What a cruddy start to the weekend, am I right? Hopeful for a shot at Game 7 and the hope of back-to-back championships for the St. Louis Blues. Unfortunately, that’s not how this one was written for 2019. The season would come to a close for St. Louis with an ugly loss in Game 6 to a young Vancouver Canucks roster. For me, it’s hard to be all doom and gloom when you look at what this team accomplished over the last 18 months. Yes there was a Stanley Cup but its what took place after that. I’m getting to far ahead of myself, let’s start with the series.
For me it comes down to this, the Blues just weren’t ready for postseason hockey. It seemed as if the postponed playoffs would work in favor of the Blues by providing four months off to heal, rest and prepare for another run at the Cup. This did not go that way. A 4-month hiatus from hockey and then ramping up play caused injuries to players like Steen, Tarasenko & Gunnarsson. Barbashev missed a few games because he planned his baby at the perfect time (just not for playoffs). On top of that, this postseason just did not have the excitement for the players that a run like last year did with packed stands, building off energy on the ice, and taking away the playoff mentality This one, as the players called it, was a bit dry. All of that doesn’t combine for a pumped up team like the Blues had last year.
On the ice it just didn’t weld into what we saw from the team last year. That saying has to be examined though, this was not the same team. Without Bouwmeester, your PK took a major hit which is what dictated the first two games of the series. Your 4th line was not the same with no Barbashev or Steen and Sundqvist just not looking like himself. There was no Maroon to tell the other team “you guys are f*&%ed” and no Tarasenko to be a consistent threat on the ice. All of that on top of not having Binnington be Binnington resulted in a series loss in Game 6. Vancouver was the better team and more willing to accept that this was the postseason, Blues just couldn’t’ get there. I’ll site something the Stars Head Coach, Rick Bowness, said after Dallas beat Calgary in Round 1, “my main concern after Game 6 was the mental health of my team. They need to work on that before we talk Round 2.” Like it or not but bubble life had an effect on the Blues.
Now, let’s assess the situation as we head into the off-season. First off, everyone needs to split the analysis of the season into two parts, pre-postponement and post-postponement because they were two different teams. People see the goaltending struggles and say what’s wrong with Binnington? Nothing, he has played 111 games in 11 months with an uncharacteristic pause during the regular season. Yes, I know other goalies are going through the same thing but every goalie is wired differently. But, he still won 30 games in the regular season which was 3rd best in the NHL.
The offense took this team to a 1st place position in the West without their elite goal scorer for the entire season and defense allowed the 4th least amount of goals in the Western Conference. All of these areas were the polar opposite of the post-season but with the exact same team. That’ why, for me, I don’t look at this team and see gaping holes that need to be resolved. I see a team that under the unfortunate circumstances, was unable to perform after their 4-month lay-off.
There are plenty of questions for this team though and it all starts with the captain. Pietrangelo said after Game 6 loss that he wasn’t going to discuss his future at this moment. Both sides have said that their main goal is to get something down with these sides. It’s hard for me to believe that the captain, who has grown up in this city, would want to go somewhere else over a few million dollars. The chance to win multiple cups and become a Hall of Famer will be accomplished in St. Louis. But to keep him, other changes will have to be made.
The most obvious choice for the Blues will be Allen and one of a Steen or Bozak to find a way to keep the captain on this roster and still keep the team competitive. Those moves are going to have to be down by a magician like Armstrong but he’s done wonders before, so expectations are high. If this doesn’t get done it’s because one side, or the other, doesn’t want to get done.
Another areas that Doug Armstrong will have to address, more scoring for the top 6. It became apparent in the postseason that without Tarasenko and a 4th line as we are accustomed to, there isn’t much of an effect in scoring. Finding a winger who can play with O’Reilly and Perron or finding a line-mate who can score with Robert Thomas will be a sought after item once the off-season picks up.
It will become a very interesting off-season as to what Doug Armstrong does to this team. One decision could change the identity of this team but one thing is certain, the core remains in place. This team has Schenn, Schwartz, Thoms, O’Reilly, Sundqvist, Barbashev, Parayko, Scandella, Faulk and Binnignton for the long haul. That should bring some ease to the minds of Blues fans are thinking this team is a disaster after a series loss. They’re not, the Cup is still a real thing for years to come in St. Louis.
AP Photo/John Minchillo