In the final game before the Blues’ bye week, the Blues took on the Florida Panthers, who prior to the game sat in fifth place in the Eastern Conference Atlantic Division. With the Blues recent hardships, the Blues could not afford to take a team like the Panthers for granted. The Blues, with 55 points in 45 games, should be able to beat a team with 40 in 41. On paper, they should be able to beat the Panthers. The Blues are 26-16-3 while the Panthers stand at 17-18-6. Their leading scorer is Jonathan Huberdeau, who has 40 points (15 goals, 25 assists). The Blues have two players with more points than Huberdeau: Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko, both of which are very likely to be elected to the upcoming All-Star Game. Even though the Blues may be better overall, their play as of late is what puts them in a spot where they cannot take the Panthers for granted.
Thankfully, the Blues scored first with Paul Stastny’s tenth of the season. A shot by Joel Edmunson hit a few players in front of the net. Before Panthers goalie James Reimer could find the puck and melt it down, Stastny caught sight
of it first. Stastny used a bit of a toe drag move to make sure Reimer would fall out of reach of the puck before wristing it into the net for the 1-0 lead. The Blues would add to their lead when Parayko cashed in his fifth of the season on a wicked passing play that involved Schenn and Tarasenko. Brayden Schenn slapped a pass to Vladimir Tarasenko, who was waiting on the left side of the ice for the pass. He caught Parayko wide open on the other side and dished a pass through the slot to Colton, whose quick release caught Reimer off guard, causing Parayko’s shot to have a clear path into the net. The Blues had grabbed a 2-0 lead, but the Panthers would get one back when Aaron Ekblad scored his seventh of the season. Malgin passed the puck to Keith Yandle, who made an across-the-ice pass to the open Ekblad, who had to dangle around the pads of Blues goalie Jake Allen to insert the puck into the net and to cut the Blues’ lead in half. McGinn instigated a fight between himself and Joel Edmunson after this goal, when McGinn hit Edmunson with a cheap shot and Joel decided that he did not want to take exception of the hit and the two dropped the gloves. The fight was one of the few that Blues fans have had the pleasure to see this season, though it did not disappoint, and the Blues seemed to gain a bit more momentum. That is, until Aleksander Barkov tied the game with his fourteenth of the year. Huberdeau beat Bouwmeester entering the zone, and when his shot went off of the side of the net, Barkov was there to scoop it up and fire it behind Allen’s back for the game-tying goal. The period ended with the game tied 2-2, already a high-scoring game considering the last few games that the Blues have participated in.
The Blues would regain the lead early in the second period when Vladimir Tarasenko scored his nineteenth of the season. Barbashev entered the zone with the puck on the end of his stick, and found the Blues’ leading goal-scorer open on the other side of the ice. Barbashev made a risky pass across the ice to Tarasenko, and the Blues ended up reaping the benefits of the pass when it connected and Tarasenko fired a wrist shot right above the glove of Reimer and into the net to give the Blues the 3-2 lead. However, the Panthers would score to tie the game on Radim Vrbata’s fifth of the season, and from there, the game went downhill, and fast. Brickley carried the puck into the zone while being chased by Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo the entire way. Brickley left the puck along the boards for Vincent Trocheck, who fired the puck towards Allen. Though this shot was harmless, Allen did not see where the rebound went, and by the time he found it again, it was too late because Vrbata had already deposited it into the net. Jonathan Huberdeau would then add to his team’s momentum when he cashed in his sixteenth of the year. As soon as the Panthers won the faceoff, Huberdeau found the puck, and though he slipped a little bit, he aimed his shot towards Allen, and the puck sailed over his blocker and into the net to give the Panthers the 4-3 lead. This wasn’t the end of the Panthers’ scoring in the second period. They would get another goal, this one from Vincent Trocheck, also his sixteenth of the season. Mike Matheson was being barely patrolled by a Blue, and his back-handed pass found Trocheck in the slot, who was left wide open, and his shot went through Allen and into the net to give the Panthers the 5-3 lead late. Though it was a shot that Allen should’ve saved, his defense did nothing to help him out once again, and the second period ended with the Blues down for the first time in the game.
The third period went even worse than the second. This goal was scored by Colton Sceviour, his sixth of the season. As the Blues were attempting to get off a pass to the point in their offensive zone, Panthers center Derek MacKenzie knocked down the puck on the pass that missed its mark by a mile. MacKenzie passed the puck to Sceviour, who found himself on a breakaway against Carter Hutton, who had been introduced into the game after Trocheck’s goal. Hutton had no chance to stop Sceviour on the breakaway. This was the Panthers’ eighth short-handed goal of the season. The Blues would get a goal from Tage Thompson to staunch the bleeding, his third of the season, but it was already too late to save the game for the Blues. This goal came later in the third period, and the chances of a comeback were slim to none. Alex Pietrangelo caught the Panthers’ defense sleeping as he snatched the puck from the boards after Reimer had left it there for them. He circled behind the net, and Thompson was there, waiting for the pass in the slot. Pietrangelo got the pass to him and Thompson roofed his shot top shelf, surprising Reimer and making the game 6-4. The final blow the Blues was Vincent Trocheck’s second of the game and his team-leading 17th of the season, an empty netter that sealed the deal for the Panthers.
Losing this game was tough for the Blues. They will now enter their bye week in third place behind the Jets and the Predators, which does not bode well for where they will stand when they return to the ice on the 16th. The Blues came out ready to play, and their first period was great, but they let the game get away from them, and they let it happen so quickly that they couldn’t dig themselves out of it. Overall, the Blues played poorly tonight, in all aspects of the game. Fans can blame Jake Allen. Fans can blame Mike Yeo. Fans can even blame Doug Armstrong. Though, the true blame for this loss falls on the entire team’s shoulders. Games like this are ones that the Blues need to take and learn from, and then move on without ever looking back. Maybe after a breather, the Blues will come back like they did after Christmas break, but they won’t get a breather in the playoffs. If the Blues want to make it past April, they need to change something, whether it’s their approach, their mindset, some coaching staff, some front office staff, or even change the names that take the ice every night. Whatever this adjustment to their game may be, hopefully it will be introduced during the upcoming bye week.