Photo AP/Scott Kane
If you had any doubts about the Stanley Cup Champion Blues when they lost four in a row leading into last week, those doubts should be erased by their last four games.
The Blues played three really good games in a row against Colorado, Los Angeles and Boston…and then won a game that they should win ten out of ten times as they blew a lead but came back against a struggling Red Wing team. Sometimes teams have to win despite not having their “A” game, and Sunday’s performance was one of those times.
Last Tuesday, the Avalanche came to Enterprise Center as the only team in the league without a regulation loss, and they were dominated. The Blues played their best period of the season in the second; outshooting Colorado 11-1 and outscoring them 2-0. For the game, the Blues had 25 official shots on net, but had eleven blocked and missed ten more. The 3-1 win snapped a four-game losing streak and allowed the Blues to regain the dominance they showed in last year’s playoffs.
Against an overmatched Kings team, the Blues turned in another “solid game,” as Craig Berube called it. In that one, the Blues re-established their power play, going 3-of-4 with the man advantage. When Vladimir Tarasenko suffered an upper body injury in the first period, the Blues didn’t miss a beat, scoring five times on Kings goalie Johnathan Quick. The spirit is willing for the Kings, but they just don’t have the players they had three or four years ago. The Blues took it to them and handled a team that should be handled.
Saturday night in Boston, the Blues lost a great, playoff style game to the Bruins, 3-0. They played without Tarasenko, and missed several glorious opportunities in falling in their Stanley Cup Final rematch. Boston scored a power play goal and an empty netter. The Blues outshot the Bruins 26-24. The Blues went 0-4 on the power play in that game, and Boston went 1-4. The Blues outhit and outchanced the Bruins, and won the faceoff battle 60%-40%. Boston goalie Tukka Rask was brilliant. He stole a game. It happens. Boston had home ice, an emotional edge because they lost the Stanley Cup Final, and an impenetrable goalie. Losing that game, even 3-0, is far from a disaster.
Then on Sunday, the Blues moved on to Detroit for their second game in a row and third in four days. They grabbed a 3-1 lead after two periods but fell behind 4-3 before rebounding for a 5-4 overtime win. The Wings came into the game as the second lowest scoring team and the third worst defensive team. Their special teams were both ranked 25th. But as we know, the Blues wear a target because they won the Stanley Cup. Somehow the Blues avoided Detroit’s best shot and came away with two points.
In the last four games, the Blues have picked up six of a possible eight points. They’ve not only been able to find their game, but even when they haven’t played their best, they’ve been able to beat lesser teams. After that stretch in which they lost to Montreal twice during that four-game skid, they’ve bounced back.
There are a lot of notable aspects to the Blues start. In each of their four games against Western Conference teams, they’ve picked up at least a point. They’re two points out of the top spot in the conference and the Central Division. While their penalty kill is in the middle of the pack at fifteenth, the power play is seventh in the league at 25.6 %. Ken Hitchcock always said for a team to have elite special teams, you want the power play and penalty kill percentages to add up to 110%. Right now the Blues are at 106.7. A team that needs to possess the puck is third in the league in faceoff winning percentage, at 54%.
Guys that have won the Stanley Cup in the past say the real hangover comes in November. Early in the month the Blues have a four-game road trip and play four games in six days. Later in the month they have a three-game trip to Nashville, Tampa and Dallas. November will be a test.
This year’s edition of the Blues need to jockey for position in the standings during the first half of the season, and then can get rolling in the second half. October has set them up well. They know they can still play their championship game and they know they can handle lesser teams. If they can stay healthy…and if they can get Tarasenko back sooner rather than later…they’ll be in position to defend their championship when the playoffs start.