The Blues’ Cure For The Stanley Cup Hangover: Abundant Depth, Immense Character, and Wicked Goaltending

The Blues are still thriving in their post-Stanley Cup high, skating above the competition in the Western Conference in a fast start that defies logic and belief.

It isn’t a matter of not believing in the Blues; they’re good. Very good. No, they’re great. But this is about being in awe of what we’re witnessing … and thinking it’s beyond our craziest expectations for the post-Cup aftermath. Well, at least through the first 34 percent of their 82 regular-season games.

With a 17-5-6 record after 28 games, the Blues rank No. 1 in the Western Conference, and No. 3 overall, with 40 points in the standings. Their percentage of points collected — with a maximum haul for 28 games being 56 points — is 71.4 percent. That ranks fourth overall, and No. 1 in the West.

How about some historical perspective from recent times? I pulled up the point-percentage for each of the past six Stanley Cup champions (including STL) at the same stage of the follow-up season.

Here are the point-percentage numbers for each defending champion through the first 28 games of the season after:

♦ 2014-2015 Los Angeles Kings: 33 points and a points percentage of .589. That ranked 15th overall and ninth in the Western Conference through 28 games.

♦ 2015-2016 Chicago Blackhawks: 34 points and a points-percentage of .607 that ranked 10th overall and fifth in the West after 28 games.

♦ 2016-2017 Pittsburgh Penguins: 39 points and a .696 points percentage that ranked No. 3 overall and third in the Eastern conference through 28 contests.

♦ 2017-2018 Penguins: 33 points and a points percentage of .589 that was good for 13th overall, and sixth in the East after 28 games.

♦ 2018-2019 Washington Capitals: 35 points through the first 28 games for a points percentage of .625. That ranked No. 8 overall and second in the East.

As you can see, the 2019-2020 Blues have done better than the five defending champs that preceded them. The Blues’ 40 points through 28 games are the most, one point ahead of the 2016-17 Penguins. The Blues’ .714 points percentage is the best; it’s 18 points higher than the 2016-2017 Penguins.

Here’s the remarkable thing …

The Blues’ 17-5-6 record, on its own strength, qualifies as immensely impressive. Most of the Cup-holding team returned for this season. Most of these players went through a grueling 2018-2019 season that featured a terrible, worst-in-show start … and turmoil … and bad chemistry … and a coaching change … and long odds as the NHL’s last-place team (in points) through Jan. 2 … culminating by an exhausting four-round, 26-game odyssey of high drama to capture the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

So for the Blues to be 17-5-6 after 28 games — even with a fully healthy and complete roster — well, that’s worthy of admiration and applause. But of course, the roster has been chewed up by injuries. And the challenge has been complicated by a heavy schedule that’s included two 10-day road trips.

Take away Vladmir Tarasenko? It doesn’t matter. Well, actually it does matter. No. 91 rates among the most prolific goal-scorers of his time. But Tarasenko’s abrupt exit for shoulder surgery hasn’t mattered in the standings.

But the trauma didn’t stop with Tarasenko’s shoulder injury. That blow was followed by other instances of significant damage: Alex Steen (high ankle sprain), Sammy Blais (broken wrist), Oskar Sundqvist (foot.) The good news: Steen has resumed skating, and Sundqvist will be back sooner than initially estimated.

Here’s what the Blues have done after each injury-related absence:

12-3-3 without Tarasenko. In fact, the Blues have the most points and the best record in the Western Conference since Tarasenko suffered his long-term injury on Oct. 24.

The Blues are 6-2-3 without Steen.

And 4-1-1 without Blais.

They’re 2-0 since losing Sundqvist.

This reflects the outstanding work done by GM Doug Armstrong, coach Craig Berube, and of course, the players.

And even when it appears that the Blues are slumping and entering a downturn that could last a while, they respond with a champion’s character. They plug in a replacement — whether it be forwards Klim Kostin, Jacob de la Rose, Nathan Walker and Troy Brouwer or defenseman Derrick Pouliot. They give expanded playing-time opportunities — or the assignment to a so-called scoring line — to the likes of Ivan Barbashev, Zach Sanford, and MacKenzie MacEachern.

And the Blues win…

And win again…

And again…

After losing at home to Nashville a week ago Saturday night, the Blues responded by wrangling a point out of last Monday’s shootout loss at Nashville. They followed that with three straight wins over quality opponents: at Tampa Bay, at Dallas, and Saturday’s 5-2 home victory over Pittsburgh.

The Blues’ exceptional organizational depth is paramount in the team’s ability to fill injury-related voids. But the team culture — a winning, unselfish, harmonious culture — is a key element in their honorable handling of adversity.

Blues defenseman Justin Faulk — acquired from Carolina on Sept. 24 — could sense it as soon as he entered the STL sanctuary.

“There’s confidence in everyone in this room,” Faulk told reporters after Saturday’s win over the Penguins. “No one that steps in doesn’t feel out of place and I think everyone in the room has confidence in anyone that’s going to step in or move up in the lineup or whatever role they’re asked of. It seems like we make it as seamless as possible for guys. It’s just nice to see that we have that confidence with no matter who’s in the lineup and whatever we’ve got to work with.”

It also helps to have sturdy — and often sensational — goaltending. In the 18 games since Tarasenko’s injury, Jordan Binnington and Jake Allen have teamed for the NHL’s fifth-ranked save percentage (.937) at 5-on-5 play. Their save percentage at even strength (.933) ranks third overall.

Binnington and Allen especially shine in warding off high-danger scoring chances; in the last 18 games they’ve given the Blues the No 1 HD save percentage in the NHL in all situations (.896), at even strength (.895) and also at 5-on-5 play (.903.)

The Blues haven’t snoozed after winning the Stanley Cup. That’s for sure. We’ve discovered that the high-caliber goaltending, the abundant depth and the championship lineage can cure just about any ailment –injuries, travel, and this mysterious hockey flu bug known as the Stanley Cup hangover.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie