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Benjamin Hochman: Blues got the loss they deserved. Here's what they should do for Game 2.

Benjamin Hochman, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in Hockey

DENVER — The Blues didn’t deserve to win with the way they played.

So, sure, it was pretty impressive and exciting that Game 1 went to overtime. All they needed was one shot to win.

Fittingly, they didn’t even get off one shot in the overtime.

The Blues lost here at Ball Arena, 3-2, and it easily could’ve been 6-2. Or 16-2. Take the airtight outcome out of it — the Blues didn’t look like were in the same league as the Avalanche. Decision after decision on the ice seemed forced and ill-fated. And now, coach Craig Berube has some decisions to make — and I think the top one involves the top offensive-producing line.

Shake it up. The line centered by Robert Thomas, featuring wingers Pavel Buchnevich and Vladimir Tarasenko, was out of sorts Tuesday. Thomas sure didn’t help things with his embarrassing performance on the face-off dot. He was 4-for-15. That’s 11 times that this offensive-minded line started in a defensive mode. And Tarasenko, the Blues’ best shooter, didn’t shoot. Not one shot. Actually none of the guys tallied a shot.

So, shuffle Ivan Barbashev back at center with his fellow Russians — that’ll give the line some oomph, both offensively and physically (“Barby” had four hits in Game 1).

"It's all about work and competing — really, it is,” Berube said when asked about the Thomas line. “You've got to fight for space, you've got to fight for pucks, especially this time of year and especially against this team. That's it. It really boils down to that — and being connected. You've got to have numbers around the puck. They're a little bit too spread out, too 1-on-1 and they're not trying to possess pucks enough."

Now, the Avs will always get their share of chances offensively. But this was absurd. Per the site NaturalStatTrick, Colorado had 39 scoring chances in the game; the Blues had 11. And Colorado had 16 high-danger chances; the Blues had five. Yet after two periods, the Avs only led, 2-1. That was gobsmacking. The second period was one of the worst periods I’ve seen this Blues team play.

Berube’s face in the postgame interview session summed it up. He began describing the second period and then just laughed in disbelief, while saying: “We talked about it before the game — like, if you just put it out in the neutral zone, they're going to counter and they came at us with a lot of speed. And we didn't kill enough plays in our D zone."

 

All of this made it all the more inexplicable that the game was tied after regulation. The Blues were out-everything’d. Something else incredible — that Colorado won without goals from Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Gabriel Landeskog and, really, any notable Av.

This game shouldn’t have been there for the Blues to steal — but this game was there for the Blues to steal. And they lost it.

But by somehow keeping it a game, you’d think that adds to the team’s confidence going forward. That’s the psychology of all of this. The Blues coaches could spin it — Hey, you guys were right in this game, so imagine how we’ll do if we clean some things up?

Of course, the Blues have one thing going for them that Colorado doesn’t — Jordan Binnington. Sure, Avs goalie Darcy Kuemper saved 23 of 25 shots and got the win. But the Blues’ Binnington was like a human accordion. No. 50 saved 51 shots. Fifty-one. He’s locked-in. He’s playing like 2019 Binnington. He kept the Blues in the game. Heck, if they had won in overtime, he might’ve still deserved the No. 1 star.

“He made some saves that we feel like we had empty nets, and he stuck a leg out or a hand out or whatever,” Colorado’s captain Landeskog said. “He played really well. But in overtime, we just stressed just to keep playing, keep playing, keep doing what we were doing — creating a lot. And it's just a matter of time. And we were able to hem them in and (Josh) Manson put it top shelf.”

Josh Manson. Of all the players. On a weird night, in which Colorado could’ve scored a bunch of goals, it took a shot from some guy named Josh Manson to win it in overtime.

But in the end, the Avs got the win that they earned with their play.

And the Blues got the loss that their play deserved.

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