I found myself wondering Saturday night as the Blues dominated the Capitals, are they peaking too soon?
The team has stormed down the stretch in recent years and haven’t had playoff gas left in the tank. But we’d be warming up the panic bus if they had just lost fifteen of twenty rather than winning fifteen of twenty.
Can it get any better at the moment? The Blues were in the midst of their fourth straight shutout…against the league’s best team in Washington, no less.
They currently lead the league in shutouts (10), they have the league’s best save percentage (.920), and the fourth best goals against average (2.38).
They’ve also played the entire season without a full roster.
Patrik Berglund missed the first half of the season. While he was out, Jaden Schwartz broke an ankle. Kevin Shattenkirk was out for an extended period, as were Paul Stastny, Alex Pietrangelo and Alexander Steen.
In fact, the Blues have yet to play a game with every player healthy.
They shut out Washington with three rookie defensemen, and stalwarts Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarson out with injuries.
Fans have spent much of the season concerned about the offense, but during the month of March, a good sample size of eleven games, the Blues have a league-leading 3.55 goals per game. The scoring has been balanced, too.
Vladimir Tarasenko, as you’d expect, leads the way with six goals during the month. Berglund has four, and David Backes, Robby Fabbri, Schwartz, Stastny and Troy Brouwer have three each.
Defensive scoring has been worrisome, but as March ends Shattenkirk has 39 points, rookie Colton Parayko has 31, Pietrangelo has 30 and Bouwmeester has 19.
The Blues have recently had difficulty elevating their postseason game. Tarasenko has found that other gear, and maybe this is the year the rest do the same.
Fabbri is playing his best hockey as they head down the stretch, and Parayko and Joel Edmundson have shown no signs of hitting a rookie wall. When guys like Ty Rattie and Petteri Lindbohm have been needed, they’ve also played well.
Teams that win the Stanley Cup win with great goaltending, and Brian Elliott has been remarkable. Mike Liut was second in 1980-1981 MVP voting, and Elliott has been more impressive. Roman Turek had 42 wins, a 1.95 GAA and a league best seven shutouts in 1999-2000, and Elliott has been better.
Elliott leads the league in goals against at 1.95 and save percentage at .934. He’s not playing in a high flying era like Liut and doesn’t have an MVP defenseman like Chris Pronger as Turek did. He simply never looks shaken, and has complete control.
The Blues are missing their best player in Steen, who should be back for the playoffs and playoff antagonist Steve Ott may return as well.
The weekend injuries to Bouwmeester and Gunnarson shouldn’t be long term so the Blues have a great chance to be the healthiest they’ve been all year in the playoffs.
They still have some work to do. They play a desperate Colorado team and a Bruins squad battling for home ice this week, and then finish with a four-game week.
If the Blues could choose a playoff opponent, there isn’t a good choice.
If the Blues win the division, their opponent would likely be the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year, Minnesota. The Wild fired head coach Mike Yeo and replaced him with John Torchetti on Valentine’s Day and have gone 14-6-1 since, including their current five-game winning streak.
The Blackhawks are always difficult, and they would be the team if the playoffs started today. If somehow Colorado catches Minnesota for the last wild card spot, they would be red hot and could give the Blues trouble.
Ultimately, as has been the case for several years, if the Blues play their best game, they’ll win it. They can’t have flat performances like they did last year against the Wild, and they must stay healthy, which they couldn’t do when they faced Chicago in 2014.
Can they do it? They’re doing it now. Only one team in the entire NHL has more points than the Blues, and that’s the Washington team they just dominated. Can they score? As mentioned, they have a balanced attack that has scored more than any other team in March. Can they keep the puck out of the net? Yes. They have the best goalie in the NHL right now.
As we speak, the Blues are as equipped as anyone to make a run for the Stanley Cup. Now, they just need to execute.