For one period the Blues looked like Stanley Cup contenders as they opened their series against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night, but after three periods and a 3-1 score, the team is down 1-0 in the best of seven series and may have to continue without their top defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. Pietrangelo left the game after the second period following a vicious hit from behind at the hands of Dwight King. He will be evaluated again tomorrow. King served two minutes for boarding on what appeared to be a sure-thing major penalty, but after the game says he didn’t think it was an especially dirty hit.
“We (Pietrangelo and King) were both going for the puck. I was trying to position myself on the inside and then I leaned on him and he was off balance and fell. I didn’t try to put a lot of force into it obviously. He got right back up.”
While Pietrangelo did in fact leave the ice under his own power, the Blues announced at the beginning of the third period that he was under observation and his return was questionable.
Andy McDonald says the hit is just another example of the type of play the league should be trying to remove.
“Obviously it’s a dangerous hit. Those are the types of hits where guys get hurt pretty badly.”
McDonald said he didn’t know Pietrangelo’s condition but did elaborate on how much their top defenseman means to the Blues.
“Petro does so many great things for our hockey club. His ability to hold onto the puck and make plays, his patience out there. You saw it on our goal there. If he’s not able to go then we’re going to have to step up and compensate for him.”
After the game, Blues’ Coach Ken Hitchcock wouldn’t offer too much on the referee’s interpretation of the hit that at least for the third period of this game sidelined his top defenseman.
“They said it was a two-minute penalty. That’s what they said.”
As for the extent or diagnosis of the injury, Hitchcock said, “Everybody saw the hit, so we all know what the injury is.”
Presumably Hitchcock was referring to the possibility of a concussion as Pietrangelo’s head and chin made contact with the boards. He also suffered a cut on his chin, usually something that would lead to a game misconduct and a major when it is the result of a hit from behind. According to Kay Whitmore, the NHL’s supervisor of officiating for this series, the officials didn’t see the cut in time.
“There was no visible blood. If it was running down his forehead or his cheek, it's automatic. It's a major game-misconduct. In this instance, they didn't see it initially right away. They didn't see the blood running down his chin, in his beard ... one of those things."
Whitmore says the officials also didn’t think the hit was severe enough on its own to warrant a major penalty.
"Their judgment of the degree of violence ... they deemed it a minor penalty and that's why they called it a minor. It's their judgment. They see the whole play unfold and they didn't deem in this instance obviously that King drove (Pietrangelo) into the boards. It was a hit, he was in a vulnerable position, but they didn't deem it violent enough to call a major."
The Blues took the early lead in shots, going up 6-0 in that category as the game began. David Perron’s deflection in front would give the Blues a 1-0 lead 10:16 into the game. With David Backes also screening Jon Quick, Alex Pietrangelo let a shot fly from the point that hit off of Backes before going past Quick.
The Kings would answer a little over seven minutes later. Dustin Penner won the puck in a battle with Barret Jackman before sending the puck over to Slava Voynov who buried it past Elliott from the slot. It was Voynov’s first career playoff goal.
Dustin Brown, who had two shorthanded goals in the first round against Vancouver factored into another shorthanded tally, this time assisting on Matt Greene’s first of the playoffs. Backes won an offensive zone faceoff past Kevin Shattenkirk who had lined up closer to the dot. Brown beat him to the net before Elliott made a pad save, but Greene was there to scoop in the rebound giving the Kings a 2-1 lead at the end of the second period.
The Blues killed off eight minutes of penalties, including a four-minute high sticking call on T.J. Oshie that a linesman had to call when both referees missed the play. A linesman can call penalties on majors, double minors, and too many men on the ice penalties.
Following a barrage of shots at the end of the game the Blues took the shots lead back 29-28, but Penner’s empty net goal sealed the 3-1 win for Los Angeles.
The Blues will have to generate more traffic and funnel more shots on Quick if they hope to even the series up. Depending on Pietrangelo’s health, that may be more difficult. The Blues currently have Ian Cole, Kent Huskins and Danny Syvret as healthy scratched defensemen, but none of them are right-handed shots. Jackman and Polak, and Colaiacovo and Shattenkirk finished the game together as pairs. Right now Huskins would appear to be the favorite to replace Pietrangelo on Monday if he can’t go.
The Blues and Kings play Monday night at eight in St. Louis.