It’s hard to believe that all it took for the St. Louis Blues to go from playoff bubble team to President’s Trophy candidates was a change behind the bench. Yet here we are with a handful of games left in the regular season and Ken Hitchcock has taken a team that was a Western Conference afterthought to the top of the standings. If anyone in professional hockey hires Davis Payne in a coaching position again, they deserve whatever pathetic fate awaits them.
On Tuesday night, the Blues saw themselves in the fortuitous position of having a 3-1 lead after one period. Forty-five minutes later, the Hawks won in a shootout 4-3. Here’s how it got there:
–I should probably give the Blues a longer look before making this statement but if their defense plays as passive in the offensive zone as they did tonight, the playoffs are going to be a struggle for them. The Blues defense had a handful of opportunities (I recall three off the top of my head) to pinch in on loose pucks and at least slow up the Hawks rush. Instead, they were already at the center line giving the Hawks a full head of steam with numbers coming the other way.
If they’re not that insecure about their defense’s ability to skate with skill forwards to loose pucks, it’s not going to get any easier in the middle of April.
Granted, this game could have been the exception to the rule, but it certainly appeared as though the Blues were so terrified of giving up an odd man rush that they sacrificed any offense for it. It gave the Hawks forwards nothing to worry about as they chased down loose pucks and kickstarted their offense the other way. In other news, the Hawks outshot the Blues 46-24.
–How slow is Barrett Jackman if Andrew Brunette beats him in a race to the net? Answer at the bottom.
–Niklas Hjalmarsson left the game after a period and a half. This is now the second time he’s been unable to finish a game due to a previous concussion. So it looks like the dream of having a Keith-Seabrook, Oduya-Leddy, and Hjalmarsson-Montador defense will have to remain a fantasy. Unless of course someone wants to tell me how good it looks on NHL ’12.
–Andrew Shaw continues to prove he’s simply not strong enough on the puck to be expected to play big minutes on a checking line. St. Louis’ third goal was a direct result of Shaw getting easily bumped off the puck at center ice. He had 16 minutes tonight and while he did get some power play time at the end of regulation, he shouldn’t be getting that much more ice time than Bryan Bickell (12 minutes).
On the other end of the spectrum, it’s increasingly debatable that Jimmy Hayes should have been put on Rockford’s clear day roster because I’m not sure how playing less than five minutes a night is helping his development any.
–In relief, Corey Crawford made every save he had to (and this season that’s been an extreme rarity in these parts), but he was hardly the pillar of exquisite goaltending. A few of his saves looked like he thought the puck was somewhere else but it ended up hitting him anyway. Don’t even get me started on the shootout when T.J. Oshie’s shot hit him in the legs than Crawford reacted to it as the puck was trickling to the corner.
To his credit, he looked much more comfortable on the final two shooters.
–I think a lot of people forgot when Johnny Oduya was acquired that two years earlier, he was considered the center piece of the Ilya Kovalchuk trade. Playing in hockey Death Valley will probably erase a lot of people’s memories. Though we saw a couple of warts in his play in the first period tonight, Oduya still rebounded to put forth another very solid effort. If it wasn’t Duncan Keith’s last shift in overtime, Oduya would have been the ice time leader. Something tells me Joel Quenneville likes his new toy.