After starting their post All Star Break/bye stretch with a 4-2 win at Columbus, the Blues find themselves just three points behind Vancouver for the second wild card spot in the NHL western conference, with two games in hand. They’ve gone 6-2-1 in their last nine and have outplayed the opposition in the majority of minutes they’ve played in that time.
There are differences the Blues have implemented since starting their 10-6-1 run on December 22, when they were 13-16-4. But more changes are necessary. Here are some of the things they need to keep up, and some they need to change, as they play their final 32 games…
- Continue to get good goaltending from Jordan Binnington: It was notable that Binnington got the start in Columbus after a nine day layoff and on the road, where Jake Allen has played well. That start tells me that Binnington is, at the moment, considered Craig Berube’s number one guy. And if the Blues are to make a run to the playoffs, good goaltending is going to be the key. Yes, he’s benefited from better defense, but this team seems to play better in front of other goalies than Allen.
- Get scoring from Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz: When Schwartz suffered a broken foot against Detroit on December 9, 2017, he had scored fourteen goals and recorded 21 assists for 35 points in 30 games (1.16 ppg). Since returning from that injury last January 25, he’s played 68 games and had thirteen goals and 29 assists for 42 points (.617 ppg). He needs to regain his offensive touch. Schenn led the Blues with 70 points playing in all 82 games last season, and this year has 9-18-27 in 45 games By the way, Schenn had 15 goals and 21 assists in the thirty games before Schwartz got hurt last season. This year, he. If those two can get close to their first thirty games last season in their last thirty games this season, the Blues will be on to something.
- Keep the defense healthy: The Blues have outshot their opponents in fifteen straight games, and that’s in part the result of the defense being healthy and keeping shots against down. From November 30-December 22, Alex Pietrangelo missed eleven games with an injury, and the Blues were outshot six times. In the fifteen games since Pietrangelo’s return, the Blues have outshot their opponent in every single game. The combination of Pietrangelo getting healthy and playing better with Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson rounding into form…and a stretch of Hall of Famer Larry Robinson coaching them for a month has helped the defense significantly.
- Continue success against good teams: As our good friend Jeremy Rutherford from The Athletic points out, the Blues are 18-13-2 vs. the top 18 teams in the NHL, and 5-9-3 vs. the bottom 12 teams. Twelve of their next fifteen games are against teams in the top 18, so the Blues need to keep up their propensity to play up to the level of their competition. In the last seventeen games of the season, the schedule softens up significantly, with ten against teams currently in the bottom twelve. Hopefully by that time, the Blues will have built a consistent enough game that they’ll whip up on lesser competition.
- Utilize their depth: The Blues have David Perron on injured reserve, and scratched Robby Fabbri and Robert Bortuzzo in their first game back after the break. Serviceable players like Sammy Blais and Jordan Nolan are at San Antonio, along with the highly skilled Jordan Kyrou, who has yet to turn on the switch in the NHL. That’s a good thing, because the Blues have played the fewest games in the NHL (and have the most games left). That depth will be important because the Blues have ten weeks left in the season, and five of those weeks are four-game weeks, with the rest being three game weeks. For comparison’s sake, in the first eight weeks of the season the Blues didn’t have a four-game week, and had four two-game weeks. Every player on the roster will have to be used and will have to contribute down the stretch.
- Maintain consistent effort: Before Mike Yeo was fired, the Blues were consistent in admitting that they had been outworked. And they weren’t lying. Interim head coach Craig Berube appears to have changed the attitude and built a harder working culture on a more consistent basis. With as tight as the league is, it’s important for the team to keep working hard every game.
The Blues have fourteen home games left, and eighteen road games. They’ve been decidedly better on the road. Maybe they’re on the right track. We’re going to find out, and it’s going to happen in a hurry.