It’s amazing how quickly things change in sports. Last Tuesday, before the Blues beat the Buffalo Sabres, they were in fourth place in the Central Division and had picked up just seven of a possible twenty points their previous ten games.
Now, they have a three game winning streak and have moved into the Western Conference’s second spot, trailing only the amazing Chicago Blackhawks.
How did things change? Here are six reasons…
1) The first was getting back to Hitch’s brand of Blues hockey. During the ten game stretch of struggle, the Blues allowed 32 goals, 3.2 per game. In the three game winning streak…admittedly a small sample size…they’ve allowed four goals, 1.33 per game. They’ve gotten back to the defensive effort that has allowed the Blues to forge the best record in the league, with the most shutouts in the league, since Ken Hitchcock took over.
2) A loss served as a wakeup call, and provided some knowledge for the players. Even though the Blues lost 8-4 in Columbus November 12, Hitchcock thought a positive was drawn from defeat. “I thought it was a step in the way we needed to play offensively,” Hitchcock said.
“I think what happened in the Columbus game is that we’ve started to score goals now because we started to play the right way offensively, and it started in that game. There was a high level of determination.” That desire has carried over to the three-game winning streak. Perhaps getting behind in embarrassing fashion and NEEDING to score taught this team a lesson.
3) Fabbri, Schwartz, and Perron have picked up the pace. Robby Fabbri had four points in his first fourteen games. After being a healthy scratch against Nashville on November 10, Fabbri has responded with four points in four games, three goals and an assist. Jaden Schwartz got off to a late start because of an elbow injury. He had just one goal and one assist in the first seven games he played. Since then, Schwartz has taken off, scoring five goals and adding an assist in his last seven games. After scoring four goals with one assist (including a hat trick in Calgary) in his first fifteen games, David Perron scored two goals and four assists in his next four. Those three hot players have made a difference in the Blues’ ability to compete.
4) The fourth line of Kyle Brodziak, Scottie Upshall and Ryan Reaves has been busy and visible. Hitchcock said “Brodziak’s line is helping us win hockey games, and they’re getting ice time according to it. They’re playing the right way, and they’re getting ice time, and other people are being allotted less, and it’s helping forge an identity.” And what identity is that? “Not the one that people thought, even myself, a month ago,” Hitchcock admitted, “but that type of identity is starting to come into our hockey club, which for me is good. [It’s] more north. More the way we used to be.”
5) Colton Parayko has four assists in his last seven games. The second-year defenseman got off to a slow offensive start, picking up just three assists in his first dozen games. In addition, Parayko has eighteen shots on goal in his last four games, 4.5 per. Before that, he averaged 2.4 per game through his first fifteen. Having a defenseman with a great shot blasting away from the point makes a difference. Either directly because rebounds are picked up and put in the net, or indirectly because opposing players tend to shy away from going down to block that slap shot.
6) Jake Allen has been superb. After being hung out to dry by his teammates in New York and struggling in Dallas, and then the bizarre game in Columbus (five Blue Jackets goals went in off Blues sticks), Allen has rebounded with a .953 save percentage and a 1.33 GAA in the ensuing three games. And he’s made numerous spectacular saves in the process.
The Blues now face a tough stretch, visiting old teammates David Backes in Boston and T.J. Oshie in Washington on back-to-back nights.
After that, the Blues have a five game home stand against Minnesota, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Winnipeg, and Montreal…three division rivals and two of the three top teams in the eastern conference. The Blues have been great at home, going 8-2-1 at Scottrade Center. They need to improve on the road, where they’re 2-5-1 so far, but that five game home stand might be what we look back on as the difference between home ice in the playoffs when we reach game number 83.