By Adrian Dater
I wasn’t the only one who asked the question after this year’s NHL trade deadline. Yeah, the St. Louis Blues did well to boost their defense with the acquisitions of veterans Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold, but what about the offense? Did the team’s management really think it had enough in that department for a long playoff run?
If it did, the front office had to be thinking differently while watching the Blues pass through the handshake line after their 2-1 loss on Friday night.
The Blues never needed as much help on their back end as they did up front, and management’s failure to realize it played a significant role in the team’s frustrating six-game, first-round exit at the hands of the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings.
After jumping out to a 2-0 series lead against a team that many (hand raised here) thought looked too hungover to repeat as champs, the Blues’ inability to generate goals (they scored a total of 10 in the six games) proved fatal, especially with Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick rounding into his Conn Smythe form after gift-wrapping two wins in St. Louis.
Some thoughts and observations from Game 6:
• Quick and the Kings haven’t had home-ice advantage in any of their last five playoff series now, but their record is 5-0. “Quicksilver” (I just came up with that) was tremendous in eliminating the Blues for the second straight season. He only faced 22 shots, but still had to make some whistlestop saves, including a right-pad desperation splits robbery of Patrik Berglund midway through the third period. He also got some help from the iron behind him on a shot by Bouwmeester with about two minutes left.
• Yeah, I know it’s tempting to want to blame Blues goalie Brian Elliott for allowing Dustin Penner to break a 1-1 tie with a slapper from about three feet inside the blueline with 0.2 seconds remaining in the second period. That ended up being the game-winner. Until the Pancake Man’s rocket, the Blues could have had a better feeling going into the third. But let’s give Elliott a break. Penner’s shot appeared to nick off the top of Roman Polak’s stick blade, enough to cause an upward drift of the puck over the goalie’s shoulder and just under the crossbar. Sure, Elliott could have stopped it. But why didn’t Polak drop to block the shot? He was close enough and could have just thrown his big body down and probably smothered it. He does that, the period is over and the Blues are tied with 20 minutes left on the road.
• You have to wonder if this is it for Elliott in St. Louis. No, he may not have been the Blues’ big problem in this series, but the soft OT goal he allowed in Game 5, combined with the 57-footer by Penner, might be too much for him to overcome. You have to think that management will take a good hard look at the goaltending.
• The Blues’ second line of Andy McDonald, Vladimir Sobotka and Chris Stewart didn’t show up for the series. Stewart was the team’s leading scorer during the regular season (36 points), but he had one assist in six games. McDonald had no points. The trio produced a not-so-grand total of zero goals.
• Ken Hitchcock is a great coach. Period. But the complaint that he gets too conservative-minded in the playoffs can’t be easily dismissed. A revealing quote on his mindset came when he was asked what happened after Slava Voynov scored in overtime to win Game 5 in St. Louis: “We got caught trying to score a goal,” he said.
• The Kings won the game despite being officially tagged with 21 giveaways, to the Blues’ seven. That further serves as credit to Quick.
• Mike Richards did not score a goal in the series, but he produced five assists and Kings coach Darryl Sutter matched him well against Sobotka and, at times, David Backes. Richards again proved that he’s a money player.
• The Kings got only one goal from their top center, Anze Kopitar. He’ll need to score more if L.A. is to keep winning series. The Kings can’t keep relying on Quick … or can they?