juin 29, 2022

Game 4 loss to Avs showed Blues have lost their identity

7 min read

Game 4 between the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues had enough drama to be compelling. There was plenty of bad blood and two teams jockeying for control of the second-round matchup. The Avalanche prevailed 6-3 over the Blues on Monday night. Colorado leads three games to one over St. Louis and can close out the series Wednesday night in Denver.

Here are some observations from Game 4.

Colorado ran St. Louis out of its own building for most of the game.

When I first started writing this, I was going to say the first half of the game belonged to the Avalanche. But by the middle of the third period, it became pretty obvious that St. Louis was simply outplayed for the majority of the evening.

Even though the Blues got out to an early lead courtesy of David Perron’s eighth goal of the Stanley Cup playoffs at 5:07 of the first period, shots were 10-4 in favor of Colorado by the midpoint of the opening frame. By the 14:30 mark of the second period, the Avalanche had 20 shots to the Blues’ six.

Colorado won the game early in the second period when it scored four goals in under five minutes, but St. Louis did push back – albeit momentarily. The Blues scored twice in the closing minutes of the second period to make it a 4-3 game in favor of Colorado, but the overall effort wasn’t good enough. All but three Avalanche players registered a shot on goal en route to posting 37 total, while St. Louis could only muster 20.

I thought Colorado did an excellent job of maintaining pace throughout the game. The Avalanche were first on the puck more often than St. Louis and won the majority of board battles. The Blues were outskated during 5-on-5 play in front of the home crowd. Yikes.

Nazem Kadri has been the best player in the series, period.

Plenty of vitriol remained from Game 3 when a collision involving the Colorado forward and Blues defenseman Calle Rosen knocked goaltender Jordan Binnington out for the remainder of the series with a lower-body injury. The Blues – along with their fans – were all over Kadri from the first time his skates hit the ice.

Kadri responded by posting a four-point night, along with his first career Stanley Cup playoff hat trick. Several St. Louis players went after Kadri during the game. Brayden Schenn took the first crack at the Avalanche forward in the early going, but the turning point was at 5:30 of the second period when Pavel Buchnevich and Perron each took a minor penalty against Kadri.

It was already 3-1 in favor of Colorado at that point. The Blues collectively lost their cool and ended up having to kill two full minutes at 5-on-3. While the Avalanche weren’t able to convert on the power play, they did score just seconds after the penalties expired. Perron and Buchnevich had yet to enter the defensive zone when Kadri scored his second goal of the evening. The Avalanche center tacked on a third goal midway through the third period and was named the first star of the game.

Some players embrace the bad guy role. I sure did. I used to love it when the crowd would yell at me during games. Showing them up was so rewarding. Taking a lap as one of the game’s stars – in front of a hostile crowd – was one of my greatest joys.

Kadri plays the game right to the edge. Sometimes he goes over it, but after four games in this series, he’s been the best player for either team.

The identity of the Blues left the ice with Jordan Binnington.

This one’s pretty simple: St. Louis has looked lost since Binnington was injured in Game 3. Whether it’s his puckhandling they miss most or just saves in general, the Blues haven’t been able to consistently string together quality shifts in his absence. They look ostensibly different and occasionally deflated.

The Blues’ lackluster performance hasn’t made life easy for Ville Husso since he replaced Binnington in Game 3. Despite being the Blues’ starting goaltender for most of the regular season, Husso wasn’t able to carry that strong play into this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. He wasn’t poor against the Minnesota Wild, but he wasn’t great, either.

In Game 4, Husso struggled. He was beaten clean with low shots above his pads on multiple occasions.

What concerns me is Husso’s performance against the Avalanche rush. Two games in a row he’s allowed back-breaking goals when the Avalanche are skating in transition. It’s odd because during the regular season, Husso was one of the better goaltenders in the league against rush chances.

Right now he looks tentative, maybe even cautious, and those are not words that should be associated with a starting goaltender in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Don’t tell Darren Helm it’s 2022.

