AP Photo/Bill Boyce
The Blues head out on the road for a three-game trip and a stretch that sees them play eight of their next eleven on the road. These days, it doesn’t seem to matter where they play. They’re just good at winning. Need to score six to beat the Blackhawks 6-5? You got it. Need to hold the Islanders to five shots on goal after the first period in a 3-2 overtime win? No problem. How about no doubt, 5-1 and 4-1 division routs on the road against division foes Dallas and Minnesota? Can do that, too.
After a shootout win over the Stars at Enterprise Center on Saturday night, Blues coach Craig Berube referenced his team’s ability to know what to do and when to do it. “I think that our team knows how to win. You win seven, eight in a row three times, it means you’re winning games where you’re probably not playing your best hockey. It’s hard to play really good hockey every night. You’ve got to find ways to win games without playing your best game. We’ve done a pretty good job of that.”
A really good job. In fact, the Blues have won at least seven in a row for the third time this season, becoming the second defending Stanley Cup champion with three separate winning streaks of at least seven during the following season. The Montreal Canadiens did so in 1977-78 before winning their third of four consecutive Stanley Cup championships. And that Montreal team had the third most points (129) of any team in the history of the league, following the 132 points Montreal accumulated the year before, and the 131 put up by the Red Wings in ’95-’96. (Sorry, by the way, to reference that ’96 Red Wings team. And Wayne Gretzky. And that year’s Blues. And Grant Fuhr. And Nick Kypreos. But I digress. The Blues won the Cup last season).
If a team is able to knock the Blues out of the playoffs, they’ll earn it. In the ultimate team sport, a sport where you don’t NEED a superstar to win, they’re playing exemplary team hockey. Of course, they lost their top goal scorer, Vladimir Tarasenko, early in the season. Yet they’re eleventh in the league at 3.2 goals per game. After Jay Bouwmeester, a defensive stalwart, went out with a cardiac event in mid-February, the distracted club allowed six goals in a game at Vegas. In the nine games since, they’ve allowed eighteen…two per game. In addition to those two absences, Sammy Blais, Oskar Sundqvist, Colton Parayko and Carl Gunnarsson have missed big chunks of time. Yet the team continues to win.
David Perron, the Blues leading scorer with sixty points, is 28th in the league in scoring. Ryan O’Reilly is next on the Blues and is 38th in the NHL. Plus/Minus leader Vince Dunn is 35th in that department. Number one goalie Jordan Binnington is seventeenth in GAA and 36th in save percentage. When the big boys aren’t at the top of their games, the Blues are getting contributions from everyone, and that’s why they’re great.
While he won’t likely get a vote for MVP, Sundqvist has been a revelation. The team is 34-10-8 (.720) when he’s in the lineup, and 5-7-2 (.428) when he’s been out with injury. The team is 10-1-1 when he scores a goal.
When Bouwmeester went down, General Manager Doug Armstrong made a move with Montreal to acquire defenseman Marco Scandella. The thirty-year-old has played in six games, getting almost twenty minutes per game, and is a plus-five in those six games. He’s also a reasonable replacement for Bouwmeester on the penalty kill.
The Blues are finding ways, but they still may not win the division. Of the 31 teams, Colorado has the second easiest schedule remaining, and they trail the Blues by three points with two games in hand. Dallas, in third place in the Central, has the easiest remaining schedule…while the Blues have the seventeenth toughest schedule.
Once the playoffs hit, though, the Blues will be in great shape. They’ll have Tarasenko back. Scandella will be fully assimilated into the system, and the goalie situation will be sorted out. And if the Blues are down in the third period, they can take solace in the fact that they know how to win games.