The Blues entered Saturday needing a big performance in their first back-to-back series of the season to right the ship after an inconsistent start to the year. Instead, they escaped with just one point, surrendering leads in both games in the third period. Now, they sit at 1-2-2 entering a critical Canadian road trip that will test their mettle in the extreme.
Here are some of the highlights and some of the lowlights from this weekend.
Late Equalizers Cost the Blues
The Blues had leads in the third period in both games this weekend. On Saturday, against the Chicago Blackhawks, they entered the period down by a goal, but scored two goals in the first five minutes, both on the power play, to take the lead. David Perron scored his fourth goal of the season after capitalizing on a Cam Ward mistake, and Brayden Schenn took advantage of great forechecking by Alex Steen and Colton Parayko to beat Ward low.
But the lead wouldn’t last. Duncan Keith would take advantage of a botched line change late in the period to set up Alex DeBrincat for the equalizer with just seven minutes left. Despite some late pressure, the game would go to overtime, where DeBrincat would score the game-winner with just nine seconds remaining.
A similar pattern unfolded against the Ducks on Sunday. The Blues had the lead until the eighth minute of the third, when Ben Street tied the game. Seven minutes later, on a power play, Andrew Cogliano scored his first goal of the season to give the Ducks a lead that they would hold until the end of the game.
This is the fourth time in five games this season the Blues have coughed up a lead, including three in the third period (13:36, 6:54 and 5:16 remaining in regulation). #stlblues
— Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) October 15, 2018
Sunday’s collapse was the third time in five games this season that the Blues surrendered a lead in the third period, a troublesome stat that’s carried over from last year. It’s a trend the Blues need to right immediately.
News broke on Friday that Jaden Schwartz was likely to miss the weekend with a lower-body injury. He took a shot off the foot in Thursday’s game against the Flames, but was able to play through the pain for the rest of the tilt. However, the injury flared up before the weekend, and the Blues were forced to go without one of their top forwards over a critical stretch.
While coach Mike Yeo claims that the injury isn’t a long-term concern, fans will be disquieted by the similarity between this and the injury that sidelined Schwartz for almost two months last season. Sammy Blais took his place and averaged 16:45 in the two games over the weekend. He didn’t appear on the scorecard, but he played well in relief of Schwartz. Still, the Blues will be hoping to get their engine back soon, particularly with a difficult road trip on the horizon.
Power Play Still Hot
On the bright side, the Blues’ power play, which was second-worst in the league in 2017-18, has looked strong in this young season, and continued to excel over the weekend. St. Louis scored three times in seven opportunities, including two go-ahead goals. While both leads were ultimately surrendered, it was promising to see the Blues stay hot on special teams.
Presently, the Blues are ranked in the top-10 in the league on both the power play and the penalty kill. It’s a significant turnaround from last year, when St. Louis ranked in the bottom half in both categories. While the season is still young, the Blues’ special teams are a reason for fans to remain hopeful that a turnaround is coming.
Johnson and Allen Stand Tall
Jake Allen’s struggles in the first few games were already a significant concern, but on Saturday, he had one of the better games of his career, stopping 46 of 50 shots against. While ultimately taking the loss, Allen can hardly be blamed when forced to face 50 total shots, and he kept the team in the game, particularly in the first period, when he stopped 20 shots, including a dandy pad save in the final minutes to keep the game from getting out of hand.
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) October 14, 2018
On Sunday, in his first game in a Blues’ uniform, Chad Johnson stood tall as well. He faced 31 shots and allowed only three goals. While Johnson was quick to accept blame for the loss, he can hardly be blamed. He allowed just two even-strength goals, and they were on a breakaway and a redirect, respectively. If the Blues’ goalies have found their stride, one of the offseason’s biggest concerns may not be a problem after all.
The Blues Week Ahead
While there are some reasons for hope, the Blues have a huge week ahead with three tough games in Canada. They start on Wednesday against the Montreal Canadiens, who have surprised some teams in the early going, and then travel to Toronto to meet the hottest team in the league, the Maple Leafs. They’ll follow that up by playing the Jets, the team that already trounced St. Louis in their home opener, in Winnipeg on Monday. It would be a tough stretch for a team who isn’t struggling, but for the Blues, it is a veritable murderer’s row of opponents.
If the Blues do not have a significant turnaround, they could well start the season with six or seven losses in their first eight games. If that happens, they’ll need to ask some serious questions about whether the right pieces are in place for the team to be successful. Fans are already dissatisfied with head coach Mike Yeo, whose seat is warming if it isn’t yet hot. The Blues will need to regroup before puck drops in Montreal on Wednesday, or else the season will get away from them fast.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.