It wasn’t Ken Hitchcock’s preferred method of victory, but the Blues found another way to earn two points Monday night. Many wins this season have been characterized by slow starts followed by strong finishes. Rarely have the Blues built an early lead before enjoying a coast to the finish. In most wins, they have had to battle until the final horn–and sometimes beyond it.
That’s what happened in Monday’s 4-3 win over the Stars at Scottrade Center, as the Blues gave up a late lead for the second time in consecutive games, sending the affair to overtime. Unlike Saturday’s game, which went to a shootout, the Blues settled this one during the three-on-three overtime period, as Jori Lehtera set up Vladimir Tarasenko for the game-winner.
With a positive spin, the Blues were resilient, grinding out a win after facing a couple doses of adversity. From a gloomier view, the Blues are establishing a troubling trend of struggling to close games during the final frantic minutes. As the Wild found success pulling their goalie to set up a six-on-five barrage Saturday, so too did the Stars Monday, earning the equalizer with under a minute to play in the third period.
It wasn’t just the end of the third period where the Blues gave up a lead. They also had squandered an earlier advantage after holding a 2-0 margin. St. Louis noticeably lost some of its luster after Jamie Oleksiak maneuvered past several defenders for a second-period goal, allowing the Stars to then tie the game on a power play early in the third. David Perron extended his point streak to a career-high eight games with a go-ahead goal later in the third, but Oleksiak scored again, adding another wrinkle at the end of regulation.
Tarasenko’s team-leading tenth goal of the season after a pass through the crease by Lehtera ultimately salvaged what could have been a demoralizing loss for the Blues.
“The guys played great,” said goaltender Jake Allen, who saved 18 of 21 shots on the night. “(We) gave them absolutely nothing. It was one of those games where I had to try to keep focus and stay into it. Guys did a great job, they kept it simple, they were driving pucks deep. I thought we played well the last two games and even though we gave up the lead late, we still got wins and that’s something to build off.”
The loss dropped the Stars to 1-6 already this season in overtime games, while the Blues are 3-3 in such games after Monday. While the Lehtera to Tarasenko connection bailed out the Blues this time, the tendencies the team displayed leading up to that final moment did not gone unnoticed by the head coach.
“There’s real concern of what we gave up and how we did it,” Hitchcock said. “We played terrific and had full control of the hockey game. (Then) we got careless on our checking and our puck management. There’s a lot of good things to like with what’s going on right now–you like our spirit and our ability to come back–but there are some genuine concerns on my part about some elements of our game. They don’t hurt you and home but they’ll kill you on the road. And we have to get this cleaned up.”
Hitchcock is typically stern when his players perform below expectations. Though his sentiments were echoed to a degree by his team, the players were generally glad to come away with the win, regardless of the winding path by which it arrived.
“You want to win every game 5-0 obviously,” captain Alex Pietrangelo said. “But throughout 82 games, if you look over the last couple years, there were a lot of games like this in the middle of the season where you go through stretches where things aren’t really going you’re way, but at the same time they are. You find a way to get the win and move on.”
Pietrangelo’s commentary, though paradoxical, carries truth. While the Blues aren’t pristine in every facet of their game, they’re doing enough to put themselves in positions to go home with two points on most nights. When you’re struggling in some areas–in the Blues’ case, enacting a killer instinct–but overcoming those issues to remain competitive in the standings, focusing too heavily on the problems feels like nitpicking.
Things could take a turn for the worse. The habits hampering the Blues at home, as Hitchcock stressed, could turn into back-breakers on the road. So long as the Blues continue rising in the standings, their afflictions will be nothing more than background noise.
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