The Blues' Best Win of the Year?
The Blues and their new head coach, Davis "Bring The" Payne got a little bit of revenge last night on the Chicago Blackhawks.
A month ago, when Payne took over as interim head coach of the Blues, replacing Andy Murray, his first game was against the Blackhawks, on home ice.
It did not go well.
The Blackhawks absolutely destroyed the Blues that night, 6-3, hanging a rather prominent lantern on what had been - and, to a degree, continues to be - the Blues' biggest bugaboo this season. The Blues' problems winning games at Scottrade Center have been well-documented, if not particularly well understood. Their dismantling at the hands of Chicago was just another in a long line of setbacks at home.
Well, it may not have been a blowout, and they may not have put up a half-dozen, and come to think of it, it wasn't at home, but the Blues still got the win last night over the Blackhawks, who continue to look like the class of the NHL this season.
With the Olympic break bearing down on the NHL, the Blues have six games in the next nine days, and it was important to get off on the right foot to begin February. They did so with one of their most complete efforts of the season, combining outstanding goaltending, a solid offensive effort, and just enough defense against a club whose skill players can make even the hardiest defense look porous and slow.
The offensive star of the game was David Backes, who scored two of the team's three goals, all of which came in the latter half of the second period. It was the sort of game most of us have been waiting for all season, waiting for him to step up and fulfill the promise he's shown such flashes of in the past. Backes has the size, footwork, and toughness to crash the net and be a legitimate scoring threat on a nightly basis; the only problem for him, as it has been for most of this team, has been consistency. Too often Backes seems content to lay back and wait for a perfect angle or a wide-open shot instead of attacking the net and forcing the opposing goaltender to make a play. Whether or not he'll carry the momentum from last night's game forward is anybody's guess, but either way it was encouraging to see what kind of a force Backes can be in the crease when he plays to his talent.
On the other side, Chris Mason was outstanding, saving 32 of 34 goals against the potent Blackhawk offense that features two of the brightest young stars in the game, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, as well as the still-dangerous Marian Hossa. To hold an offense with that kind of top-end talent to only two goals is impressive on the best of nights; to do it on a night when the Blues' defense was good but definitely not great is remarkable.
Really, the only downside of the night was the number of shots Mason had to stop in holding the Chicago offense at bay. The Blues' defense played with energy, but didn't do a great job of either getting the puck back out of their own zone or blocking up the space in front of the goal. It isn't enough to just play tough and tenaciously on defense; too often this season we've seen the Blues outshot badly. Last night was no different, with the Blues on the short side of a 34-19 shots on goal deficit. The defense did do an admirable job in the third period, when the Blackhawks came at them with what might be termed a kitchen sink attack - as in, everything but. Watching at home, I thought there was a good chance Chicago would catch the Blues, but they held off the late charge and pulled the game out.
Overall, it was an impressive victory on hostile ice over one of the best teams in all of hockey. The offense was opportunistic, turning some sloppy puck-handling by Chicago into goals, the goaltending was top-notch, and the defense stiffened late when they needed to most.