With twenty games to go in the 2019 season, the St. Louis Blues are five points out of second place in the NHL’s central division. With two games in hand against Nashville, the Blues have a chance to draw within three of the Predators when they host them on Tuesday night. That game will also conclude a 22 day stretch in which the Blues haven’t had back-to-back days off and played thirteen games. Thirteen games in 22 days, and a record in those thirteen of 10-1-1 heading into the last one.
I write the 2019 season because the 2018 season and the 2019 season are two completely different entities. I refer you to the official Blues game notes, which note the amazing turnaround since the beginning of the year…
-Since the start of the 2019 calendar year, the Blues are 18-5-2, including an 11-3-2 road record
-Their 18 total wins rank 1st in the NHL, while their 11 road wins also rank 1st in the NHL in 2019
-The Blues have earned 38 points in 2019, which ranks 1st in the NHL
-The Blues have scored 3.35 goals per game in 2019, which ranks 8th in the NHL
-The Blues have given up 2.00 goals per game in 2019, which ranks 2nd in the NHL
-The Blues have 33.9 shots per game in 2019, which ranks 3rd in the NHL
-The Blues have given up 26.1 shots against per game in 2019, which leads the NHL
-The Blues goal differential of +31 leads the NHL in 2019 (2. TBL, +30)
-The Blues shot differential of +179 leads the NHL in 2019 (2. VGK, +141)
-The Blues have 19 goals from defenseman in 2019, which shares 1st leads the NHL (CGY)
-Vladimir Tarasenko shares 3rd in the NHL with 16 goals (1. Arvidsson/P. Kane, 17) and shares 3rd with 30 points (1. Kane, 43) in 2019
-Ryan O’Reilly shares 5th in the NHL with 19 assists (1. Kane, 26) and shares 8th with 28 points in 2019
-O’Reilly shares 1st in the NHL with a +18 rating in 2019, while Tarasenko, +15, shares 4th, and Parayko, +13, shares 8th
That’s a phenomenal run by the Blues, both as a team and individually. Before this stretch, I was concerned about not only the grueling schedule, but the quality of competition the Blues were going to play. Of the thirteen games, six will have been against teams in the top nine in the NHL. In March, the Blues play fifteen games and have only one four-game week, after playing four games in each of the last three weeks.
Of those fifteen March contests, eight of those will be against teams in the BOTTOM ten of the NHL. Only two March games…the 9th at San Jose and the 23rd against Tampa Bay at home…are against top ten teams in the league. In theory, with more rest and a softer schedule, the Blues should dominate March.
The keys as the Blues traverse the final two months are getting healthy and maintaining their superb effort. Even playing on fumes in Minnesota on Sunday night, the Blues played an inspired third period and had multiple opportunities to beat the Wild.
Health might be a little more dicey because they can’t control that. It appears both David Perron and Brayden Schenn have concussions, and Perron once missed an entire season with the aftereffects of a concussion. Schenn doesn’t have a concussion history, but you never know how someone is going to respond. The hit to his head against Toronto didn’t appear to be that hard, but we’ve seen seemingly innocent knocks to the head that have caused major problems for athletes. Carl Gunnarsson is still out but seems to be closing in on a return, but the Blues have done well with their top six defensemen and Chris Butler being on hand for depth.
It would seem the toughest part of the schedule is behind the Blues. Now, they simply must play to the level of their competition. While there are lots of bottom ten teams coming up, there are many that have something to play for. Carolina, Dallas, San Jose, perhaps Arizona when the Blues play them, Pittsburgh, maybe Buffalo and Vegas all are going to be battling either for a playoff spot or seeding.
The Blues have put themselves in a great spot heading into the final quarter of the season because of a dominant, memorable, record setting February. But they have to remember there is still that 25% of the schedule to go. They’ve proven they’re good enough to be a playoff team. Now, they have to prove that they can actually get in.