LAS VEGAS — Zach Sanford had a night to remember. The Blues’ defense, particularly the penalty kill, had a night to forget.
The end result was a stinging 6-5 overtime loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena — the team’s first game since veteran defenseman Jay Bouwmeester suffered a cardiac episode, collapsing on the bench in the first period of Tuesday’s subsequently postponed game in Anaheim.
“That was a tough one,” Ryan O’Reilly said. “Having the lead multiple times. (Not) finding a way to shut the door — it was tough.”
Sanford became the first Blues player since David Backes in 2015 to score four goals in one game. Only Red Berenson, with his six-goal contest on Nov. 7, 1968 against the Philadelphia Flyers, has scored more for the Blues.
“He was unbelievable in the game,” coach Craig Berube said. “Best player on both teams.”
“It was incredible,” O’Reilly said. “Gosh, he took that game over, scored massive goals a few times for us. It’s not easy to do in this league.”
Sanford gave the Blues a 1-0 lead just 25 seconds in — the quickest goal of the season for St. Louis.
After a pair of Max Pacioretty goals for Vegas, Sanford then tied the game at 2-2 midway through the first period.
Sanford’s third goal, for his first career hat trick, gave the Blues a 4-2 lead five minutes into the second period. (There were Blues fans in the crowd, as usual, but no hats were thrown to the ice.)
And after Vegas rallied to tie the contest at 4-4, Sanford’s fourth goal of the night — and 12th of the season — gave the Blues a 5-4 lead with 8:15 left in regulation.
This all occurred in front of Sanford’s childhood friend from Manchester, New Hampshire — Brett Glendye — who accompanied the team on the Blues’ Dads’ Trip.
“It was hopefully fun for him,” Sanford said. “But it’s obviously a tough loss. I’m glad he could be here and enjoy this with me."
Sanford’s father, Mike, died in September 2018 during Blues training camp.
“Obviously, I really want to have him here, but I think he was watching over tonight and maybe helping out a little bit too,” Sanford said.
Bouwmeester, undoubtedly watching from his hospital room in Anaheim, could do nothing about the Blues suddenly porous defense and feeble penalty kill unit.
As O’Reilly said, the Blues couldn’t shut the door. Alex Tuch’s goal with 4:40 to play tied it 5-5 for Vegas, and then Jonathan Marchessault’s second goal of the night and 20th of the season was the game-winner at the exact midpoint of overtime.
It came on the power play, after a questionable hooking call against Jaden Schwartz by the officiating crew led by referees Gord Dwyer and Jake Brenk.
“It’s weak,” Berube said of the call. “But that’s my opinion.”
There were a couple of other dubious penalties called against the Blues who were sent to the box six times Thursday. To the point where O’Reilly, not the type to beef about officiating, offered this up — unsolicited:
“I don’t think the calls went our way a lot. I don’t think it was officiated great tonight,” he said.
By O’Reilly standards, that’s a temper tantrum.
But in the end, the Blues had only themselves to blame. They yielded four power play goals, making it the second time in seven games they gave up at least three. For the 10th game in a row, they allowed at least three goals. (In seven of those 10 games it has been at least four goals.)
And Jordan Binnington’s struggles continue. Granted, he was bombarded by 52 shots on goal by Vegas, easily a season-high allowed by the Blues. But over his last 14 games, beginning with four goals allowed Dec. 27 against Winnipeg, he has a 3.42 goals-against average and a .883 save percentage.
“That’s a lot to ask of our goaltender, to take 52 shots every game,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “So we gotta be a lot better controlling the puck and the pace of the game.”
The Blues’ previous season high for shots allowed was 43 on Nov. 23 against Nashville. Vegas has the style of offense where they send a lot of pucks at the net — and get them off quickly. But still, 52?
Pietrangelo said he could not remember being on the ice for a defense that gave up 52 shots in a game.
“Not ... without double and triple overtime,” he said.
“We gave up way too much,” O’Reilly said. “We made it too tough for Binner. And usually, we’re better than that.”
That was especially true on the penalty kill, where obviously Bouwmeester is one of the Blues’ stalwarts.
“He’s done that for a long time,” Pietrangelo said of Bouwmeester on the PK. “He’s an important part for a long time. But we’re gonna have to find other guys that are gonna have to step in there. It’s not really an excuse. He’s not out there for two minutes even when he’s out there. So we gotta find a way to grab that and be better.”
Thanks to Washington's 3-2 comeback win Thursday against Colorado, the Avalanche couldn’t grab first place away from the Blues in the Central Division.
At 32-15-10, the Blues have 74 points. Colorado (33-17-6) has 72 points, a game in hand on the Blues, and holds the tiebreaker edge with 30 regulation wins to the Blues’ 25.
Dallas (33-19-5) won Thursday night and with 71 points is just three points back of St. Louis.
“Listen, it was a tough game for us,” Berube said. “I thought our guys were pretty engaged in the game. We got off to a lead. Did a lot of good stuff. In the end it wasn’t good enough.”
After going through an emotional wringer with the Bouwmeester situation, Berube felt the Blues weren’t all there Thursday.
“I could tell by our play — we made a lot of mental mistakes tonight,” Berube said. “Mentally we weren’t very sharp in the game, which I kinda thought would happen. It’s tough, but we played hard. Physically, we worked and we competed. We got a point out of it.”
Vegas got two, although the Blues (5-0-4) still haven’t lost a regulation game to the Golden Knights since they entered the NHL as an expansion team in 2017-18.
But give the Knights extra points for placing a banner on a table in the concourse of T-Mobile that fans could sign for Bouwmeester. They encouraged fans “regardless of what jersey you’re wearing” to go sign the banner and wish Bouwmeester well.
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