With the start the St. Louis Blues have had this season, I don’t know how much good sleep Mike Yeo has been getting. And even with a 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday night, it’s safe to assume Yeo wasn’t nestling into his bed with a clear mind.
For starters, Yeo was lambasted for Tuesday’s post-practice comments about Jay Bouwmeester still recovering from his hip injury that required surgery last off-season. Let me remind you, this is a defenseman that has been receiving top defensive pair minutes and has been on the ice in crucial moments for the team for their first dozen games.
Then Yeo’s team goes out and gets dominated in the shots department for the second straight game, 39 to 20. They were credited with 14 giveaways, after committing an NHL low 77 coming into Tuesday’s game according NHL.com.
Luckily for Yeo, he was bailed out by the skill and will of Ryan O’Reilly along with a much needed dominant performance by goaltender Chad Johnson.
However, the biggest reason Yeo might not sleep well anytime soon is the job status of Joel Quenneville, who was fired by the Chicago Blackhawks early Tuesday morning.
For the Blues, it wasn’t pretty but it was a much needed win as they improve to 5-5-3 on the season and 3-2 on the homestand. Now here are a few things to note as we all refresh Twitter to see where Joel Quenneville (and Bryce Harper) lands.
First, I am going to take Ryan O’Reilly’s advice and talk about Chad “Treinta y Uno” Johnson.
O’Reilly in his interview with Darren Pang on FOX Sports Midwest said he believed Johnson deserved to be the first star of the game because he bailed them out in the first period when the team came out “a little slow.” He continued by saying, “He came up big, again. In that second period, they dominated us.”
Phew…I am glad you said it.
Listen, I don’t want to be “Dougie Downer” and focus on the negative here, but if the Blues come out and play like that against 75% of the NHL’s other teams, they are once again answering questions about their “effort.” Instead, they were bailed out by their goalie, which sometimes needs to happen.
Let’s get to that.
Johnson was simply amazing in stopping 38 of the 39 shots he faced. The backup goalie did something the starter, Jake Allen, has rarely been able to do this season and that is come up with a big save when the game is close early. That is what builds confidence and allows your team to get their skates under them.
He faced 11 high danger scoring shots, and according to my count, stopped them all. He faced 10 shots or more in each period, and barely had time to catch his breath at times through the first 40 minutes. Simply put, he did something a Blues goalie hasn’t done since March 24th of last season, and that is allow one goal or less on 30 shots or more.
“He was outstanding tonight,” Mike Yeo said of his netminder. “This is a team, they’ve got speed, they create turnovers, they created opportunities. We knew that we were going to need goaltending to win this hockey game and (Johnson) gave it to us.”
If Yeo is still the head coach come Friday night when the Blues welcome the San Jose Sharks to the Enterprise Center, he has one easy decision to make…write No. 31 in as starting goaltender and see if he can do it again.
Now moving on to the man I can’t stop gushing about: Ryan O’Reilly.
Remember last year when we all couldn’t stop gushing over the fact that Doug Armstrong pulled one of the greatest heist in Blues history by getting Brayden Schenn for Jori Lehtera and two first round draft picks?
Well, Army may have outdone himself with his trade of Patrik Berglund, Vladmir Sobotka, Tage Thompson, a 1st and 2nd round pick for Ryan O’Reilly this offseason. Those three players combined have as many points (7) as O’Reilly has goals this season.
The addition of O’Reilly has helped improve the team in so many areas offensively, it has left me searching for the last Blues center that was this transcendent.
Pierre Turgeon, maybe?
Turgeon finished with 25 goals and 49 assists in his first year with the Blues. But even he wasn’t the force O’Reilly is in the face-off circles.
O’Reilly entered the night tied for first in the NHL with a 62.5% success rate on the dots, which would be the best percentage of his career, and even that number will jump after going 17 for 24 (70.8%) against the Hurricanes. Meanwhile, he was just as impressive is his 58% success rate on the power-play.
And his three Tuesday goals vs. the Canes lifted the Blues and their fan base from their doldrums, even if for just a night.
