Mistakes add up to more troubles for Blues as they drop third in a row

St. Louis Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington (50) blocks a penalty shot from Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman TJ Brodie (78) during a game Dec. 27, 2022, at Enterprise Center in St. Louis. The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the St. Louis Blues 5-4. Photo by Christine Tannous, [email protected]

If the Blues are going to re-emerge in the Central Division race, a race they remain firmly on the periphery of, they need to cut crucial mistakes out of their game. And then win some of them.

The Blues lost in overtime to Toronto on Tuesday, 5-4, which while giving them points in seven of their past eight games, also gave them three losses in a row. Five of those eight games have gone to overtime, with the Blues going 2-3 in those games. The Blues have shown they are every bit as good as teams like Vegas and Toronto, which they have been tied with after 60 minutes in their past two games. Just not better than them.

“It’s a good point,” said Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly, “but in the position we’re in right now, how tight this race is, we really needed the two points. It’s disappointing that way.”

“Definitely,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “We talked about that today, just that we need urgency every game. We need consistency every game in how we need to play.”

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Even when the Blues had their recent four-game winning streak, only two of the wins came in regulation. They beat Nashville in overtime and Edmonton in a shootout after tying the game in the final 20 seconds. This was the third consecutive game the Blues have allowed four goals, not counting empty-net goals or shootouts, and the Blues do not want to be in a position where they need five goals to win games.

“Yeah, it’s mistakes more than anything,” Berube said. “I think for sure. We clean up some of those mistakes, we probably win the game.”

Three of Toronto’s five goals were ones the Blues wouldn’t mind having back. John Tavares scored in the last minute of the first period on a goal it looked like Jordan Binnington should have stopped. Toronto extended its lead to 3-1 on a shorthanded goal where the Blues defense was largely absent. And Toronto got the game-winner in overtime where Vladimir Tarasenko was overpowered and had the puck taken from him by William Nylander, who then scored on a breakaway, with Tarasenko hanging his head and then slamming his stick against the goal frame after the play.

Because it was the last mistake, Tarasenko’s may stick in the memory the longest. He had just made a drive at the net but, finding nothing, had retreated toward the neutral zone. Just before Tarasenko got to the blueline, he slowed down and Nylander made a move between Tarasenko and the boards, knocked the puck away, and then simply outraced Tarasenko to the puck and, with Tarasenko unable to catch up, he backhanded the puck past Binnington to end it.

“He’s got to skate,” Berube said of Tarasenko’s handling of the play. “Whether he keeps it in the zone, but he’s got to know there’s pressure coming and just have more urgency there. … I think he can just skate and get separation. I think he’d be fine.”

Of course, the Blues had almost let the game slip away a few minutes earlier. A bungled line change sprung defenseman TJ Brodie on a breakaway, which was ended when Jordan Kyrou pretty much wrestled Brodie to the ground. Brodie was given a penalty shot, which not surprisingly for a defenseman is not his specialty. Binnington made the save and kept the game alive.

“I’m not sure why we change there,” Berube said. “Just not a very smart play there.”

Toronto’s second and third goals, one in the first period, one in the second, set the tone for the game. The shorthanded goal was a collection of things you don’t do on a power play. It started with a Toronto three-on-one break and ended with Alexander Kerfoot tapping in a rebound as the Blues never got their coverage settled.

“Pretty unacceptable by us,” said defenseman Justin Faulk, who eventually had a power-play goal to get the Blues even.

“That shorthanded goal hurt,” Berube said. “That’s just not smart hockey there by us. … It’s just awareness and we turn it over in the offensive zone and we’ve got nobody thinking about getting back and they’re taking off. We’ve got to be smarter there for sure.”

There was plenty of that to go around. From there, the Blues were in full catchup mode. The Blues battled back to get even, fell behind again at 4-3, and then got a goal from Kyrou in his return to the lineup after missing two games to tie it up. The Blues got the game to overtime thanks to some good goaltending from Binnington.

The Blues never led and the last time they fell behind, it was too late to do anything about it.

“It’s hard,” Faulk said. “When we fall back too many times or too far it’s hard to keep coming back.”

Just as in past times of struggle for the Blues, there were good stretches. The Blues effectively shut down Toronto for about a 10-minute stretch in the first period, limiting their chances. But it was something they couldn’t contain.

“I think we just played the right way (in the first),” said defenseman Calle Rosen, who returned to the lineup because of Torey Krug’s injury and scored a goal, “put the pucks deep where we needed to put them and went to work and unfortunately we didn’t do good enough for 65 minutes.”

“The second period,” Berube said, “we got on our heels a little bit, I thought, and just didn’t manage things properly and let them come at us too much. We regained it, I thought we got it back and then there were a couple shifts in the third where we just got hemmed in.

“I liked our start, I liked our game. We did a lot of good stuff tonight, but in the end, it boils down to mistakes and we made too many.”

In today’s 10 a.m. video, columnist Ben Hochman discusses tonight’s exciting matchup at Enterprise Center. Also, a happy birthday shoutout to Cardinals pitcher Jordan Montgomery! And, as always, Hochman picks a random St. Louis Cards card from the hat.

Benjamin Hochman


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