Penguins 5, Blues 1 – Outworked, Outplayed, Outmatched

This one wasn’t fun boys and girls. If you were unable to catch the game last night, or are a DirecTV customer and are unable to see Versus, consider yourself lucky. The Blues failed to show up for the last game of their three game trip and were firmly defeated by the defending Stanley Cup Champions. You can usually expect to see a recap of the game, but instead today features a look back to the “keys to success” post from yesterday and how the Blues failed to accomplish very many of them.

Yesterday I posted here that the contest against the Penguins was sure to be a tough one, and that the team needed to stick to a strict plan in order to come away with two points in Pittsburgh. Below (in bold) are the keys to victory I wrote yesterday separated into two categories: what the Blues accomplished compared to what they failed to do.

Failures (5):

“Manage the puck. The Penguins can’t beat you if they don’t have the puck. Manage possession and don’t force plays. Pittsburgh is loaded with weapons from front to back that can light the lamp at any given time, except when they are chasing back into their own end.”

Where do I begin? Forced passes, giveaways and a method of handling the puck that resembled hot potato summed up the entire first period as well as large segments of the game following the first break. The Blues were out shot 20 to 3 in the first period. Unfortunately, that’s not a typo and Pittsburgh really did muster the same number of shots in one period that some teams manage in an entire game. For instance, the Blues managed 23 shots for the entire game. The Blues set a dismal tone early (which has been a trademark for them this season) and have yet to play any form of consistent hockey.

Cut out turnovers in your own end. Carlo, I’m afraid to say it but I’m looking at you. Losing the puck in your own end is disasterous against a side that sports the likes of Crosby/Malkin.

While it isn’t fair to throw just Carlo under the bus, the entire Blues team played a sloppy, uninspired game of hockey last night and were burned as a result. Speaking of Evgeni Malkin, he crushed the Blues with an impressive performance which included disrupting passing lanes, using his size to punish the Note, and firing off 12 shots – a total the Blues did not reach as a team until the third period. Malkin finished with a goal to complete his 12 shot effort.

Be aware of the secondary weapons. Everyone knows you can’t let Crosby or Malkin beat you, but guys like Tyler Kennedy and veteran blueliner Sergei Gonchar should not go forgotten. Gonchar has as many points as Crosby (7) in the team’s first seven contests.

The Blues missed the memo on this one. Granted, the Penguins sport what might be the best third line in the NHL, but no excuses can be made by how badly the Blues played against this line – regardless of which line they sent out. Matt Cooke, Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy form this third line, and you can find their names all over the boxscore from last night.
Matt Cooke: 1 goal, 1 assist. +1. 2 shots.
Jordan Staal: 1 assist. +2. 4 shots.
Tyler Kennedy: 1 goal. +1. 3 shots.

What the boxscore won’t tell you is how this line used their size to contain the Blues in their own end and break up any attempt to push the puck up the ice.

Speed. Copy the model used against Anaheim this past weekend. The play of Perron and McDonald will be imperative as their speed disrupts the Pittsburgh plan of attack.

I told you this wasn’t pretty. The Blues crawled out of the gate, leaving a wealth of Penguins with seemingly acres of open ice to do as they wished. The first period resembled a 20 minute power-play for the Penguins, and it was shocking the score only read 2-0 at the first break. The Blues were slow to close on their opponent, slow to start checking, slow to get the puck out of their own end, and so on and so on. It is a tale of two different teams when you compared the 5-0 victory against Anaheim with the 5-1 defeat at the hands of Pittsburgh. Which Blues team should we expect to see the rest of the way?

Stay out of the box. Obviously, with the roster Pittsburgh has, you can not afford to give them too many power-plays.

Three first period penalties led to one of the worst periods of hockey I have ever seen St. Louis play. The delay of game call against Perron was an unfortunate one, but the high sticking call against McDonald and the roughing call on Backes are penalties you can not afford to take against a team like Pittsburgh. The Penguins power-play is extremely talented and lit the lamp twice with the man advantage.

Accomplishments (1):

Strong goaltending. So this one is a gimme, but the Penguins have an extremely talented Marc-Andre Fleury in net who through seven games is 7-0-0 with a 2.10 GAA and a save percentage of .920. My money is on Mason starting and he will have to bring his “A” game to keep the Blues afloat.

This may be the only area that receives a passing grade last night. Chris Mason was peppered with shots (35 in two period) before being lifted prior to the third. Of those 35, Mason stopped 31, and frankly I doubt Conklin could have done any better. Mason did his best and made some fantastic saves, especially in the first period, which kept the Blues in the game when they clearly were overwhelmed. My sympathies go out to Mason, who was the only Blue to show up at the first whistle.

Final Thoughts:

A dominating 5-0 win against a very strong Anaheim side followed up by a 5-1 bruising by Pittsburgh. Honestly, I’m not surprised by the final line last night. The Blues jumped out of the game extremely slowly for the sixth time in seven games. The team, as a whole, looked frightened and intimidated last night. This game reminded me a lot of how the Blues looked against Detroit in recent years – timid, scared and slow. The Blues needed to come out flying and hitting and instead they remained back on their heels and allowed Pittsburgh to orchestrate the contest.

Through seven games, the Blues are 3-3-1 which is good for seven points. They have forced 20 goals while allowing 20 goals. Overall the Blues have been inconsistent and are flipping between brilliant and mediocre/terrible.

Looking ahead, the Blues come home to take on Minnesota (1-6-0) on Friday. Minnesota has struggled greatly so far this season, and the Note need to capitalize and earn two points on Friday night.

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