Among the things the Blues have carried over from last season is apparently their penchant for making things as tough on themselves as possible.
Up two goals in the second period and with 80 seconds of two-man advantage ahead of them, the Blues had a chance to take control of Thursday night’s game with Vancouver and instead they did what they have done so often in the past: let the chance slip away.
The Blues, who haven’t scored in the regular season with a two-man advantage since Dec. 9, 2016, didn’t score there. Then when Vancouver got a two-man advantage for a full two minutes in the third period, thanks to an iffy goaltender interference penalty and a bench minor that coach Craig Berube took the blame for, the Canucks scored to tie the game and send it to overtime. From there, the Blues ended up losing in a six-round shootout, 4-3.
So while the Blues have gotten points in six out of seven games, they have blown a two-goal lead in three of them and gone on to lose in overtime each time. That’s three points that were there for the taking.
“It’s frustrating giving up these leads and these extra points,” said goalie Jordan Binnington, who lost his first shootout after three wins last season. “We’re going to have to find a way to come out on top.”
“We can do a better job of closing teams out and keeping things five on five,” captain Alex Pietrangelo said. “Lot we can build off. Once we start closing games, we’re going to be pushing things in the right direction.”
But right now, they’re stuck in neutral, playing well for long stretches but then making costly mistakes that cancel the good play out. On opening night, they were up 2-0 on Washington on their way to a 3-2 loss. On Monday, they were up 2-0 on the Islanders in the third period and lost 3-2. This time, it was a 3-1 lead that melted away. In each case, one more goal would have meant one more point.
“I thought we were playing pretty well,” Berube said. “You know the penalty on (Robert) Thomas is unwarranted. And that’s my fault … the bench minor.”
The back half of the two penalties seemed to sneak up on everyone. Binnington said he didn’t know it was a five-on-three until they were about to drop the puck to resume play. Thomas, back in the lineup after missing five games with an upper-body injury, was called for goaltender interference for colliding with Vancouver’s Thatcher Demko, but he was clearly pushed into him by Tyler Myers.
Berube took issue with the call and said something on the bench that rubbed the refs the wrong way. The next thing you know, David Perron was skating to the box to serve the two-minute penalty.
“It’s on me,” said Berube, who said he was “big time” surprised to be hit with the call. “Whatever. That’s my fault.” It’s the first time Berube has been called for a bench minor in St. Louis, though he said it’s happened to him before.
The Blues almost escaped. The goal went into the books as an even-strength goal, coming two minutes after the penalties were called, but it came into formation in the closing seconds of the five-on-three and well before Perron or Thomas were able to rejoin the play.
With time running down, Elias Pettersson got the puck just outside the crease and, in slow motion it seemed, was able to maneuver around Binnington, but he couldn’t maneuver around Colton Parayko, who got behind Binnington and blocked the shot. But, as he was lying on his side inside the goal, he couldn’t clear the puck out of the crease. Bo Horvat eventually got the puck over the line.
“I just saw him go around the goalie,” Parayko said, “and I tried to get my stick in there and took a swipe at it, and my stick went over it and then it was a jamfest after that.”
It might not have mattered if the Blues had been able to score on their five-on-three. The Blues did get a goal on one in the postseason last year, but in the regular season, they’ve gone 225 games — and had 15 chances — without one. This time, the Blues had four shots on goal in the 80 seconds of two-man advantage but couldn’t score.
“We need to make it 4-1 there,” Berube said. “It’s probably game over.”
“You always think you can do more,” he added. “But we had three pretty good opportunities to score. Good shots, and just didn’t pick the corner. … I think that we could move the puck quicker on 5-on-3 than we did. Sometimes we probably slow it down a little too much.”
“We talked about plays we want to run,” said Pietrangelo, who was out on the ice for the five-on-three, during which the Blues called a timeout midway through to get the unit some rest. “We ran them, some were there, some weren’t. We had some good looks, I had a really good look and so did (Brayden Schenn).
“Their goal was five on five. They almost went two minutes and didn’t score either. It would have been nice to go up 4-1 there. First one we had (this season), so it was some pretty good looks.”
The failure to score was laid bare when, 50 seconds after Vancouver killed off the last of its penalties, J.T. Miller scored for Vancouver to make it 3-2. This had shades of Monday’s game, when the Islanders killed off a Blues power play and scored 72 seconds later to start their comeback. The Blues carried their lead Thursday night into the third period, but couldn’t get it to the finish line.
After a desultory overtime, both teams couldn’t score on their first five shootout chances. Finally, Josh Leivo got Binnington to make the first move and go down and then lifted the puck over him and into the net to end it.