Blues’ Sloppy Play is Recipe for Disaster

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final is in the books. The Boston Bruins took a 1-0 lead in the series with a convincing 4-2 win over the St. Louis Blues Monday night. The Blues’ biggest errors were mental, as they took five penalties in a game against one of the league’s most lethal power plays.

While the Bruins did not truly punish the Blues for their mistakes, scoring only one power-play goal in those five opportunities, that likely won’t happen again. If St. Louis plans to make any progress in this series, they have to cut out the sloppy play and stop taking foolish penalties.

Five Big Blues Mistakes

Five different Blues players took a minor penalty during Monday’s game, giving the Bruins a full 10 minutes of time on the power play. While fans have complained, calling a few of the calls weak, the Blues have no excuse for ending up in the box that many times.

Connor Clifton with St. Louis Blues center Ryan O'Reilly
Ryan O’Reilly of the St. Louis Blues makes a desperate play against Connor Clifton of the Boston Bruins. This wasn’t a penalty, but it might have been the Blues’ sixth of the game (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

David Perron took the team’s first penalty, an unnecessary offensive zone trip on Danton Heinen. After missing a pass from teammate Sammy Blais, Perron made a desperate lunge with his stick that got caught in Heinen’s legs, bringing him to the ice. It was a no-doubt penalty, and killed the Blues’ momentum.

Just 90 seconds after killing off that penalty, they took another, this one a hooking call against Robert Thomas. While many believe this was a weak call, it still gave the Bruins a man advantage and squandered any chance the Blues had of adding to their lead in the first period.

Even if St. Louis had a complaint on Thomas’ call, they had no recourse for the three additional penalties they took in the game. Joel Edmundson got called for a high sticking penalty when he cross-checked David Backes in the face. Oskar Sundqvist was called for cross-checking against Connor Clifton on an unnecessary play along the boards. And late in the third period, when the Blues couldn’t afford another setback, Blais wrestled with Charlie Coyle away from the puck and was whistled for interference.

Whatever the merits of any of these calls individually, there is no excuse collectively for taking five penalties in a Stanley Cup Final game. While the penalty kill survived in Game 1, they won’t keep the Bruins’ power play quiet forever. It has been Boston’s biggest weapon in the playoffs.

The Bruins’ Lethal Power Play

Heading into the Final, the Bruins’ power play led all postseason teams in both goals and percentage. They had scored 17 goals in their 17 games, leading all other teams by at least five goals (both the Blues and the San Jose Sharks had scored 12). Their percentage was over 34 percent, and though it is now down to 32.7, it is still 10 points better than any other playoff team, and almost 14 points better than the Blues at 18.8 percent.

Boston Bruins David Pastrnak Columbus Blue Jackets Sergei Bobrovsky
Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak beats Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

While the Bruins were kept mostly silent in the game, scoring just once in their five opportunities, they were still dangerous. According to naturalstattrick, the team had four high-danger chances with the man advantage, and had 88.89 percent of the Corsi for, a stat that measures possession and control of the flow of the game.

If the Bruins continue to perform at that level on the power play, the Blues won’t be able to contain it the way they did in Game 1. Their easiest answer is to take fewer penalties. That is something they must focus on heading into Game 2 on Wednesday night.

Berube’s Blues

Under interim head coach Craig Berube, the Blues have not made a habit of making the same mistake two games in a row. Moreover, before Monday’s game, they had been one of the more mistake-free teams in the playoffs, taking 10 fewer penalties the the other teams in the Conference Finals. So there is reason to believe that the team can get their act together and clean up the sloppy penalties.

If they do not, the Bruins will win this series easily. St. Louis must limit Boston’s special teams opportunities if they want to have a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time in the history of the franchise.