Craig Berube fed up with both PK woes and Jordan Binnington antics

St. Louis Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington (50) is pushed away from the Pittsburgh Penguins bench by official Justin St. Pierre (12) as he is replaced in goal by Thomas Greiss during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022.

Gene J. Puskar – staff, AP

PITTSBURGH – You rarely have to guess what’s on coach Craig Berube’s mind after a Blues game – win or lose. And that was especially the case after a desultory 6-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena.

Berube is fed up with the team’s penalty kill, which continues to be on pace for its worst performance in franchise history. And he’s pretty much fed up with goalie Jordan Binnington’s antics as well.

First the PK. There are all sorts of reasons why the Blues have lost five of their last six games and have fallen to 11-13-0 on the season.

But it was pretty simple Saturday, and it’s certainly not the first time it’s happened this way. Namely, their penalty kill was abysmal, giving up two goals to the league’s 27th-ranked power play unit – and a third goal just two seconds after a Pittsburgh power play, or before St. Louis really had a chance to reset his 5-on-5 play.

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All three of those goals came on backdoor goals – we’ve heard that one before, haven’t we?

And all three were scored net front by Kasperi Kapanen, who unbeknownst to the Blues must have gotten a camping permit for this game.

Despite an empty-net goal by Sidney Crosby with 4:48 to play – yes another empty-netter – those three power play-related goals were the difference.

“PK was horse (bleep),” Berube said.

All the more unusual considering the Blues were so good on the PK last season.

“Yeah, well we’re not now,” Berube said. “So need a lot of work. Absolutely horse(bleep). . . .We score and we take a stupid penalty and it’s in our net again.”

Berube then expanded from horse manure to provide a little more detail on what went wrong.

“Outworked at our net on pretty much all of ’em,” Berube said. “They’re all goals around the net. Gotta be better. Everybody. Goalie, too. It’s not good enough.”

Speaking of the goalie, Binnington had an early night Saturday as he was stymied for the fifth start in a row in his effort to reach 100 career NHL regular-season victories.

In the final minute of the opening period, the Blues goalie shoved a glove into the mug of Pittsburgh forward Jason Zucker who was circling behind the Blues’ goal. Binnington was originally whistled with a four-minute penalty for high-sticking.

Trouble was, his stick was nowhere near Zucker. After an official review, the penalty was nullified altogether – much to the displeasure of the crowd at PPG Paints Arena.

After giving up a fourth goal just 1:51 into the second period, giving Pittsburgh a 4-1 lead, Binnington was pulled in favor of Thomas Greiss. On his way to the bench, Binnington appeared to be jawing with both the Pittsburgh bench and the officiating crew.

Along the way, Binnington was given a 10-minute misconduct for inciting. So there’s that.

Zucker was seen chuckling on the bench shortly thereafter. Such is life for the Blues these days. They are being laughed at.

If you recall, Binnington also collided with Carolina’s Jordan Staal behind the net in Thursday’s 6-4 loss to the Hurricanes.

Obviously, the frustration is building for the Blues goalie.

“Yeah, pretty much,” Berube said. “And it’s gotta stop. It doesn’t help any. Just play goal. Stop the puck.”

To a large degree, it was another listless performance by the Blues. Pretty much all the bad habits of that eight-game losing streak in late October and early November have resurfaced. Whatever cures the team seemed to find in the ensuing seven-game winning streak have vanished.

“We need a lot more guys to step up and play better,” Berube said. “We had one line going offensively tonight – (Robert) Thomas’ line created a lot of opportunities, competed hard.”

That line produced both St. Louis goals. Buchnevich’s eighth of the season temporarily cut the Pittsburgh lead to 2-1 at the 12:47 mark of the first period. Don’t blame him for the Blues’ slide: He has 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) over his last 13 games.

In the second period, Vladimir Tarasenko scored on a breakaway, fed by Thomas, to make it a 4-2 game. For Tarasenko, who has started slowly this season, that made it two goals and four assists over his last seven games.

But after both Blues goals, the visitors took a penalty and gave up a power play goal to Pittsburgh (13-8-4). That’s no way to live.

It’s shocking how much the Blues’ penalty kill has fallen this season, and the problem hasn’t gone away since assistant coach Craig MacTavish was stripped of his duties running the PK a couple of weeks ago. They have a measly 66.7 percent efficiency rate on the PK this season. That’s on pace to be the worst Blues power play since the NHL began keeping that stat in the 1977-78 season, and it currently ranks 31st in the NHL, ahead of only Anaheim (65.2 percent).

“First of all, we have way too many penalties this year,” said Ivan Barbashev, whose first-period tripping penalty proceeded Kapanen’s second goal. “Just looking back last year I think we were top five team in the league (on the PK). But something has changed this year. I don’t know what it is but we gotta be better.”

Once thing that hasn’t changed this season is the Blues’ preponderance to give up goals in bunches. In falling behind 3-1 after the first period, that made it six games in a row they have yielded at least three goals in one period and the 14th time this season.

“It looks like we’re going back to where we were earlier in the season,” Barbashev said, referring to the eight-game losing streak. “Just not playing really good enough. Giving three goals in pretty much every single game in one period. . . .We gotta figure something out just to be better out there.”

The Blues were playing without leading scorer Jordan Kyrou, a pregame scratch due to non-COVID illness. Saturday marked the NHL debut of Will Bitten, who was called up from Springfield where he shared the team goal-scoring lead with eight.

So playing with a lineup that included Bitten, Josh Leivo, Tyler Pitlick, Calle Rosen and Nathan Walker, the Blues were no match for the Penguins.


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