He now has seven goals and 12 assists in 13 games, the most points in the first 13 games of the season by a Blue since Alexander Steen had 19 in 2013-14. (According to @StlBluesHistory on Twitter)
Oh and do you want to know why the power-play is working this year? Look no further than No. 90.
eight of his 19 points have come during the man-advantage, as he averages over three and half minutes of ice time per game on the PP. Taking it a step further, he also averages close to two and half minutes per game on the penalty kill.
That puts him in the top 45 among all NHL forwards in both power-play and short-handed minutes per game. Only Sean Couturier, of the Philadelphia Flyers, shares his company, as he averages 2:30 on the PK and nearly 3:50 on the PP.
He’s never scored this many goals, or recorded this many points through the first 13 games of a season in his career. The closest he’s ever been is scoring four goals and 13 points through 13 games in both 2012-13 and 2015-16.
Tonight was his fourth three-point night of the season, tied for the most in the league. Brayden Schenn led the Blues with only five three-point games last season.
“He’s been, needless to say, a great addition to our group.” Yeo said about O’Reilly after his first career hat-trick. “You love to see a pro like that, the way he comes to the rink every day, the way that he prepares, the way that he approaches the game and what he puts into it.”
“You’re always happy for people that get rewarded for that kind of effort and work ethic and preparation.”
ROR leads the Blues in goals, assists, points, power-play points, face-off percentage and takeaways. He leads all forwards in average time on the ice, is second in blocked shots, and first in total effort night in and night out.
If you scroll through Twitter, Blues fans are vying to become the team’s equipment manager just so that can tear the “C” off of Pietrangelo’s sweater and embroider it onto O’Reilly’s.
Heck, by time all the precincts reported he may have ended up with a few thousands votes for Senate.
Finally, let’s end this with a few of my favorite stats and stories from Tuesday’s victory:
1) No better place to start than with Robby Fabbri’s first goal of the season, and his first NHL goal in 677 days. His goal was also the game-winner, marking his first game-winning goal since March 22, 2016.
Fabbri is just another cog in this dangerous Blues offense, and his two points in his first three games in no fluke. Expect to see more and more minutes from No. 15, and expect to see that point total rise alomg with the number of Fabbri jerseys we will see in the crowd.
2) Remember when scoring in the first period was a struggle for this team? As a matter of fact, their 49 first period goals last season ranked 30th in the NHL. However, a new season brings new beginnings, as the team has scored first period goals in each of their last six games.
Their total on the season in the first period is now 16 goals, which ranks 6th in the NHL. They have scored three goals in the first period twice, matching last season’s total. They have scored two or more goals in the first period at home five times, already surpassing last year’s mark of three home games with multi-goal first periods.
3) Speaking of new beginnings, how about this power-play?
The Blues 30.8% success rate with the man-advantage ranks third in the NHL. They have scored a power-play goal in each of their last six games, their longest streak since recording a PP goal in 8 straight during January and February of 2013.
Vladimir Tarasenko’s four power-play goals ranks tied for 6th in the NHL, and O’Reilly’s eight power-play points rank tied for 10th. And with 7 power-play points, Vladdy is almost halfway to his total of 16 last season with the man-advantage.
4) Robert Thomas recorded his fourth assist in the nine games the Blues have played him, which now put them on the hot seat to decide his future for the rest of this year.
The Blues had this nine game trial period to decide whether to keep him on the NHL roster and have his entry level deal kick in, or send him back to his Junior league team.
To me he has done nothing to show he doesn’t belong. He carries a +2 on the season, and has only been a minus player once and that was in the team’s first game vs. the Winnipeg Jets, a 4-1 loss.
However, there is one caveat. If he stays, he has to play more than just 9:25 per night. That average is the lowest of any Blues player who has suited up for 5 or more games this season.
5) Finally, a hat tip to Alexander Steen who moved into a tie for sixth place on the Blues all-times points list with his assist on O’Reilly’s empty-net goal.
Who is he tied with?
None other than his long-time friend and former teammate David Backes, who had 460 points in 727 games donning the Blue Note. Steen reached this milestone in just 658 games, and is now 33 points behind Pavol Demitra for fifth all-time on that list.
For all the moaning and groaning I do about Steen, who has lost a step at 34, he is still one of Armstrong’s best moves as manager of the Blues…which feels like a fitting end to this piece.