Jaroslav Halak, for good or ill, will have the biggest hand in determining the fate of the Blues' season.
If you were to draw up a blueprint for how the Blues
have to win games this season, it probably would look a lot like what they did last night in beating the Florida Panthers
. Solid defense, excellent goaltending, no big mistakes on special teams, and just enough offense to get the job done. It was pretty, in the sense the Blues played a relatively clean game with no major blemishes or breakdowns. It wasn't pretty in terms of being inspired, elegant hockey with breathtaking puck movement and passing.
In the end, though, the score was in favour of the Blues after 60 minutes of hockey, and that's all the pretty this team needs to worry about. They played opportunistic, and that's how they won. I'll take it.
The win moved the Blues up to 56 points on the season, five behind Anaheim, who currently occupy the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
-- Matt D'Agostini's
goal was impressive, and he certainly deserves plenty of credit, but Jaroslav Halak
has to be the star of this game for me. After missing two games with an upper body injury (And by the way, can I just stop for a second and say how much I hate the way the NHL describes injuries? The whole upper/lower body thing with no specifics is just irritating as hell.), Halak came out and dominated last night, stopping 30 of 31 shots. There were at least three or four goals he took away from the Panthers on his own.
Halak hasn't been quite as consistently good as I think we all hoped he would be this season, but he's been more than good enough to have this team in a much better position than they are. If the Blues miss the playoffs this year they'll have to look somewhere other than goaltending to find the biggest reason.
-- The penalty kill was solid last night, which was encouraging. Special teams has been a bugaboo all season for this team, but they held their own last night. Florida's lone goal did come on the power play, but the Blues successfully killed off four others, which is a vast improvement over other times this year when it seemed every penalty by the 'Note was an invitation for the game to get out of hand.
-- The Blues' own power play, on the other hand, still sucks out loud. How a franchise can have the same problem scoring on the power play so consistently, seemingly no matter what personnel happens to be taking part, is just baffling. Brad Boyes and Patrik Berglund have been the Blues' best with the man advantage this season,. but on the whole this is a team that simply can't put the puck in the net consistently, even when they outnumber the opposition.
-- It was exciting to see the Blues win on the road, considering how miserable they've been in their opponents' buildings this year. Even with last night's win the Blues are still just 8-12-5 on the road for the season, the third-worst mark in hockey. Only Ottawa, at 8-14-4, and the New York Islanders at 8-16-3 have been worse on the road.
The problem with that is 16 of the Blue's final 30 games this season will come on the road. Their incredible ineptitude away from home makes that an awfully daunting proposition.
As I said before, it may not have been the prettiest hockey game, but this is just how the Blues have to win this season. They simply don't have the offensive firepower to get into any shootouts (largely a function of injuries, of course), so it's going to come down to Halak and the defense to keep the Blues in games consistently and steal a few points here and there. If they can play the way they did last night on a fairly regular basis the rest of the way, the Blues might just manage a second half surge after all.