Ryan Riffs: Blue Notes

The Kings were on the power play, early in the 1st period, looking for a goal to break open a deadlocked 0-0 game. Los Angeles defenseman Christian Ehrhoff fired a shot from the left point that Blues’ goalie Jake Allen made the initial save with Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik hacking away at him to try and jam the puck home. Somehow, the puck slid out to Allen’s glove side right to a wide open Anze Kopitar, who had a sure goal.

Except not.

Allen sprawled across his crease like a desperate person trying to keep an already falling vase from hitting the floor. Throwing his glove hand at the puck with everything he had, Allen somehow came up with Kopitar’s wrist shot to deny the Kings what had looked like a sure goal.

Jake Allen's brilliant, sprawling save to rob Anze Kopitar of a surefire goal
Jake Allen’s brilliant, sprawling save to rob Anze Kopitar of a surefire goal

There are a few plays per game that make me say “wow”, but rarely am I truly left speechless by something I see on the ice.

I was completely speechless after what I had just seen.

Following Allen’s unreal save, I thought to myself, “It can’t really get any better than that.” And although I was right, as none of Allen’s saves from there on out against Los Angeles last night were better than the one on Kopitar, Allen made multiple other saves that made me say, “Wow.”

The Blues ended up losing the game 3-0, but don’t let those three goals fool you, Jake Allen played out of his mind, making unbelievable saves to consistently bail out a slacking St. Louis defense. I made the short case last week that the Blues should give Allen the keys to their figurative goalie car by trading Brian Elliott, effectively making Allen the de facto #1 goalie.

Over the course of his last three games, Allen has shut out a terrific Tampa Bay Lightning offense, saved 23 of 24 against Anaheim, and posted his sterling performance against Los Angeles. It’s too early in the season for the number to truly reflect my opinion, but just watching the two of them play, it’s clear that Allen has an extra gear he can switch into that Elliott just doesn’t have.

It might be that Allen’s younger, more athletic, or whatnot; but whatever the reason is, Allen just looks sharper and more confident in between the pipes. So add onto that confidence and give him the keys to the car. Push all the chips to the middle of the table and roll with him. You want a great reward? You have to take a great risk.

…………

I’m as big a fan of Vladimir Tarasenko as you will ever find. I honestly think he is one of the top 5 best all-around players in this league right now. But for all of his offensive brilliance, the league is naturally adjusting to his insane offensive talent.

When Tarasenko is on the ice, other teams certainly know about it and are on high alert. He doesn’t have as much time and space as he used to, and defenses are even putting two skaters on him at all times. Simply put, Tarasenko is being clamped down upon by opposing defenses as they’ve casually realized, “Hey, this #91 guy in blue is pretty good…maybe we should defend him.”

So what does that mean? It means that the Blues offense can’t necessarily run through him anymore.

At times on Tuesday against Los Angeles, it appeared as though the Blues offense was just sort of waiting for Tarasenko to make one of his magical plays and score them a goal. And the Kings, following suit with the rest of the league, weren’t giving Tarasenko any space to work with.

The Blues’ game is to work the puck down below the icing line and get bodies in front of the net. But the thing that really makes the whole ‘bodies to the front of the net’ thing work is that there have to be a lot of shots all flowing on net. And the Blues just aren’t doing enough of that.

Again, the numbers – damn them sometimes – don’t back me up here as the Blues are averaging the 3rd most shots in the league at 31.6 per game. But how many of those are really coming from the Blues’ 5-on-5 system. From my estimation, not many. And that absolutely has to change.

Against the Kings Tuesday night the Blues had quite a few odd man rushes that ended without a shot being put on goal or a very poor shot being put on goal. They just seemed to be waiting for the perfect opportunity to arise to dish out a brilliant pass and create a scoring chance for a teammate.

While all of that is great and necessary to success, more often than not you just need to get the puck on goal. Get a hard shot, make the goalie make a play, don’t wait around for the perfect pass to rear its head and end up with a wasted rush.

…….

As you might be able to tell if you’ve been reading me consistently – and if you have, God bless you – I watch sports with my dad a lot. He and I bonded over them and they mean a lot to us. This doesn’t change with regard to hockey, and we love to watch the Blues together.

On opening night he had a confused look on his face for the majority of the 1st period. When I asked him why he responded with, “I just have no idea who half of these guys are…”

I had followed the Blues’ somewhat busy offseason and training camp well enough to know that there were a lot of new faces; but it really registered with me that opening night just how different this 2015-16 team looks when compared to last year’s team.

So after 12 games, here are my opinions on the newest Blues. For the record, I’m only including players in their first year with the club, while rookies will be addressed on some other occasion.

Kyle Brodziak: Brodziak was a bit of a lowkey pickup by GM Doug Armstrong, but has done a really solid job on Ken Hitchcock’s beloved fourth line so far, flanking Steve Ott and Ryan Reaves. Brodziak brings a physical edge, wins face-offs, and is a really good penalty killer. While the Blues didn’t necessarily need more physicality and grit, Brodziak has been a solid pickup and hopefully can continue to positively impact the club.

Troy Brouwer: I’m really mixed on Brouwer, the main piece the Blues got back in the T.J. Oshie trade with Washington. While he has sneaky speed and back-checks well, Brouwer struggles with his skating at times and makes some passes and plays in the offensive zone that leave me scratching my head. I want to believe that Brouwer just needs more time in the system and will get better acclimated as the season continues, but when I look over at the Capitals and see Oshie playing so well it’s a little hard to swallow that Brouwer was the best we could do for him. But I’m willing to give it more time; a lot more time actually.

Scott Gomez: Of all of their new acquisitions I’ve actually been most impressed with Gomez. A terrific player in New Jersey for many years, Gomez came to St. Louis on a low risk deal that didn’t really give him much of a real chance to make the opening night roster. Regardless, Gomez has played very well so far. He is an outstanding puck possession player, has a very good set of hands, makes plays in the offensive zone, and is another good back-checker. A quality, veteran 3rd or 4th line option, Gomez has played really well and hopefully can continue what he’s got going.

Scottie Upshall: I’m really not quite sure what to make of Upshall, to be honest with you. He is obviously a role player, and isn’t really well integrated into the offensive or defensive structure and thus isn’t all that noticeable during the games. So, to be honest again, I don’t really have an opinion on Upshall. Get back to me on this one.

………..

Tonight marks this season’s first Blues-Blackhawks matchup, in what has turned into one of the league’s nastiest rivalries. The Blues have looked good so far this season, especially considering the wave of critical injuries they’ve had to deal with; but here in St. Louis there are few potential wins that matter more to us than those over the Blackhawks.

Suffice to say, it is a massive game for both teams, and should be wonderful hockey to watch. Buckle up and enjoy this one tonight, I know I will.

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

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Ryan Riffs: Blue Notes

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