Usually fourth-line players are noticed for their physicality. The Avalanche forward provided just that with five hits, but Helm also had two solid scoring opportunities in the first period and logged 2:15 worth of ice time on the penalty kill.

The fourth line for Colorado had been used sparingly prior to Monday night’s game, but Helm – along with linemates Andrew Cogliano and Logan O’Connor – played a significant part in Game 4.

Coming into this series, I wasn’t sure what role Helm would play or even if he’d be in the lineup. Colorado is deep, but he’s played like the determined youngster who won a Stanley Cup in 2008 with the Detroit Red Wings.

The Avalanche owned the rush game.

Another game, another goal in transition for Colorado – this time by Kadri. While there haven’t been as many rush opportunities as I expected in the series, the Avalanche continue to find ways to create them.

St. Louis, on the other hand, hasn’t been able to crack the odd-man rush code. Part of that is a lack of puck support by the Blues, but a lot of it has to do with Colorado’s steadfast habit of keeping its third forward high in the offensive zone.

The Blues’ success this season has depended largely on two things: their power play and their rush game. During 5-on-5 play, St. Louis was not a great team during the regular season, and that’s playing out now, as the Blues continue struggling to create offense at any other time than with the man advantage.

What I find interesting is that Colorado’s top line featuring Nathan MacKinnon has largely been silent on the rush. That’s a credit to Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly, who’s been outstanding at shutting down the most dangerous offensive forward on the Avalanche. Still, Kadri and Artturi Lehkonen have been particularly dangerous on the rush for the Avalanche. The Blues have not had an answer for them.

Inexperience plagued the Blues’ blue line.

It was a tough night in general for the St. Louis back end, but Niko Mikkola and Calle Rosen really struggled. Mikkola got hemmed into the Blues defensive zone for an extended amount of time on several occasions and finished the night minus-2. Rosen was directly responsible for Devon Toews’ goal after getting outmuscled by Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog.

Scott Perunovich wasn’t immune to problems, either. His ill-timed attempt to cut off a Colorado pass in the neutral zone gave Kadri a clear lane to the net for his first goal of the evening.

Going with 11 forwards and seven defenseman worked for St. Louis through Game 3, but I was always concerned that the longer the series went, the harder it would be for the Blues forwards to keep pace with the Avalanche given the increased workload.

St. Louis basically played three lines on Monday night. Tyler Bozak and Alexei Toropchenko played a combined 13 minutes of hockey. At this stage of the series, I think St. Louis would be better served having a proper fourth line to combat the speed and depth of Colorado, and the right person for the job is Nathan Walker. I have no doubt that he would bring a spark to the Blues lineup.

Colorado’s depth is really impressive.

Andre Burakovsky was a healthy scratch on Monday night despite putting up 61 points during the regular season. Samuel Girard suffered a broken sternum in Game 3 and is out for the remainder of the year, and Nico Sturm sat out once again.

Losing these three players would be a big deal for most teams, but Avalanche coach Jared Bednar can sleep at night knowing he has several trusted players ready to go at all times.

O’Connor, Alex Newhook and Jack Johnson all began the series as healthy scratches. O’Connor had 24 points during the regular season. Newhook had 33, and Johnson had nine points from the back end. That’s a lot of NHL talent sitting in the press box, but now they’re all in the lineup.

For me, what Colorado’s depth signifies are fresh legs. Bednar knows that he can roll out four fresh lines every game – even if it necessitates removing one of his better offensive players from the lineup.

In the long run, having that flexibility pays off. St. Louis looked overwhelmed by Colorado’s skating ability on Monday night, and I don’t think it was a coincidence. Newhook and O’Connor in particular were flying.

I’m curious to see whom Bednar dresses for Game 5 in Denver. Does he roll out the same lineup? Or does he inject fresh legs back into the mix? Either way, Colorado is stacked with talent.

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