The St. Louis Blues showed why they’re my pick to win the Central Division tonight as they beat Nashville 3-0. They make it tough not just to get shots on goal, but to set up in their zone, to clear your own zone, to pass to your teammates…in short, they don’t give you a second’s rest. In a word, they’re relentless.
Video and more images coming soon – in the meantime here’s a recap of the action.
The first period was really all St. Louis, as their forecheck made it impossible for Nashville to clear the puck from its zone. When Nashville did manage to get to the St. Louis blue line they generally chipped the puck in with no support and couldn’t regain it. That deficit in possession had the Preds chasing, and at 12:10 Mike Fisher was called for hooking after St. Louis set up in the Nashville zone following a bobbled pass from Ryan Ellis to Fisher. T.J. Oshie scored his third goal of the season and the Blues were up 1-0.
It could’ve been 2-0 near the end of the first if not for a little bit of the Pekka Rinne goaltending we know and love:
St. Louis outshot Nashville 9-3 in the first period and kept it going in the second, putting five pucks on net in the first 5:30 while the Preds managed none. Rich Clune made probably his best play of the season after Ryan Reaves laid a big hit on Matt Halischuk, jumping in and dropping the gloves. He managed to get one decent shot in before taking Reaves to the ice:
The Preds couldn’t take any momentum from the Clune scrap, and once Reaves was out of the box he got away with a cross-check to Patric Hornqvist’s face that sent him to the dressing room momentarily. Then St. Louis got a breakaway, which Mike Fisher tried to chase down from behind. He couldn’t get there cleanly and Patrick Berglund scored on the penalty shot to make it 2-0.
Rinne looked like he’d been set and had the play read on the original breakaway, so it’s a shame Berglund got the penalty shot. But Fisher’s play was an effort play trying to catch up from behind, so he can’t really be faulted. St. Louis actually got another breakaway shortly afterward, but luckily for the Preds the forward in question was Scott Nichol. Once again the Blues outshot Nashville in the period, 11-4.
The Preds actually came out with some fire in the third period, starting with about 1:30 left, and Barry Trotz began juggling his line combinations. Fisher centered Erat and Hornqvist with Weber and Ellis on the blue line, but they couldn’t get set up in the zone. David Perron took a dumb holding penalty less than a minute later and the Preds tried Legwand centering Wilson and Smith, with Weber and Ellis on the points. That unit managed to get some shots on net but still couldn’t break through.
Even with the Preds pushing back, the Blues held their own and continued to take advantage of bad breakouts and turnovers by Nashville. And Trotz’s new line combinations didn’t work out well. He dropped Sergei Kostitsyn in with Spaling and Smith, but they immediately botched a breakout just inside the neutral zone that let St. Louis set up in the Nashville zone. Once they cleared, a Bourque-Fisher-Erat line managed to gain the St. Louis zone. But they turned it over and St. Louis set up in the Nashville zone. Within 20 seconds Vladimir Tarasenko had come off the bench completely uncovered to bag his third goal of the season for a 3-0 lead.
Mercifully, that ended up being the final score.
- The Blues simply outworked Nashville all night, and it showed in the stats. Faceoffs for the night were even, but St. Louis dominated shots on goal, 24 to 13. That’s not Predator hockey, and it’s because the Blues forced Nashville out of its comfort zone all night. Full credit to St. Louis for a game plan well-executed.
- Craig Smith got bounced around into a bunch of new situations tonight in his 11:58 of ice time, which was nearly double his time against Minnesota. He spent some time early in the first period centering a line with Rich Clune and Matt Halischuk, but they couldn’t get too much going. He also centered Colin Wilson and Patric Hornqvist on the second power play unit, but the Preds never established themselves in the zone and registered not a shot. Then in the third period he played wing on a line with Sergei Kostitsyn, centered by Nick Spaling. I like this in theory, but they immediately had a terrible breakout that led to a neutral zone turnover and weren’t put together again.
- Some of the cleanest chances of the night for Nashville were for Brandon Yip, who caught the puck open in the slot twice and fired high both times. He’s been playing on the line with Bourque and Spaling, and they’ve been better at gaining the zone than any of the other lines; just imagine if there were someone more skilled in his spot when there’s a scoring chance.
- Sergei Kostitsyn is nearly invisible out there right now. He played the point on the power play but Nashville never got a chance to set up in the zone and utilize him properly. Plus the guy just falls down at the worst times. When Wade Redden was whistled for interference, the Preds moved offside and Martin Erat made a smart play to circle back and maintain possession so Pekka could leave the ice for the extra attacker. After all that setup, everything was ruined by passing it to Sergei, who managed to fall down by the boards and turn the puck over. The extra attacker is free power play time, and the Preds losing it after eating up 10 to 15 seconds to set it up was frustrating to see.
- The St. Louis crowd isn’t very loud at all. They don’t compare a bit with the crowd at Bridgestone Arena. The Preds should take a cue from their fans back home and up the energy level next game.
- If you have a fantasy team that needs PIMs and needs them now, you might want to pick up Rich Clune. He took a shot at Tarasenko after the rookie had passed the puck forward late in the third period with the Blues already up 3-0. They got tangled up by the boards and fell to the ice, and Clune tripped him when the kid got back up. Then Clune smacked him in the back of the head, which finally got the refs to blow the whistle. He’s like a more unhinged version of Woody Harrelson‘s character in Zombieland. Please, David Poile, for the love of hockey, get rid of this guy now. There simply has to be a better option.