The Blues went retro on Thursday night. And no, I’m not talking about those nostalgic, classic and hipster-approved red-and-yellow trimmed uniforms from the mid-1990s.
Wearing the throwback fashion in all of its glorious and garish splendor, the Blues thrashed the visiting Calgary Flames in a 5-0 showcase of happiness at Enterprise Center. In their easiest victory of the season, the Blues turned a hockey-fashion runway into a competitive runaway.
The line of center Robert Thomas and wingers Oskar Sundqvist and Zach Sanford led the fun by combining for three goals and six assists. David Perron and Vince Dunn each chipped in a goal, and Jordan Binnington collected a 40-save shutout.
Twenty three games into their defense of the 2019 Stanley Cup, the Blues are a splendid 14-4-5 and lead the Western Conference with 33 points.
May I please state, and re-state, a few obvious points? This stuff is known by, well, everybody. But it’s still a pleasurable experience to repeat the positives:
1. The Blues are outstanding. They weren’t a one-hit wonder that won a Stanley Cup and quickly faded into history as an endearing curiosity.
2. To this point, there is no Stanley Cup hangover. The fog may descend on the Blues later, after the miles of a tough season begin to add up.
3. To this point, there is only the carryover of the championship-caliber character that became a huge element during the run to the first hoisting of the Stanley Cup in franchise history.
4. There is resilience. Plenty of resilience. Abundant resilience. The Blues have the No. 4 points percentage (.717) overall, and No. 1 in the West, despite losing sniper Vladimir Tarasenko on Oct. 24. That was 13 games ago. Other injuries (Alex Steen, Sammy Blais) have created a void: the absence of three of this team’s top 12 forwards.
4a. The Blues are 9-2-2 without Tarasenko, who only ranks second in the NHL to Alex Ovechkin in even-strength goals since the start of the 2014-2015 season.
5. The Blues have depth, lots of depth. They have a terrific concoction that blends youth and experience. And the older players are as hungry as the kids. This whole group wants MORE.
6. Can we give GM Doug Armstrong the credit he deserves — which is an enormous amount of praise — for assembling this roster, and the depth of reinforcement that continually provides solutions? If you’re looking for a GM that has a perfect ledger of personnel decisions and payroll investments — you won’t find him because that person does not exist. And has NEVER existed. But Armstrong built a strong team — and he’s kept it strong … and he’s made it even stronger.
7. Can we acknowledge that Armstrong definitely made a mistake in hiring Mike Yeo — but that he corrected the error and changed the course of the franchise by (A) bringing Craig Berube into the organization, and (B) installing Berube as coach after sacking Yeo after 19 games last season?
8. Since the straightforward, sensible, honest, and highly respected Berube took over to change the locker-room culture, the work ethic, and the system of play … the Blues have tapped into his character and made it their own. His personality is their personality. His hockey honor code is their hockey honor code. His leadership has enhanced the players’ leadership skills. His open, candid, straight-shooting communication eradicated the locker-room politics.
9. Since Berube coached his first game as the Blues’ new boss last Nov. 21, a span of 86 regular-season games, his team is 52-23-11 for 115 points — the most in the Western Conference over that time. And tied for third overall.
10. Berube’s efforts to reshape the Blues began to pay off last Dec. 11. And in the ensuing 77 reg-season games, the Blues are 49-18-10 for 108 points. That’s more points than any NHL team over that time, and the Blues are No. 2 league-wide in wins.
11. Since Jan. 3, and obviously including the first 23 games of the new campaign, the Blues have a regular-season record of 44-14-10 for 98 points. That’s No. 1 in the NHL.
12. In the Western Conference here are the points “standings” since Jan. 3:
St. Louis, 98 points
San Jose, 73
Los Angeles, 55
13. Since last Jan. 3, regular-season games only, the Blues have scored 57.3 percent of the 5-on-5 goals in their games, the best in the West. They are a +35 at 5v5 play.
14. Oh, yeah. Binnington. Still Binnington. Since stepping into the void in the Blues’ goal early in January he’s arguably been the league’s best goaltender in the foundational 5-on-5 play. Among 29 goaltenders that have played at least 1,500 minutes Binnington ranks second in save percentage (.938), second in goals saved above average (20.3),second in high-danger save percentage (.875), and first in high-danger goals saved above average (14.2.)
Ben Bishop has the slight edge over Binnington in most of the mentioned categories. But … Binnington has played a lot more minutes than Bishop over that time frame, which makes his sample size more meaningful.
15. And there’s this little thing called the Stanley Cup. The Blues don’t win it without the Kurt Warner of hockey coming in out of the minor-league cold to save them last season.
Binnington represents another quality: the Blues have a very special thing going — receiving many contributions from many sources. Lose someone to injury? Trade a player away? Lose a talent to free agency? No problem. Plug-in and play.
Look at the line that dominated the Flames in Thursday’s game. A year ago at this time Sundqvist was a down-roster spare part, some dude the Blues acquired from Pittsburgh who mostly sat in the press box in Pittsburgh. Thomas was a 19-year-old rookie… highly touted, yes, but how many times do prospects fail to play up to expectations? Sanford was a former first-round draft pick in Washington who hadn’t found his way in St. Louis.
When the trio was on the ice at 5v5 in this game, the Blues outscored Calgary 4-0, had an 8-3 advantage in scoring chances, and generated 75 percent of the high-danger opportunities.
“All the young guys are coming along,” Berube said. “They’ve got more experience now and they’re doing a good job now, that’s how I look at it right now. We’ve just got to keep building and keep getting better. Whoever’s in there, you’ve got to do the job. That’s basically how we look at things.
“It’s important to have depth. We’ve got guys in the minors, good players down there that could be used. It’s good that we have a lot of depth.
“They were a different group of guys last year that were used as depth guys and it’s a different group this year. Our organization has done a great job with young guys drafting and all that. You need them, you need them in today’s game. You need young guys to step in and play and do a good job. They’ve been doing that.”
It won’t be long until veteran Troy Brouwer, 34, steps into the lineup and helps out. The Blues can count on good work, and reasonable production, from all hands. And they can count on everyone being a good teammate, a good Blue. That’s what makes this team so likable.
Has there ever been a better and more bountiful time for the franchise and the fans than right now? Enjoy it. Savor it. Don’t take it for granted.
Have a great weekend…
Thanks for reading …