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

Ryan Riffs: How Seth Russell’s Injury Affects the College Football Playoff

Back in August, as the college football season was starting, I set my College Football Playoff field to Ohio State, TCU, LSU and Baylor, (yes, I had two Big 12 teams don’t judge me). I had Ohio State winning it all, and felt pretty confident in that prediction.

Fast forward about three weeks of Ohio State struggling and Baylor dominating and my National Champion pick had switched over to Baylor. An breathtakingly dominant offense combined with a more than adequate defense, and Baylor had me sold.

Photo for Associated Press
Photo for Associated Press

Entering week 7 my pick hadn’t changed. Baylor’s offense looked dominant once again in the first half against Iowa State before I turned the channel away to focus my attention on a more exciting game. Well, while I turned away something happened that is going to change my National Championship again.

First off, I want to wish Seth Russell a quick and speedy recovery from a scary neck injury that will keep him out for the rest of the 2015 season. His health is the thing that matters most and I wish him all the best in his recovery.

The unfortunate hit that put Seth Russell out for the season (pt. 1). Photo by Ron Aydelotte for Waco Tribune
The unfortunate hit that put Seth Russell out for the season (pt. 1). Photo by Ron Aydelotte for Waco Tribune
The unfortunate hit that put Seth Russell out for the season (pt. 2). Photo by Ashley Landis for Associated Press
The unfortunate hit that put Seth Russell out for the season (pt. 2). Photo by Ashley Landis for Associated Press

But holy smokes does it shake up the Playoff picture.

Baylor’s offense has been just stupid good so far with Russell, averaging 686 yards and 61.1 points per game. That is absolute insanity and you couldn’t even put up those type of numbers in a video game because you’d get too bored with scoring so much.

Russell has been leading the charge, throwing for 2,109 yards with 26(!) touchdowns to only 6 interceptions, and adding 402 yards and 6 more touchdowns on the ground. He’s up at the top with Leonard Fournette in the Heisman picture and is just insanely talented.

Without him? No one knows what to expect from the Baylor offense.

Art Briles insists that the team is “in good hands” with back up Jared Stidham, but consider me skeptical. The Baylor offense has always relied on really good quarterback play – read: Robert Griffin III, Bryce Petty, Nick Florence – and without Russell I don’t know what kind of team Baylor will be.

Baylor has looked way better than TCU so far this season, but does Russell’s injury open the door up for TCU to snatch up the Big 12 and secure a spot in the playoff barring another bad loss? Can Oklahoma State possibly even slip in and surprise some people?

Russell’s injury completely shuffles up the Big 12 picture, as well as the Playoff picture, and now I have to make a pick a new national champion. So who is it? Stay tuned.

………….

I don’t talk about the NBA much because I think their product is a bit of an insult to basketball. It’s just dunks and three pointers and there’s barely any quality defense played. But for the first time in at least 10 years, I can honestly say I’m excited for the NBA season to begin.

In the past, the NBA’s been predictable. It’s been LeBron and Kobe and Durant and some boring team – like the Heat or the Lakers or the Spurs or something – was basically guaranteed to win the championship. But this year? This year is different.

The NBA had some refreshing variety in the 2014-15 season, and it actually pulled me in as a fan. Instead of all of the typical mundane things I talked about above, the league was fairly unpredictable.

The Warriors were the best team around, Anthony Davis emerged as an MVP candidate, James Harden played exceptional basketball, Kevin Durant wasn’t even the best player on his own team, the Hawks and the Raptors were two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, and a Derrick Rose-less Bulls team actually thrived. The NBA was actually exciting.

The Warriors won their first title since 1975 and have a good chance of repeating in 2016. Photo by Getty Images
The Warriors won their first title since 1975 and have a good chance of repeating in 2016. Photo by Getty Images

And this year? I really have no idea what’s going to happen. The Cavaliers might finally win a title, the MVP is a total crapshoot, there’s a good crop of exciting rookies, and young upstart teams – like the Timberwolves – have a chance to make some noise in the playoffs this year.

Unpredictability is the spice of life, and the NBA has it in spades this year. Hopefully the league can deliver on the promised excitement, but suffice it to say I’ll be paying close attention this year for the first time in as long as I can remember, and that’s a new and exciting endeavor for me.

…………..

After having my heart ripped straight out of my chest for the fourth consecutive year last April, I’m really trying to keep my emotions about the St. Louis Blues in check this season.

Every year I tell myself that “this team is different this year, and this is gonna be the year they finally do it.” And every year I’m sorely disappointed. So this year I’m just trying to enjoy what the Bluenote puts out on the ice and not get too emotionally attached.

But I’ll be damned if I’m not incredibly impressed with the team already this year.

For years the Blues have been an extremely disciplined defensive team with not a lot of offensive flair. You had to really enjoy the grit and grind of hockey to enjoy watching the Blues play. But with Vladimir Tarasenko putting on a breathtaking show every night and the emergence of Robby Fabbri, the Blues have a lot of excitement and flash now.

The Tarasenk-show in full effect. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post-Dispatch
The Tarasenk-show in full effect. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post-Dispatch

They have guys that excite a fan base, that can sell tickets. Every night I find myself looking forward to watching the Blues, because with the Tarasenk-show and Fabbri doing their thing every night, you never know what could happen.

Robby Fabbri reacts after scoring the game winning goal against the Oilers on opening night. Photo by Scott Rovak for Getty Images
Robby Fabbri reacts after scoring the game winning goal against the Oilers on opening night. Photo by Scott Rovak for Getty Images

And on top of that, the team has weathered a crazy storm of injuries beautifully so far. Kevin Shattenkirk, Jaden Schwartz, Patrik Berglund and Paul Stastny have all bitten the injury bug so far, which has been absolutely brutal to watch.

But seeing guys like Colton Parayko and Scottie Upshall step up their games to fill in those voids has been amazing. The team hasn’t really missed a beat without 4 of their best players, and that’s a testament to the outstanding depth and mentality this team has.

It’s okay to be excited about the Blues, because oh my gosh they are so fun to watch, but don’t be sold yet. When mid-May rolls around and these Blues are still playing, that’s the time to believe.

But like I said about the Rams the other day, enjoy what the Blues have going. Tarasenko is a once in a lifetime talent who would be considered the best player in the NHL if he didn’t play in St. Louis. And Fabbri has a chance to be that special as well.

There was a long period of Blues futility, where winning hockey was as foreign to the city of St. Louis as winning football is nowadays. But these days are not those days, and winning hockey is customary and expected. Don’t take it for granted and enjoy this team while they’re good.

Photo by Dilip Vishwanat for Getty Images
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat for Getty Images

The Blues are a unique gift, featuring an owner that actually cares about his fan base – very deeply so – and an on-ice product that’s on par with any team in the league. So watch it, enjoy it, wear your blue proudly, but make them earn your belief and respect in April and May.

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

Ryan Riffs: How Seth Russell’s Injury Affects the College Football Playoff