As the wildly inconsistent Blues head out west to try and maintain a hold on the second wild card spot in the NHL’s western conference, there are several points fans can feel good about heading into the final fifteen games of the season.
As the trip to Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, Arizona and Colorado begins, they have a three point lead over L.A. with the same amount of games played at 67, and they have a game in hand against Nashville and trail the Predators by two points.
Amazingly, after a five-game losing streak that followed a six-game winning streak, the Blues have won four in a row. And they’ve done it by scoring. Vladimir Tarasenko has re-emerged with four goals in his last three games. Patrik Berglund has scored twice during the streak, as has Paul Stastny, who missed Saturday night’s win over the Islanders with the flu. Jaden Schwartz has five assists during the streak, and Alex Pietrangelo has three assists.
When the Blues have needed it, their goaltending has stepped up. Jake Allen has been magnificent, allowing just four goals in the three games he’s played during the winning streak.
But it’s important to note that the Blues haven’t been able to sustain an appreciable level of success so far this season. From December 3 to February 6, the Blues went 9-15-1.
Before that stretch, they were 14-7-3, and since have had a record of 9-5-0. If they desire to be a playoff team, the Blues are going to have to be more like the team that showed up in the first 24 or the last 14 games, and less like the 25 games in the middle of the season.
How can they do it?
It really is remarkable, seeing that hockey players and coaches always talk about providing a sixty minute effort. When the Blues have had poor stretches this season, especially the one that got Ken Hitchcock fired and Mike Yeo promoted, there’s been an obvious lack of effort. And when they’ve won…especially in the last five weeks…it’s been because they get to loose pucks before the opposition, maintain possession of the puck in the offensive zone, and look engaged. Of course, not allowing the first goal on a regular basis helps, too.
Los Angeles has perked up since the acquisition of Jarome Iginla and Ben Bishop. Iginla has scored two goals in four games and the Kings have gone 3-1. With their deadline moves, L.A. should be strong for the stretch run. They have ten games left against likely playoff teams, including three against Calgary and two against Edmonton. Those two are battling for the third spot in the Pacific division, and, along with Anaheim, trying to avoid playing San Jose in the first round of the playoffs.
The Predators have four games left against certain playoff teams, and perhaps more importantly, five against teams that are battling for their playoff lives. Nashville also has five games against non-playoff teams, and has a total of seven home and seven road games left.
If the Blues can slide into the third spot in the central division, they’ll probably play either Chicago or Minnesota in the first round. And if they finish with the second wild card, they would almost certainly play whoever wins the division. So getting into a race with Nashville and expending energy to pass them makes no sense.
The Blues just need to put their heads down, not worry about the standings, and worry about what THEY do. If their favorable schedule allows them to move into third place in the division, fine. If they finish eighth in the conference, that’s fine too. What they need to do is keep playing their game. They need to strive to play the way they did at Minnesota last week in a 2-1 win, a game in which they controlled the best team in the west for a full sixty minutes.
If the Blues can put that type of game together for a consistent run come playoff time, they might be able to win a series. Of course, if they play like they did during the middle of the season or during their recent five game losing streak, they could miss the playoffs altogether.
However you want to term them; inconsistent, bipolar, erratic, mercurial…the Blues have had multiple personalities this season. If we see the good Blues for the next month, they can make the stretch run interesting.