St. LOUIS – Ten minutes into Tuesday’s game, Blues defenseman Colton Parayko was minus-3, and by the third period, he was minus-4 and dropped to third pair with rookie Tyler Tucker.
“It wasn’t a good game,” Blues coach Craig Berup said of Paraykou. “Hesitant. Seems a bit tentative. Just not firm enough with the puck.
“It’s not all the time, but it certainly hasn’t had the year that we expect or anticipate.”
Parayko wasn’t the only one at fault in the Blues’ 5-3 loss to Buffalo. But for an organization that protected Parayko when he didn’t play as heavy as his 6-foot-6, 228-pound frame, Birobi’s words weighed heavy.
Going into Tuesday’s game, Parayko was a combined 70-plus in his eight-year NHL career with the Blues. After minus 4 in the season-low 16:15 of ice time, it’s now minus 19 this season.
“He’s played a lot of good hockey here over the years, so I’m sure he’ll come back to that,” Berubi said.
Parayko was involved in Buffalo’s first four goals, including two in the first 1:25 of the game and three in the opening 9:07.
The Blues continue to treat the slot area in the defensive zone as a place where they are not allowed to skate, and it now appears that backdoor goals happen at night.
On the Sabers’ first goal, former Blues forward Taige Thompson came off the bench and rushed into the offensive zone, splitting Parayko and Alexey Toropchenko. Tyler Pitlik stripped the puck from Thompson, but he couldn’t clear the area. The puck was loose near the net, and when Parayko could not get his stick on it, the play continued and Thompson eventually managed to set up Jeff Skinner with a wide open shot from the hole.
“We’re doing a good job of breaking play in the hole,” said Berubi. “We get the puck in, we don’t take it out. They fight it and they make the play and it’s 1-0. He’s that fast. Tagi Thompson comes off the bench.”
Here’s a screenshot showing how to unlock Skinner at close range…
How could that happen?
“In general, maybe the puck play isn’t great because you get the guys moving,” said Blues defenseman Justin Faulk. “If we put the puck on the stick, the guys start to leave the middle, trying to open up so you can play. If there is a turnover, the middle is usually wide open.”
It happened again on Buffalo’s second goal, just 25 seconds later.
This time, Skinner had the puck behind the Blues’ net and easily threaded the ball through Nick Leddy and into the front of the net. With Brayden Sheen and Vladimir Tarasenko standing nearby, neither faced off against the Sabers’ Alex Toch, who kicked the ball wide.
“Me myself, we gave up the hole early there in the first two minutes, and before you know it, it’s 2-0,” Shane said. “It’s on us players. He’s preaching in our locker room. He stops at home and helps (goalkeeper Jordan Pennington). We’ve given up some (shots in the hole), we’ve been barged into the net, and before you know it, we’re chasing the game.”
This is a screenshot of the apparent appearance Tuch had on the net…
Same thing: the hatch is open, said Berubi. “We run out and don’t stop and just protect that area where the puck is. The puck is behind the net, the bad stick, no awareness of the hole by the wing or the middle, 2-0.”
Buffalo didn’t need any more time to win, 3-0. Fortunately, it wasn’t another slot shot, but unfortunately, it was another one of the few backflicks the Blues have allowed this season.
They were chasing the Swordsmen into the area, and in the end, JJ Petrka managed to slip a pass through Parayko to the stick of Owen Bauer, who had plenty of room to knock on the pass from Petrka because Robert Thomas was late on defense.
Here’s a screenshot of what Petrka saw, and how the Force gained an internal position in Thomas…
“The hatch was wide open,” said Blues defender Tore Krogh. “They could have camped out there, and it would have ended up getting pinched on their stick and put Penner in a bad spot a few times. We should take better care of our house.”
Thompson gave Buffalo a 4-0 lead early in the second half, but the Blues did just that. Shane, Ivan Barbashev, and Jordan Cairo scored from a 4-3 deficit, but even with a 6-on-4 advantage, the Sabers put it away.
“I know we showed some fighting, but when the points are up we can’t put ourselves in that position,” Krug said.
But the Blues did it again, and it continues to happen as a result of the wide open. The Blues allowed the league’s seventh-most shots from that area per 60 minutes (30.62), and the ninth-most goals per 60 (2.42).
The chart below from HockeyViz shows that a lot of their shots come from the red hole zone, at five-to-five above average for the rest of the league.
“Every team in the offensive zone, that’s what they want to do, try to devise ways to get that puck in the slot,” Faulk said. “It’s the most dangerous area of the ice, and you have to play tougher with the puck, or if you’re on the D side, stay tight to your leg.”
Berubi and the players alike said Tuesday that they’ve been preaching this all season, but the problem remains.
“Well, we just keep training and working on it,” Berubi said. “Guys have to be more committed. I think there are times we chase a lot more than just keep it out there and get a little cool and protect that hole area and wait for the broken play or blocked shot. We have to be more patient there and we don’t really.”
(Photo of Blues’ Colton Parayco chasing the puck with Sabers’ Taj Thompson: Jeff Roberson/AP)