, the Blues’ power play was third in the league in the regular season, but it hasn’t looked that way in Edmonton.
The fans that say “shoot the puck” when St. Louis is on the power play, have a point. They were way too patient and stationary in last night’s opportunities especially.
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For the series, the Blues are 2 for 11 on the power play — David Perron scored one in the first game, while Ryan O’Reilly scored one in the second game. They are humming at 18% on the power play, which isn’t good against a team like the Vancouver Canucks, who were 16th in the regular season at killing penalties.
Not only has the power play been poor, but the penalty kill has also been worse. The Blues’ penalty kill was 18th in the regular season, which is surprising given their aggressive defensive style. With all the weapons the Canucks have, their power play is hard to stop.
The Blues have allowed six power-play goals in three games. Their penalty kill is 5 for 11, which is 45%, and that is abysmal. They have to stay out of the box if they want to win this series — they did so in their Game 3 victory, taking just two penalties.
2. Who Gets the Start in Net?
Jake Allen got the nod in Game 3, stopping 39 of 41 shots total and 36 of 37 at even strength. The Blues needed a netminder to stand on their head in that game and Allen did that. Jordan Binnington did not have it in the first two games of this series, but with this being the second half of a back-to-back, could Binnington get the nod in Game 4?
Binnington allowed nine goals in the first two games of the series. The defense did have some breakdowns that led to goals, but he let in a few that he should have had and he knows that. He saved 38 of 47 shots for a save percentage (SV%) of .808.
Blues head coach Craig Berube was correct in going with Allen in Game 3 and I think he should go to him again tonight. Allen not only showed his composure in net last night, but he showed he can lift the team with a big save. They just weren’t getting the big saves from Binnington.
Allen has also had plenty of rest, being the backup in the regular season and only starting one game in the round robin. My personal opinion is that Allen should get the start tonight, but that remains to be seen.
3. Big Time Players
I don’t mean just the “star” or “above average” players, I mean the guys who have played great hockey in the first few games of the series. I think of Perron, O’Reilly, Robert Thomas, Jaden Schwartz, and others.
In Game 3, we saw the Justin Faulk that the Blues traded for. He played solid defense and was aggressive on offense. He jumped into the rush and shot the puck when others wouldn’t. He was rewarded for that by scoring the first of the game on a fantastic pass by Thomas.
The new line of Schwartz-O’Reilly-Perron has been the best and most consistent forward line for the Blues. They are all over pucks, play sound defense, and create scoring chances left and right. They’ve also shut down the Canucks’ top line in 5-on-5 play, allowing just 3 shots on net with Elias Pettersson on the ice in Game 3.
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Brayden Schenn has also played well in this series. He has been a one-man wrecking ball throwing hits all over the place. He recorded five hits and five shots on goal in the third game of the series and scored the overtime winner on a breakaway that went high to the glove side of Jacob Markstrom.
I’m looking for the Blues defenders to jump into the rush and move the puck and shoot it. Players like Vince Dunn, Alex Pietrangelo, and Colton Parayko need to take a page out of Faulk’s book last night and shoot it.
The communication defensively must be better as well, two large breakdowns with Carl Gunnarsson and Pietrangelo, and then with Parayko and Marco Scandella, led to those goals.
Look for the Blues to get in on a hard forecheck, as well as shoot the puck more frequently tonight. All it takes is another win to even this series up — we know they can do it. It should be an interesting game as the Blues try to even it up.