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Blues vs Flames: Feelin' Blue

The Blues played a calculated first period and then applied aggressive and relentless tactics for the two remaining periods to secure a 4-0 shutout.

That dull, lifeless look in Engelland's eyes? Yeah that's common.
That dull, lifeless look in Engelland's eyes? Yeah that's common.
Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The way you build a consistent contending team (despite some post-season shortcomings) is by building a capable roster. The St. Louis Blues have a team like that. The Flames looked like a team who might have some serious issues if they happen to be the eighth seed and the Blues secure first in the west. But hey, Joe Colborne had a strong game!

First Period -

The Flames needed to come into tonight's game cautious, calculated, and quick. For a few moments it looked that way but quickly changed. They were fortunate to get some offensive zone time early on in the period but it would be limited. Given the Blues depth on forward, their ability to obstruct the neutral zone and prevent zone entries was a prevalent theme in the opening frame.

That said, Joe Colborne has probably one of the best zone entries I've seen from him this season getting a shot off. The slow chipping away at finding holes in the Blues' deployment and formations was limited. Off an errant line change and turnover, Ryan Reaves broke in and got one of the Blues' first quality chances.

The lack of whistles and stoppages in play allowed Hitchcock to continuously match lines and dictate play. Frustration would boil over briefly as Mikael Backlund would take the game's first penalty sending a fourth ranked PP to their first opportunity of the game. The Blues would only get off one shot though as Colborne would attempt to dangle around Alex Steen.

Late in the period, Reaves would crush Matt Stajan along the boards. Brandon Bollig knew it was his time to shine as he got in a hugging match with Reaves. Bollig is currently the league's top ranked hugger.

Period Observations:

  • I would rather go see the new Fast and Furious movie than watch Bollig play anymore this season. That fight sure changed momentum.
  • Hitchcock played the first period like a chess match that he assumed was the third period. It was systematic and calculated. Hartley tried to match but often enough a chip and chase game isn't going to work.
  • The five forward first power play unit for the Blues was interesting. It didn't find success on the first man advantage but it looked capable.
  • Shots 8-6 for the visitors.
Second Period -

If the first period was the opening moves in a war, Ken Hitchcock would be the general leading an army to victory. The first period was an analytical assessment of what he can do, what's right, what's wrong, and where to strike. St. Louis opened the period continuing what they did in the first: controlling the neutral zone. The Flames did find answers at times and most of them came from Johnny Gaudreau.

The underlying theme of seeing the Steve Ott, Ryan Reaves, and Chris Porter line entering a zone uninhibited was concerning. Easy zone entries in the period lead to easy intervals of sustainable play by the Blues. It continued to be a success as Alex Steen scored his 21st of the season on an easy zone entry.

The unfortunate screen that Kris Russell caused trying to disrupt the shooting lane happens. Defenders typically run the risk regardless of skill and attempt at accurate positioning. The goal may have triggered some score effects to appear right on schedule. A flurry of chances somehow didn't end up leading to goal. St. Louis would head back up ice as Jonas Hiller would keep counter with a quality save of his own.

Calgary continued to try and solve Brian Elliot with Mikael Backlund having a handful of chances in close. The Flames went into the second intermission with some momentum and trailing in the third know what might happen.

Some Thoughts:

  • Gaudreau's ability to just fearlessly enter a zone and start a play has been crucial this season. The focus of getting to the puck carried in over dumped in has incredible upside over the latter. More of the younger players are embracing this.
  • Matt Stajan showed no ill effects of the hit from Reaves. He had a decent chance throwing the pass in front towards Michael Ferland. He should be on the third line. Matt Stajan had two decent periods of play.
  • Positioning and actually reading the play is still a hindrance of the defense for this team. Communication is improving through the pairings a bit but it's not where it could be.
  • Calgary outshout the Blues 11-10 in the period. They trailed in shots heading into the third period 18-17.
Third Period -

The hopes of riding a +37 third period goal differential is the Flames secret weapon. I mean, they've rode it all season so it doesn't hurt to keep trying. Just a minute and change from the start of the period, a disastrous turnover by TJ Brodie lead to a gorgeous passing play that set Jori Lehtera up for his 11th of the season.

The Flames had a bit of a hop in their step right after as Colborne had a great tip on net. Gaudreau continued with the focus on local opportunities to enter the zone trying to get the play going but the Blues positioning allowed them to fight these situations off.

Hitchcock's usage of his fourth line was particularly effective with the game plan. Their nearly blood-rage driven pursuit of the puck allowed them to find success in generating chances. Deployment continued to work in favor of the Blues as Alex Steen would rip home his second of the game and 22nd of the season making the hole 3-0.

Paul Stastny would take a risky and poorly timed high-sticking penalty sending the Flames to their first power play. The strategy: pull Jonas Hiller with eight-plus minutes left. You heard it right. The Flames power play didn't generate many chances though I applaud Hartley for taking a risk here. It's not something you see often. Russell even heroically blocked a shot to prevent Alex Steen from his hat-trick.

Unfortunately Hartley's pursuits of making it a two goal game would be stopped as he pulled Hiller again with over five minutes left. David Backes would make add the final nail in the Flames' coffin tonight as registered his 24th goal of the season.

Final Observations:

  • The risk Hartley took with eight-plus minutes left in the third, down three goals is a goddamn wild card. What he did was deploy Lance Bouma on that power play. I get the obsession with trying to squeeze as much offense out of Bouma. I do. He's been putting up killer numbers but deploying a much more capable Mikael Backlund may have been a better option in my book.
  • There is always this chatter by the media that fighting generates momentum? They generated three shot attempts to the Blues' three shot attempts in the five minute window of the fighting majors. Momentum my ass.
  • Mikael Backlund's penalty he took was unnecessary. He redeemed himself by working his keester off all night. It sucks that his point streak had to end tonight but I was genuinely impressed with how he played. Re-sign him ASAP. Every game he performs exceptionally is just making him more expensive.
  • Jiri Hudler and his kids got shutdown. How? Systems deployed by Ken Hitchcock. For every successful zone entry was stifled and combative. Besides the Stastny penalty and fighting major, it was very disciplined. Though I feel like St. Louis was comfortable with taking the fighting penalty and a possibility of an instigator if it happened.
  • Mason Raymond should shoot more. Waiting for a perfect shot isn't going to happen. I'm still a huge fan of Raymond and I think his contract is a good one. If he can find some more consistency long-term, the value will increase.
  • Final shots: 26-25 for St. Louis. As usual you saw Calgary blocking an abundant 21 shots though it's worth noting St. Louis had an alarming 18 too.
Flame of the Game: Joe Colborne aka Joe COLBORT

He's not the fastest by any means but he was literally working his ass off at every chance this evening. I'm incredibly impressed with his efforts in the loss. Joey Joe-Joe Junior Shabadoo had three shots on net, a meh 25% in faceoffs, and a solid 18:11 of ice time. It should be mentioned he was limited to just 0:38 this evening on the PP which is good. Also his near-breakaway-dangle-sorta-thing wasn't bad...if only he was faster.

The Flames have tomorrow off as they take on the Flyers on Thursday at the Saddledome. We'll have your stats recap in the morning and all the fancy news coverage between now and Thursday. Hopefully the Flames do something nice tonight or tomorrow for Backlund since he turned 26 today. Like a contract extension.