The Dedicated Dozen: 12 Men Who Saved the Blues From A Wretched Season

Since Jan. 3, the Blues are tied with Eastern Conference powerhouse Tampa Bay for the most points in the NHL. The Note has 60 points over its last 42 games, seven more than any team in the Western Conference.

This has been a bold and inspiring reversal by a lurching and drifting Blues team that had accumulated only 34 points through its first 37 games … the fewest of any team in the league. At that stage of gloomy season, the Blues’  points percentage of .459 wasn’t the worst in the league — but close. But look at the Blues now: only Tampa Bay (.750) has a better points-percentage than St. Louis (.714) since the calendar turned to 2019.

It took a lot of hard work, introspection, leadership, willingness to change, and tough decisions to keep this Titanic of a team from sinking. Well, it’s been saved. And we’d like to salute 12 people who did the most to make it possible.

This list is subjective; you probably had some other players in mind … players that you feel were overlooked. Or perhaps you’d scratch a player or person that I have on this list. That’s fine. It’s fair. Feel free to disagree. We can agree on this: the remarkable transformation of the Blues required dedication and excellence by more than 12 men.

Here’s my 12 …

President of hockey ops Doug Armstrong: He remade the Blues last summer, drawing hefty praise from hockey media in Canada and the U.S. But when a more talented roster didn’t mesh, Armstrong took decisive action by firing Mike Yeo and promoting Craig Berube. And Berube has brought this team together, enhancing the locker-room culture in a way that few thought possible.

Coach Craig Berube: The Blues were demoralized and disorganized and skidding with a 7-9-3 record as Berube coached his first game as Yeo’s replacement. Since then, Berube’s Blues have gone 36-19-5, and his points-percentage of .642 ranks fourth among NHL coaches over that time. Only Jon Cooper (Tampa Bay), Bill Peters (Calgary) and Bruce Cassidy (Boston) have posted a higher points-won percentage than Berube over this time. With Berube fostering an aggressive and relentless offensive mindset — attack and swarm, swarm and attack — the Blues are one of the NHL’s most dominant possession teams since the coaching change. Berube has done a special job, rescuing the Blues from a depressing campaign. The “interim” tag needs to come off.

Goaltender Jordan Binnington: He saved the season. How’s that for an opening remark. With the inconsistent Jake Allen tumbling in a down cycle, Binnington was handed his first start on Jan. 7 — and suddenly the Blues had found a critical missing piece. Since Jan. 7, Binnington is tied for the league lead with 22 wins. Among goaltenders that have played 1,000 or more minutes he ranks first in overall save percentage (.931), even-strength save percentage (.938) and 5-on-5 save percentage (.944.) And Binnington’s 1.78 goals- against average is No. 1 among goalies that have made a minimum of 20 starts since Jan. 7.

Center Ryan O’Reilly: He’s been the No. 1 star of the Blues’ season, bringing his limitless energy and superb all-around play to the ice from his very first game as a Blue. Early on, when many Blues were performing below average and under expectations, O’Reilly never disappointed. His effort has been dependable through every shift. Among NHL centers he’s tied for 27th with 27 goals, is 20th with 47 assists, is tied for 19th with 74 points, comes in sixth with a plus 23 rating. Among centermen that have taken at least 1,000 faceoffs this season O’Reilly ranks third with a win rate of 57 percent. And he ranks among the top five in the NHL in both defensive-zone and offensive zone faceoffs. Based on the Defensive Points Shares metric, O’Reilly is the No. 2 defensive center in the league.

Right wing Vladimir Tarasenko: With 31 goals, Tarasenko now has five consecutive seasons of 30+ scores. And he’s been standing tall on the Blues’ big wave, playing his best hockey since Jan. 7 with 20 goals and 19 assists and a +24 rating in 35 games. Since Jan. 7 is tied for fourth among NHL forwards with 15 goals at 5-on-5. And when he’s been on the ice at even strength the Blues have scored 74.5 percent of the goals during the competition. That percentage is No. 1 among league forwards since Jan. 7. Over the last five seasons only one NHL forward, Alex Ovechkin, has more even-strength goals than Tarasenko. And it’s pretty close: Ovie 140, and Vladdy 134.

Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo: the captain struggled early, but has thrived since Dec. 29 when he returned to the ice after a lengthy injury absence. Since then, Petro has 9 goals and 16 assists in 44 games and is a plus 9 in the plus-minus rating. Pietrangelo has logged Top 10 ice time figures among NHL defenseman, and over his last 44 games ranks No. 1 among NHL defenseman that have played at least 750 minutes at 5-on-5 in Corsi-for possession percentage. With 13 goals and 23 assists overall, Pietrangelo has rebounded to have one of his best seasons.

