EDMONTON, Alberta — It was better but not nearly good enough, and to add salt to the wound, it was the most excruciating way for the Blues to lose their Western Conference round-robin opener to the Colorado Avalanche.
Nazem Kadri, so the officials and league situation room said, beat the clock and scored with 0.1 seconds remaining in regulation, a power-play goal, to sink the Blues, 2-1, on Sunday at Edmonton's Rogers Place.
Kadri scored on a rebound after Gabriel Landeskog's one-timer hit the post and fell into the crease with time winding down, and Kadri, who with 24 seconds remaining, had missed an empty net on Colorado's power play, slammed a puck home to give the Avalanche the edge.
A lengthy review was needed from the war room, and it was determined that the puck was in, perhaps a millisecond, before the clock struck zero. Blues coach Craig Berube disagreed, and the players were frustrated. But bottom line, it was a microcosm of perhaps how the Blues, who were beaten 4-0 by the Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday in the exhibition, played, or at least how they started.
"I knew it was close," said Blues center Ryan O'Reilly, who had a chance to clear the puck with roughly 30 seconds left but couldn't when the puck was knocked down by Avs defenseman Cale Makar. "They obviously looked at it enough and it was a goal. It was close. Frustrating to lose like that, especially to give one up when 'Binner' (Blues goalie Jordan Binnington) played outstanding and gave us a chance to actually to win it in (at the end of regulation). It is what it is though and we have to find a way to respond."
"From my perspective, they were the better team tonight," said Blues forward David Perron, who scored the lone Blues goal. "It's kind of the way the bounce went, in my opinion. At 0.1 it's on the line and then at zero, it's in. It's a tough decision. I'm sure it's probably as close a goal as you'll ever see. In the first part, we didn't play good enough. We got better as it went on. But I'd still like to see more structured play from us and all that stuff."
The Blues said these round-robin games would mean something to them, and at the outset, it sure didn't look like it. They weren't clean with breakouts, the neutral zone play was sloppy and Colorado was able to get sustained offensive pressure in the Blues' zone. The Avs outshot St. Louis 16-4 in the opening period, but thanks to Binnington, who made 36 saves in the game, the Blues weren't down but ahead 1-0.
"I think we relied on Binner too much though, especially off that start where we were just kind of feeling it out," O'Reilly said. "We need to respond a lot quicker. Defensively, I thought out 'D' did defend well. The 'D' did a good job of keeping (Nathan) MacKinnon to the outside, but just as a whole, in the d-zone, we have to be better. We have to make it a little easier on 'Binner.' We can't be allowing that many shots."
"For sure, we didn't come out good," Perron said. "I can only talk from my own personal (standpoint). I felt like my legs weren't underneath me until probably five, 10 minutes to go, six minutes to go the shift before the power play and then I kind of started feeling better. It's a funny game, I scored the next shift. I think it was the same thing for our team. It's only our second game and we have to find a lot better for the next one for sure. I think by taking care of the puck a little bit better, we'll be able to find our legs earlier in the game."
Perron scored on a one-timer from the left circle, beating Grubauer at 16:46 of the first off a Brayden Schenn pass for a 1-0 lead. It was the lone silver lining of the period.
"First period, I think we were just on our heels, or didn’t make enough plays," Berube said. "We gave the puck back too much. They had good jump early, and Binner was good, (but) we gave up too many shots in the first. But I thought we got our game going in the second, and played pretty well in the second and third periods. I'm pretty pleased with a lot of it, but we have to get better though.
"We didn’t make plays. There was a lot of wall battles, and we didn’t compete very hard on the walls, or make any good plays off the walls. So we just ended up giving the puck back to them and you end up playing too much defense. A lot of line changes were happening when we were getting the puck in deep, and we only had one guy because of the line changes ... you're getting tired, you know. We started making more plays off the wall, and making more plays out of our own end, and bringing more attacks with five-man units coming up the ice together in the second and third."
The Blues would up playing better, and they would generate some more sustained offensive zone time, but it still felt like their game was missing.
"We've got to be a lot better in the offensive zone," O'Reilly said. "We didn't take care of the puck at their blue line enough. Usually, it starts with our forecheck and we didn't put in the right place and go hunting and then we get our control and roll teams down that way. For sure, we didn't deserve that one. We didn't do enough things to change momentum there or generate momentum. It just has to be a lot better."
"We're a team that has to be strong on the forecheck and for us to get there, we have to put it behind the 'D,'" Perron said. "With the ice quality from many players skating on the ice, the temperature outside, many little details like that, I think it works to our advantage if we use it. There are some teams that don't play the way we do to have success, but for us, the four lines that go on the ice, we have to understand that. We didn't do it enough tonight.
"I thought we were strong against the MacKinnon line. They're really good players and that speed will get you at times and our structure will take over and that's why I think we relied on 'Binner' and our D's and our F1 in the zone to do the job a little too much. By forechecking a lot better, we can get a lot more out of our team."
Alexander Steen was whistled for a hooking penalty with 1:17 remaining, to put the Blues on the penalty kill for the remainder of regulation. It was a questionable call, at best, and the Blues' penalty kill was stellar against the seven-ranked power play (20 percent) during the regular season by killing off the first four Avs power-plays and limiting them to four shots. But the last one put O'Reilly, Tyler Bozak, Marco Scandella and Justin Faulk under siege.
And the bitter nail in the coffin with the winning goal.
"It’s a tough call," Berube said of the review. "For me, the puck wasn’t completely across the line when it said zeros. But it’s a tough call. I don't know. That’s what I saw, so.
"There's penalties. I thought the same thing happened to us in the other end just before that -- no call. You know, it is what it is. I’m not going to sit here and talk about refereeing or penalties and stuff. I'll keep saying it, we've got to be disciplined. You take five penalties against that team, they’re going to make you pay eventually. We've got to be better."
As for Binnington, well, if the Blues were looking for a repeat performance from last year's Stanley Cup run, this was more than an encouraging performance.
"He didn't miss a beat," O'Reilly said. "Obviously you know how bad we probably started. He's the reason why we had a chance to win. It shows that if we're better in front of him, we're a great team. We have to find a way to help him out a lot more. There was just save after save. He's obviously just an outstanding goalie we need to help out more."
So instead of at least grabbing a point, and perhaps two, the Blues walked out of the arena with none, stunned, and with three days to try and solve some things before facing Vegas on Thursday.
Alex Pietrangelo took an Ian Cole shot off the outside of his right knee and was down in pain, needing help to the bench from teammate Oskar Sundqvist. But Berube said after the game the captain was "fine."