Say, what happened to the dreaded Stanley Cup hangover? Where did it go? The Blues were supposed to be dragging. Depleted of energy. Lacking a hungry heart. Lost in the fog of a champagne mist.
Through the first 17 games, they’re 11-3-3. Their 25 points are tied with Washington for the most in the NHL. Their .735 points percentage ranks fourth overall, and first in the Western Conference.
The Blues have won six in a row and are 8-1 in their last nine games. There’s been no disruption after the loss of precious scoring resource Vladimir Tarasenko to shoulder surgery. The Blues are 6-1 in their seven full games without Tarasenko.
The last two wins were revealing in a number of positive ways. The Blues traveled west to take on Vancouver (third in the West) and Edmonton (second in the conference) on back-t0-back nights.
In a physical, bruising skirmish the Blues outlasted the Canucks to prevail 2-1 in overtime. Less than 24 hours later the Note overcame an early 1-0 deficit to swab the Oilers, 5-2.
Vancouver and Edmonton are fresh, talented, and hungry. Both teams have an impressive supply of young stars. With the Blues coming to town, the Canucks and Oilers eagerly awaited the opportunity to test themselves against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
“The Blues are deep all the way through and you see who measures up and who’s not up to the standard,” Edmonton coach Dave Tippett said after the Blues’ victory. “How many players do you have at that standard?”
An Edmonton scribe asked: What did Tippett think he had against the Blues?
“Not enough,” Tippett said.
With Tarasenko out, No. 1 goaltender Jordan Binnington given the night off, and the Blues keeping extra busy in a congested stretch of schedule, they should have been vulnerable. After the win at Vancouver — and the quick turnaround — I wouldn’t have been surprised by a St. Louis setback in Edmonton. Not at all.
As longtime Edmonton columnist Terry Jones wrote: “This was a game against a team that should have been ripe for beating. But they weren’t because the Blues, who are four lines deep with a big, mobile defense, made the statement — not the Oilers.”
“St. Louis learned how to win last year. And last night they proved they hadn’t forgotten what they learned,” he wrote. “Despite running out of gas, an over-the-glass delay of game penalty and going against an extra attacker (late in the game) the Blues held on and battled and battled and battled against the Oilers’ best players and gave Edmonton a live lesson in winning.”
After the Blues endured Vancouver’s earnest and effective attempt at blue-collar hockey, Canucks coach Travis Green saw the experience as a teaching point for his group.
You want to win a championship? Talent is essential, yes. But you need to bring more to the competition. And the Blues bring it … and bring it … and bring it.
“That was a big-boy game,” Green said. “That’s a heavy team and they know how to win. We’ve talked about it in this room. If you want to win a Stanley Cup, you have to play in some heavy games. As much as you want to be skilled, there’s still a lot of size to hockey. I thought that was the most physical game we’ve been in this season.”
The Stanley Cup hangover may still cause the Blues some problems. And to be truthful, this team isn’t consistently effective at 5-on-5 hockey. The Blues usually come out of most games with a 5v5 deficit on shots, scoring chances and high-danger opportunities.
But we’ve learned something about the Stanley Cup champs — they brought a helluva lot more than a hangover to the new season.
The Blues are rolling for several reasons including:
1. The superb all-around play of Alex Pietrangelo and his fellow defensemen, especially Colton Parayko. During the 8-1 stretch the Blues have done a tremendous job of limiting the scoring of the other side’s top line.
2. The abundant depth, showcased by goals from 15 different players over the last nine games.
3. A juiced-up power play, devised by new assistant coach Marc Savard. In their 8-1 stretch the Blues are 10 for 32 on the power play for an excellent success rate of 31.2 percent.
4. Jordan Binnington and Jake Allen have been exceptional in goal. During the Blues’ 8-1 phase the two goaltenders have combined for a .943 save percentage on even-strength scoring chances (No. 1 in the NHL) and a .942 save rate on high-danger shots (No. 1.)
The Blues’ overall even-strength save percentage over the last nine games (.936) is third best in the league since Oct. 21.
5) The Blues are especially opportunistic. Because of the sensational goaltending, the Blues have cashed in more of their scoring chances for goals than their opponents over the last nine games. Even though the opponents had more scoring chances, the Blues have a wide 15-7 edge in goals resulting from scoring chances. The same is true of high-danger chances; the Blues have outscored opponents 10-4 despite having 20 fewer HD chances. That’s crazy.
And yes: the Blues have a Stanley Cup carryover.
And the carryover is more powerful than the hangover.
“There is always an aura that goes with the champion,” Tippett, the Edmonton coach, said earlier this week in advance of Wednesday’s game. “I’m sure if you ask St. Louis, they’re seeing that every night (from opponents). They have a good deep team, they play a certain way every night and that’s how I expect them to play on Wednesday.
“It will be a good challenge. When they win the Cup, they have a confidence that they’ve done it and they bring that confidence to their game, so if you don’t play well against that, you’re going to be behind.”
I looked at the last 10 teams — before St. Louis — to win the Stanley Cup. How did they stand after 17 games in their post-Cup season?
The Blues rate very well. They are one of only three defending champs to forge ahead for 11 wins in the first 17 games of the subsequent season. The others were the 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks and the 2015-16 Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Blackhawks acquitted themselves admirably after capturing the Cup at the end of the 2012-2013 season, coming back to pile up 107 points and advancing to the Western Conference final in 2014 — losing to an outstanding Los Angeles Kings’ contingent. Chicago zoomed out to a 11-2-4 start to launch the 2013-14 campaign.
A note about Pittsburgh: after winning the Cup in 2015-2016, they opened the season after by going 11-4-2 in their first 17 contests. That team, of course, repeated as Stanley Cup champions in 2016-2017.
Evidently there is a cure for the Stanley Cup hangover.
It’s called Winning.
Thanks for reading …