The Blues’ 2-3-1 lullabye is understandable for several reasons:
1. The hockey laws of gravity. When a team wins a franchise-record 11 consecutive games, and sets another team record for the most victories in a month (12-1-1 in February), deflation is inevitable. Hot streaks precede cold spells. The key is to move out from under the cold front as quickly as possible, and warm up again. Then again, you knew that already.
2. The Blues were obviously an exhausted, heavy-legged and mentally dull team over the weekend in losing badly to Carolina (home) and Dallas (road) on consecutive nights. And no wonder considering that they were winding down on a draining stretch of playing 16 games in 28 days. The Blues don’t need me to make excuses for them, but that team was damned tired over the weekend.
3. The fatigue was most obvious in the worn form of center and de facto team captain Ryan O’Reilly. This isn’t a criticism; O’Reilly is a character player who empties the bucket every time he takes the ice. But he’s been on fumes lately. O’Reilly doesn’t have a point in his last five games. And in his last four games O’Reilly — a magnificent faceoff man –won only 48.5 percent of his draws.
4. Losing Brayden Schenn (presumably a concussion) was a big deal. He’s missed the last six games, and the absence corresponds with the Blues’ sluggish 2-3-1 sequence. Without Schenn fueling linemates Vladimir Tarasenko and O’Reilly on the No. 1 line, the Blues’ offense stalled or crashed. In the six games the Blues scored only eight goals overall (that excludes an empty-netter) and got outscored 11-6 at five-on-five play.
5. After scoring three or more goals in seven consecutive games, the Blues have scored no more than two in their last six contests. And the stillness of the St. Louis offense follows a monstrous display by the top line, with Tarasenko, O’Reilly and Schenn combining for 17 goals and 28 assists during the 11-game win streak. With Jaden Schwartz taking Schenn’s spot on the top line for the first five games of this six-game slowdown, the No. 1 line managed only two goals in the five games at five-on-five play.
6. And before the Schenn injury, Schwartz had started to sizzle on the Blues second line; he contributed four goals and four assists during the 11-game winning streak. The Blues’ second line weakened considerably after Schwartz moved up to the No. 1 line.
7. The Blues’ worst forwards during the 2-3-1 slump were Alex Steen and Robby Fabbri. (All forthcoming stats based on five-on-five play.) During this stretch Steen had a poor Corsi-For rating of 44.55 percent. When Steen was on the ice the opposing team controlled 64 percent of the scoring chances and 61 percent of the high-danger scoring chances. And the Blues got outscored 4-2. Fabbri seemed lost out there; the Blues were outscored 5-0 with him on the ice in five-on-five situations, and opponents had 56 percent of the scoring chances. Moreover, the Blues were outscored 5-1 with Tyler Bozak competing in five-on-play over the last six.
8. During the Blues’ 11-game beast streak, Jordan Binnington started nine games in goal and played exceptionally and absurdly well. When facing shots at five-on-five, Binnington had a .968 overall save percentage and a preposterous .946 save rate against high-danger chances. And using the Goals Saved Against Average (GSAA) metric, Binnington was 9.09 goals saved above average over this time.
9. Let’s check the recent trends. Binnington has started four of the six games played during the current 2-3-1 stretch. In the six games he has an overall .915 save percentage at five-on-five; that includes a .750 save rate on high-danger chances. And Binnington has been minus 0.76 goals saved above average. Big difference … and perhaps a temporary difference before Binnington gets back on track.
10. For practical reasons, the warming trend needs to happen for the Blues … now … beginning with their three-game West Coast swing that begins Wednesday at Anaheim. The Blues’ grip on third place in the NHL Central could be down to a single point by the time they faceoff against the Ducks. As of now, the Blues (74 points) lead Dallas and Minnesota by three points. But tonight (Tuesday) Dallas hosts the NY Rangers, and Minnesota plays at Nashville. A win by the Stars and/or Wild would put them only one point behind the Blues in the Central standings. Also, keep an eye on Arizona and potential wild-card implications; with a win vs. Anaheim at home tonight the Coyotes (69 points) can move to within three points of the Blues.
Thanks for reading …