For the second series in a row, the Blues
have put themselves behind the eight ball by coming out and playing one of their worst games in the opener. Worse yet, they've done it both times while playing at home in the Scottrade Center,
where they were the NHL's best home team this season.
Of course, playing against the San Jose Sharks in the first round, the Blues were able to come back with a vengenance, rolling off four straight victories following a double overtime loss to take the series in five games. The lone loss was a frustrating one, to be sure, but the series never really had the feeling of careening out of the Blues' control. They dictated the pace and tempo for most of the series despite the Sharks' best efforts, and always felt undoubtedly like the team in the driver's seat.
Unfortunately, that's not really the case here. The Blues didn't outplay the Kings Saturday night only to see the game slip away late. Los Angeles did at least as much dictating as the Blues did, and Jonathan Quick did what Jonathan Quick does. The result? A 1-0 series deficit that feels much more dangerous than the last one. Add in a potential injury to the Blues' top defenseman and I would be lying if I told you I wasn't very, very worried about this series.
The Blues and Kings played four times in the regular season. In those four games, the Blues won once, lost twice in regulation, and added an overtime loss for good measure. Not a great record, but not exactly the stuff of nightmares.
Here's what is the stuff of nightmares: in those four games, the Blues were shut out by Jonathan Quick twice, and managed a total of three goals overall. That's right, you read that correctly. Four games. Three goals. Total. Don't get me wrong; Jonathan Quick is one of the best goalies in the NHL, and managed to make a lot of teams look relatively bad. But a 0.75 goals against average is not a number you want to see in the opposing goalie's stat line.
Things started strong in the first period for the Blues, but their energy flagged after that. You would think having not played in a week would have given them plenty of energy, but apparently you would be wrong. The Kings upped the intensity -- including some, ahem, questionable hits
-- and took it to the Blues, forcing the Note back onto their heels, in much the same fashion as they've done to most of their opponents all season long. With Quick standing on his head the way he pretty much always seems to do when the Blues see L.A., there didn't seem to be much, if any, chance for a comeback.
The second goal for the Kings was really the killer, a short-handed goal that resulted from a Kevin Shattenkirk miscue and some very opportunistic attacking by the Kings. Brian Elliott stopped the initial shot by Dustin Brown but couldn't corral the rebound. And just like that, the Kings took the lead.
Even more than the goal, though, was the run of penalties the Blues picked up in the third as they tried to claw back into the game. Six minutes of short-handed play between a double-minor high stick by T.J. Oshie and a delay of game (stupidest penalty in hockey, by the way), on Kevin Shattenkirk, who flipped the puck up over the glass trying to clear it out. It was not one of Shattenkirk's more memorable games wearing a Blues sweater overall.
Most worrisome of all, though, even more than Jonathan Quick's impossible awesomeness against the Blues or the general lack of energy in trying to force the tempo, is the possibility the Blues may be without Alex Pietrangelo. He did not play in the third period after going face first into the boards, and it was suggested he was experiencing concussion-like symptoms after the game. The Blues know all about concussions, and the spectre of their best defenseman -- hell, probably their best player, period -- being out for any period of time at all with a head injury is terrifying.
If Pietrangelo has to miss any time, I think the Blues are in serious trouble. This was already a series that should have scared everyone going in, and should worry everyone even more seeing how the teams played in game one. But if the Blues are going to have to play this team, and this goalie, without one of their top players, I do not feel good at all about their chances.
Actually, to tell you the truth, I don't really feel all that good about the Blues' chances in this series regardless. Coming in, I thought they had the better offense, with the defense being roughly equal, and so I liked the Blues to take the series. Now, though, after actually seeing these teams play on Saturday, I don't really like where the Blues are. They came out and were out-intensed on their home ice, and against a goalie who absolutely owns them. It may not have mattered how well the Blues played with Quick in goal, but the fact is that after the first period they were clearly the team on the defensive. You just can't win that way against a team like the Kings.
The series continues tonight at Scottrade, and whereas I thought game two of the San Jose was very close to a must-win, this game is an absolute must-win. No two ways about it. If the Blues go down two games to none heading out west, you can stick a fork in them, and in this remarkable season of theirs.
If the Blues want to have any chance of climbing back into this series tonight, they have to get more traffic in front of the net, they have to crash in harder, and they have to eliminate the penalties. You can't come back when one of your players is stuck in the box and all your energy is going into killing off penalties. So more energy, more work down low in front of the Kings' goal, and less six-minute penalty kills.
Oh, and hope to god Alex Pietrangelo is out on the ice tonight.