Ugly Win Chance For Blues To Build Momentum

The St. Louis Blues halted their 3-game losing streak Tuesday night with an ugly win over the Phoenix Coyotes, one they can use to build momentum. The win gives the Blues 36 points, good for third overall in the Western Conference and was a morale booster for a team facing a gut-check. St. Louis needed more than just the points and will try to build on the victory as their home stand continues. The Blues aren’t necessarily more comfortable in the friendly confines and have identical Home and Away records so far this season (8-4-2.)

An ugly win can put a team in a dangerous position. It would be nice if the Blues could simply revel in the victory, stopping the slide and scoring 4 goals, but this is a team who has struggled to find its identity now for over a month. They’ve had a tough time scoring goals averaging just under 2 per game over their previous nine contests. Last night’s 4-goal effort was the first time St. Louis netted more than 3 goals since November 7. That’s 14 games. They’d managed only a single goal in each of their last three games, all losses. Goaltending, which had carried the Blues through any rough spots during October was suddenly pedestrian having allowed 23 goals against during that same 9-game span. Allen was pulled from the first period of a game for the second time this season.

St. Louis saying all the right things

Since losing their third straight this past Saturday the Blues said they knew why things weren’t going well and that they’d practiced hard to prepare themselves for getting back on track. Hitchcock liked what he saw in drills Monday and made a bold prediction:

“I think you’re going to see marked improvement starting tomorrow.”

To a degree he was right. On one hand, the Blues scored 4 goals and earned 2 points, ending the losing streak. They got goals from their stars; Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Steen and Kevin Shattenkirk. They got another high-caliber effort from goaltender Jake Allen and advanced stats show St. Louis controlling the even-strength game, a success on many levels. Despite the numbers it was an ugly win.

On the other hand, the Blues didn’t record their first shot on goal until almost FOURTEEN MINUTES into the first period and finished the initial 20 minutes with three. Going back to Saturday’s game that gave St. Louis two full periods of hockey with three or fewer shots on goal. After 50 a 50-second first shift to open the Arizona game (which yielded zero shots, obviously) Tarasenko took a penalty that killed any and all momentum. Captain David Backes would take a bad slashing penalty and though it came 20 seconds after their power play expired, the Coyotes would take a 1-0 lead before the Blues even registered a shot on goal. Defensive zone turnovers were costly in each of the losses during the 3-game losing streak and they reared their destructive heads again early Tuesday night.

Ugly win with handsome numbers

Lack of communication can be blamed for many of those gaffes as well as the Blues failure to connect on scoring chances , just as it had during the loss Saturday. St. Louis would find themselves cycling the puck in the offensive zone and making too many passes to find that one perfect shot only to come away with none and a break the other way. It looked like a repeat of the same listless, aimless hockey displayed again and again throughout the previous month. It wasn’t the first time they needed an ugly win to gain 2 points in the standings. That the Blues controlled much of the 5-on-5 action and the scoring chances actually tipped heavily in their favor versus Arizona shouldn’t be a surprise.

Magnus Paajarvi contributed in the Blues ugly win Tuesday
Magnus Paajarvi saw action on the top line Tuesday night (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

The Coyotes finished a 5-game road trip with their fifth straight loss and going back to last season the Blues have dominated Arizona, 9-0-1 including last night’s win. Unfortunately St. Louis tends to play down to their competition and given a tougher opponent the results would likely have been different. What IS a surprise is how the Blues got it done and it only leaves more questions. For the first time this season and maybe in his entire career in St. Louis, Coach Ken Hitchcock didn’t shuffle his forward lines. Did that continuity lend itself to chemistry and the high Corsi numbers? Is that why the Blues finally won again?

Positive takeaways for St. Louis

Given the opportunity for top-line minutes and playing with some of the more highly skilled players on the team, Magnus Paajarvi contributed in a way he hadn’t for much of the season. His speed with and without the puck helped generate scoring chances for Tarasenko and Paul Stastny and he notched an assist on Tarasenko’s goal with a very nice cross-ice pass. Called up Sunday from AHL Chicago, Petteri Lindbohm was solid in his 2015-16 debut logging 15:29 of ice with the third pairing. After proving his ability to play a the NHL level last season, the Finnish defenseman’s place on this year’s roster was blocked in camp by the outstanding if somewhat unexpected play of Joel Edmundson and Colton Parayko. Edmundson was sent down to make room for Lindbohm and he made the most of his chance to show he still belongs with the Blues.

 Allen appeared to return to his reliable, leather-flashing ways after a rough outing Saturday. The netminder stopped 22 of 23 shots, 10 of them while shorthanded and was the Blues best player in the first period once again giving his team a chance to overcome a slow start to win a game. It wasn’t pretty, but St. Louis may have posted their most important win of the season last night. The club will always take an ugly win but time and a busy December (12 games in 22 days) will tell if the Blues have turned the page on their sluggish ways.