The St. Louis Blues are a playoff hockey team. The Edmonton Oilers, based on tonight, aren't even close. The Blues walked away with a 3-0 victory in one of the most uninteresting games I've ever had the misfortune of watching. Aside from a couple of rushes by Ales Hemsky and a shift from Ryan Smyth where he gave us a glimpse of the 1990's version of #94, the Oilers were completely neutered by the Blues.
The game got off to a horrible start when Ryan Whitney made a terrible pinch that resulted with Chris Stewart getting the puck on a 2 on 2, with Sam Gagner back for the Oilers. Gagner missed the shot block, as did a screened Nikolai Khabibulin. The following 30 minutes were a combination of terrible puck handling by the Oilers and some of the best forechecking I've ever seen by the Blues.
The Blues run a delayed 2 man forecheck. On the breakout, the first F pressures hard and drives the puck carrier to one side or the other. Once the puck carrier chooses a side, the Blues 2F immediately attacks, while the 1F peels off and heads back. This allows the Blues to put a lot of pressure on the puck while not losing anything defensively. They try and force you to reverse the puck and reset your breakout. Where the Blues really look incredible is on loose pucks. As the second man comes in to press the puck, the 3F always heads high. They don't often have 3 players fishing for loose pucks below the blueline and instead let that 3F attack as soon as that puck is moved. When he attacks, the 1F or 2F immediately heads high again. It's all pressure and high puck support and it gave the Oilers fits all night long. It's easy to see why the Blues give up so few shots, it's very hard to get out of your own end and into their end.
This is by no means his fault, but does Mike Brown contribute anything beyond punching people in the face? I don't recall seeing a worse puck handler in an NHL hockey game, and that includes guys like Zach Stortini and maybe even Steve MacIntyre. His passes are always bouncing, he constantly loses puck battles, when he does have the puck he's horribly weak on it. The Blues second goal followed 45 seconds of Mike Brown handling the puck like a grenade. Mike Brown wins a race to the puck and for some reason just flicks the puck away from himself, then falls trying to reach for it. A few seconds later he has a chance to dump the puck in deep and completely flubs it, not even getting it over the blueline.
Speaking of goats on the 2nd goal, Taylor Hall basically did the same thing as Brown and turned the puck over in the neutral zone, which allowed Steen to get the puck in the first place. Taylor Hall is a good player, but you can sure tell that he's trying to do way too much. He gets into these modes where he goes completely Sea Biscuit and it usually results in him attempting 1 on 4's and shooting the puck from terrible angles the first time he touches it in the zone. For a comparison, think of a basketball player constantly firing up contested jump shots with 20 seconds still on the shot clock. Hall basically abandoned the cycle today and it was easy for the Blues to isolate him and he ended up trying a lot of 1 on 3's and taking bad shots. You could see the shift about halfway through the game and he tried to take it over by himself. He's a good player but he's got to let his line mates help him out.
Not to be left out was Nikolai Khabibulin. In an odd change of direction, Krueger opted to go with the Russian tonight instead of one of the back to back games. I kind of excused the first goal on a screen, but I don't think the shot was particularly hard, nor was the location very dangerous. The second goal was a combination of bad luck with some poor fundamentals. After he made the initial save, he was leaning forward and wasn't in any position to get to the rebound. I've complained before about how he kind of just throws body parts at the puck and this was another example of that.
The Oilers just burned a 4 game home stand without making up any ground on a playoff spot. They now have to play Nashville and St. Louis in back to back road games. Hopefully Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' strep-shoulder is well enough by Monday's game so he can play.