Game Notes: Blues 1, Wild 0 -- A Shutout at Home

Well, I think it's pretty clear now that Andy Murray may quite possibly be the worst coach in the history of the National Hockey League, and Davis Payne is unequivocally the greatest coach in the history of said league. 
What's that? You don't believe me? The record is clear: under Murray, the 2009 St. Louis Blues were 17-17-6, a .500 team languishing in the lower ranks of the Central Division. Under Davis Payne, on the other hand, the 2010 St. Louis Blues are 3-2-1; project that out to a full season and the Blues are a 41-27-14 team. That's a 96 point team. Need I say more? Under Murray, the Blues were a .500 team. Under Payne, they're a borderline juggernaut. Davis Payne is clearly the greatest coach who has ever lived. 

Well, okay, so perhaps it's a little too early to anoint Davis Payne a Hall of Famer just yet. Still, the Blues have now won three games in a row, none more impressive than their shutout of the Minnesota Wild last night at the Scottrade Center. 

-- Of all the numbers in the game last night, the most important of all was 19. That's the number of shots Chris Mason blocked on his way to a shutout performance. Why is 19 such an important number? Because it's a very, very low number, at least when you're talking about shots on goal for an entire hockey game. 

Make no mistake, Mason played very well, but the defense in front of him was the real star of the game. He never really had to stand on his head to make the saves because the defense prevented the Wild from getting off more than a handful of solid shots. All season long, the Blues' defense has tended to play soft, but they've looked much, much better in recent games. 

Roman Polak and Mike Weaver were the two most notable names on defense for the Blue Note last night, but more importantly, we've begun hearing Erik Johnson's name a whole lot more often on the broadcasts. No offense to Polak and Weaver, who are both very nice players, but getting Erik Johnson to the level of play he hinted at in his rookie season would make more of an impact on this team than anything else the Blues could possibly do. 

-- You know, I actually feel a little bad for Josh Harding, Minnesota's goalie. I said already Chris Mason never had to stand on his head in tossing the shutout; Harding, on the other hand, had to play a nearly perfect game in order to hold the Blues to a single goal. While Mason had to stop only 13 shots on goal for the whole game, Harding faced 18 shots in the first period alone. He ended up stopping 33 of 34 shots on the night, and several of his stops were of the highlight variety. Harding outplayed Mason pretty handily, in fact; unfortunately for him, he couldn't outplay the entire Blues' defense. 

-- Perhaps the most welcome thing of all to come from last night's game was something we've been seeing more of lately, and that's the Blues getting off to a fast start. That's something that does seem to have improved markedly since Davis Payne took over, and I think it's extremely important the Blues figure out a way to carry if forward. 

The Blues outshot the Wild 18-4 in the first period, and succeeded in setting the tone for the entire contest. All night long, the Wild simply seemed a step slower than the Blues, and it started in the first few minutes of the game. The Blues came out and smacked the Wild in the mouth, and Minnesota never quite recovered. The game really had no business being as close as it was, but Harding's brilliant performance kept the Wild right in the game. 

-- It was also really great to see Paul Kariya active and having an actual impact on the game as well. All too often this season Kariya has seemed an afterthought, struggling with health and simple ineffectiveness. Last night, though, he showed both his old fire and some of his old energy. He took four shots on goal in the first period, the result of outstanding skatework all around the Minnesota goal. Kariya may not be what he used to be, but he showed last night he's still got plenty to offer. 

So was Andy Murray the worst coach in the NHL? No. No, he was not. And is Davis Payne really the best coach in the league? Well, probably not, no. But I will say this: after watching three months of stale, tired play by the Blues, I've seen a fresh new energy on the team in the last couple weeks. Maybe it's the coaching change, maybe not. But something has got this team playing better, and whatever it is, I'm thankful for it. 

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