Center/wing Robert Thomas: It’s still amazing to realize that this young Blueblood is only 19 years old. He experienced a whole lotta growing pains early on. But Thomas has been a marvel since March 1, scoring 4 goals with 8 assists in a 16-game stretch. His maturation came at an important time of the season, with the Blues’ depth weakened by injuries, and the team in need of an offensive boost. Thomas has delivered, and he can play on any of the four lines and influence the game with his positive playmaking ability and strength on the puck. No moment or situation is too big for Thomas. Since March 1, in 5-on-5 play, Thomas ranks first among all Blues forwards with a 56.4 Corsi-for percentage. And the team has controlled 62 percent of the 5-on-5 scoring chances with Thomas on the ice. That rate is No. 1 among Blues forwards, and 8th among all NHL forwards that have logged 150 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time. And again … he’s 19.

Left wing Brayden Schenn: In the three seasons leading into the current campaign, Schenn scored 79 goals for Philadelphia and St. Louis, averaging 26.3 per season. That’s a robust total for a center; only 11 NHL centers scored more goals than Schenn from 2015-16 through 2017-18. So he had to be disillusioned, at least to some extent, when Berube asked him to move to left wing. Complicating matters was Schenn’s contract situation; he can become a free agent on July 1, 2020. This season he has “only” 15 goals, with 35 assists. I use the “only” because of Schenn’s willingness to put the team first by shifting over to the wing — even though he knew it would almost certainly reduce goal-scoring total. And indeed, he’ll finish with around 10 goals fewer than he’s averaged over the past three seasons. But the move was extremely beneficial for the Blues, as Schenn formed a new top line with O’Reilly and Tarasenko. The immediate result was an 11-game winning streak and an No. 1 line that was hot enough to melt the ice surface. The Blues took off, carried offensively by the big line … a line made possible by Schenn’s unselfish attitude and his commitment to winning.

Defenseman Colton Parayko: The big man is one of four Blues’ D-men with 10 goals or more, and his most impressive play of the season has coincided with the Blues best-in-the-West record since Jan. 3. In his last 42 games, among NHL defenseman that have clocked at least 750 minutes at 5-on-5 play, Parayko ranks No. 1 in the league-wide group in goals-for percentage. Translation: when he’s been on the ice at 5-on-5 play, the Blues have scored 64.3 percent of the goals. No defenseman in the league has a better rate than that since the calendar flipped to 2019.

Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester: Recovering from hip surgery, Bow looked old and slow and done as he slogged through the first 25 games with a terrible minus 14 in the plus-minus category. But once his flexibility returned, the results have been pretty dramatic. Over his last 50 games Bouwmeester has 3 goals and 11 assists and, more importantly is a plus 10. He’s made a huge impact (as always) on the penalty-killing unit. And since Dec. 14, Bouwmeester ranks 11th among NHL defenseman at 5-on-5 play in goals-for percentage. The Blues have scored 60 percent of the goals when he’s been on the ice at 5-on-5 since mid-December. The epitome of a defensive defenseman, Bouwmeester has emerged as a surprisingly helpful factor on offense. I don’t know if his offensive game has ever been as effective as we’re seeing now.

Defenseman Vince Dunn: I liked Dunn’s rookie-season debut, but he needed to improve (obviously.) Consider it done. This season Dunn has propelled the attack from the blue line with 12 goals and 22 assists and a plus 12. How well has Dunn played this season? His Corsi relative percentage — which assesses a player’s performance relative to his teammates — Dunn’s 4.85 is the best among the five Blues defensemen that have played 1,000 or more minutes. And he’s only 22. In fact, only two defensemen age 22 or younger have more goals than Dunn’s 12-count this season: Ottawa’s Thomas Chabot (13), and Florida’s (Aaron Ekblad (13.) And they’re doing it with also-ran teams that don’t have to compete with the pressure of pushing for the playoffs, or for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Dunn has that pressure … and he’s playing his best hockey of the season.

Winger David Perron: Here’s a veteran — hard to believe that Perron will be 31 on May 28 — who was benched for one game (Dec. 9) after taking some ill-timed and costly penalties. Perron didn’t sulk, didn’t go in the tank, didn’t spread poison in the locker room. After being plugged back into the lineup Perron scored 9 goals with 10 assists over 18 games before enduring a concussion that kept him sidelined for nearly two months before a March 17 return. And after Perron came back he added to his streak of 13 consecutive games with a point, stretching it to 17 contests. Already one of the more reliable goal scorers — with 21 in his 54 games — Perron set a great example of how to handle a benching. How to learn from it. How to accept the lesson from a coach that’s worthy of respect. Perron helped change the culture of this team, and that was a substantial factor in the turnaround.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie