AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
The remarkable, resilient St. Louis Blues have won seven games in a row and nine out of ten despite losing Vladimir Tarasenko for the season in the second of those ten games, and then Alexander Steen for a month two weeks later. Why have they been able to do it? Well, as Craig Berube would point out, they’re good. But there’s more. Here are six reasons the Blues are atop the Western Conference and behind only the Washington Capitals in the NHL’s overall standings.
1) Their best players are their best players: Since the game Tarasenko got hurt in, the first period against the Kings, the guys the Blues are supposed to count on have come up big. Ryan O’Reilly has scored four goals and nine assists for thirteen points in the nine games. David Perron has scored two overtime goals, and has gone 3-8-11 since number 91’s shoulder gave out. Alex Pietrangelo has also gone 3-8-11 in those games and has risen to the level of a legitimate Norris Trophy winner this season. Brayden Schenn has scored 4-3-7 and Jaden Schwartz has provided two goals and five assists for seven points. If the Blues were to lose Tarasenko and someone asked you who needed to step up offensively, you’d probably say those five, right? The old hockey adage is that your best players have to be your best players, and they have been.
2) The power play has come to life: In their last ten games, the Blues are 12-for-36 (33%) on the Power Play. That stretch has lifted them to 25.9% overall, good for fourth in the league. When your power play is the best in the NHL over a ten-game span, there’s a pretty good chance you can win a vast majority of those games. And the Blues have.
3) Timely goals: Last week the Blues won three straight games in overtime, and overall they’ve won five straight that go beyond regulation. While they’ve had trouble protecting two goals leads…blowing five of them near the season’s quarter pole…they’ve gotten at least one point in each of those games. They rebound well when faced with adversity, and seem to come through at crunch time on a regular basis.
4) Timely saves: During the stretch, Jordan Binnington has been brilliant, going 7-1 with a 1.98 GAA and a .933 save percentage. Jake Allen has won both of his starts during the roll as well. He was sensational in Edmonton, saving 32-of-34. Both goalies talk about how the only statistic they’re concerned about are wins, and in addition to having great overall stats, they’re getting their wins too.
5) Next man up: Last year Blues defensemen led the league in goals. Even though the only real offensive production from the blue line has come from Pietrangelo, the Blues have lived the credo of next man up since Tarasenko got hurt. Since he left that game against L.A. eleven different forwards and three defensemen have scored goals. President of Hockey Operations Doug Armstrong said it would take a group effort to make up for Tarasenko’s absence. So far, that’s been the case.
6) They play in Berube’s image: Berube wants the team to play tough, in your face, gritty hockey. Other team’s writers and broadcasters are often shocked by how stifling the Blues can be. He wants them to forecheck and hit and possess the puck, and they do that. They are in the top ten in takeaways and faceoff winning percentage, and bottom ten in giveaways. There are things they can improve; the Blues are thirtieth in shots on goal per game and have allowed the tenth fewest. And, the Blues penalty kill is only sixteenth. But those are items that can be cleaned up as the season continues to unfold.
Ultimately, the Blues are in great shape because they find ways to win. They’ve been sensational in overtime and, as their reputation would attest, they don’t give their opponents much opportunity to beat them. If they can keep up what they’ve done the last ten games, it should be a fun winter in STL.