The Blues have picked up points in five of six games since the All Star Break. For all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth about the club and the coaching of Ken Hitchcock, the Blues are third in the Central Division and third in the Western Conference, and trail Dallas and Chicago by four points.
Only three teams in the league have more points than the Blues, with the Capitals leading with 84.
For the fifth year in a row, the Blues will make the playoffs.
That’s something fans should note, especially on the heels of the Minnesota Wild firing their coach, Mike Yeo, after making the playoffs and beating the Blues last season. The Wild have made the playoffs three years in a row, but this season face an uphill climb. They’ve lost eight straight and are in tenth place, five points out of a playoff spot.
The Avalanche, who won the division in 2014, missed the playoffs last year. Colorado has made the playoffs once in five seasons. Winnipeg made the playoffs last year for the first time in four years since the move from Atlanta, and languishes in last place now. Even the front running Stars missed the playoffs last season and have had one post-season appearance in the last seven years. So, even though we take the Blues making the playoffs for granted, we shouldn’t.
The defensive system and goaltending has been nothing short of phenomenal.
Jake Allen has compiled a 2.17 goals against average (8th in the NHL among goalies with 20 or more games) and Brian Elliott checks in with a 2.11, good for fifth in the league. Elliott has compiled a sterling .931 save percentage, which is third in the NHL, and Allen is 11th at .924.
Despite injuries to a half dozen of their best players, including Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Pietrangelo, Paul Stastny, Patrick Berglund, Jaden Schwartz and Allen, the Blues have performed at a high level. That group has missed 134 man games to injury, which doesn’t include winger Steve Ott. No other team in the league has suffered as many injuries to frontline players and maintained a high level of play.
For this reason, fans shouldn’t be talking about Hitchcock being fired, they should be talking about him as a Coach of the Year candidate that should get a contract extension.
The club hasn’t scored prolifically yet. They’re 24th in the NHL in goals per game at 2.41. Because the Blues haven’t had their top talent, they haven’t scored as much as they’re capable when healthy. The Blues have scored 140 goals, and the teams they’re chasing…Dallas and Chicago…have 182 and 162, respectively. But, this Blues team only has to worry about the playoffs, right?
After last season’s ouster at the hands of Minnesota in the first round of the playoffs, most of us agreed that the 2015-2016 edition needed to be judged on the post-season. They had won the division and home ice, and failed. Chicago finished third in the division and won the Stanley Cup. In today’s NHL, even though teams should get credit for being great in the regular season, they’re judged on what happens in the playoffs.
As the trade deadline approaches on February 29, the Blues should stand pat. They already added one big-time talent in Schwartz, and within the next 20 days should add Allen and Pietrangelo. They have good talent at Chicago with kids like Ty Rattie, Ivan Barbeshev and Petteri Lindbohm that have NHL futures, and can fill in for next year’s expected free agent departures.
For the franchise and for this group of players, the time is now.
They just went on the road and beat the top team in the Atlantic Division (Florida) and the defending Eastern Conference Champions (Tampa Bay). They know they can compete with and beat division mates Dallas and Chicago, and this week will get a chance to see the Stars and the Pacific division leading Kings.
As sports fans, we’re reactionary, especially with a franchise that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 47 previous seasons; failing to make the finals in their last 44. But this is a big picture situation. The Blues have to be judged on whether they win a cup or not. It’s not about a February loss against the Jets, or an unbeaten Father’s trip to Florida later in the week.
This team should be all about what happens in game 83 and beyond. Worrying about anything before that…especially when what’s happening is good…is useless.