On January 3rd the St. Louis Blues were dead last in the NHL with a record of 15-17-4. Their goal differential was an abysmal -23 and their hopes at sneaking into a playoff spot looked as bleak as it gets. But here we are only 42 days later and St. Louis has leapfrogged eight teams, jumped in the top wildcard spot, and sit only two points behind Dallas for third in the Central. Here’s how they did it:
Defense and goaltending drastically improved
In my opinion, this is the biggest reason the Blues are in the position they’re at right now. Through the first couple months of the season the defense was appalling. They allowed quality chance, after quality chance and were never able to clear the front of their net. They had an abundance of turnovers every game, and it didn’t help matters that they never seemed to get bailed out by their supposed “number one” goaltender. Berube took over and by December there seemed to be some slight improvements. The defense didn’t constantly back in, the turnovers were limited, and the forwards finally played like they knew what they were doing in their own zone. Unfortunately, Jake Allen hit his annual “slump” a little early this season. From December 9th to the end of January, Jake Allen recorded an .886 SV% , a 3.04 GAA, and had some embarrassing, deflating performances.
On January 8th the Blues gave Jordan Binnington his first career NHL start. The 25 year-old goaltender played in almost 200 games at the AHL level and put up solid numbers, but he was always overshadowed by the likes of Allen and Husso. Nobody believed he could be the guy to save this season, but through his first 12 starts he’s proving everybody wrong. He’s 10-1-1 with an incredible .934 SV% and a 1.65 GAA. He’s recorded two shutouts, including a sensational 32 save performance over the league-leading Lightning. Since he’s taken over the reigns, this team has gained an extreme amount of confidence. Their defense is playing terrific: blocking shots, limiting quality chances, and transitioning in their own zone exceptionally. When they run into trouble, Binnington slows the game down with his cool, calm demeanor and has shown the ability to make huge, game-changing saves. Bouwmeester and Parayko, who were extremely disappointing early on, have turned into the team’s best two defensemen every night. J-Bo is averaging over 23 minutes a game over the past month, and is back to the old, underrated defenseman we saw from 2012-2016. Parayko isn’t producing much offensively, but defensively he’s been a stud and has even added a bit of grit to his game. Pietrangelo and Edmundson are still struggling but are improving, with Dunn, Bortuzzo and Gunnarsson each looking fantastic in the roles they’ve been given. To be honest, I didn’t think this team had the ability to improve their defense this season, but over the last few months they’ve done a complete 180 and it’s incredible to watch.
Their top players are finally producing and they’re getting depth scoring
With the exception of Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron, most of this team’s biggest offensive threats were invisible at the start of the year. The team’s biggest producer, Vladimir Tarasenko, was a complete non-factor at even strength and his overall game at times was embarrassing. He refused to battle along the boards, he was dumb with the puck, and his patented wrist-shot never seemed to work. Brayden Schenn, who was coming off a career year, couldn’t get anything going offensively and went through long stretches where he was completely invisible. Bozak wasn’t doing anything, Schwartz was injured or not scoring, and nobody in the bottom six could get anything going offensively.
Luckily for the Blues, the offense has woken up at just the right time. In Tarasenko’s last 15 games he’s looked like a completely different player. He has 10 goals and 10 assists and is playing his best overall hockey since 2016. He’s working hard, playing well defensively, and finally seems to be gelling with Ryan O’Reilly. Brayden Schenn has also been red-hot, recording 11 points in his last 10 games while having adjust to moving back to left wing. Bozak eventually showed up offensively, scoring 4 goals in his last 9 games, and Schwartz finally got on the score-sheet after going goalless for 22 straight games. The third and fourth lines are producing at a solid rate, with the backend tallying 10 goals in their last 10 games. Every single player seems to be buying into what Berube is selling, and with that comes a large surge in offense.
Teams around the Blues have been mightily struggling
The Blues deserve a lot of credit for putting themselves into a playoff spot, but it couldn’t have happened without a little help from the rest of the West. Here’s a look at every playoff-hungry team’s record in 2019, as of February 14th. In parenthesis is their record in their last 10 games:
St. Louis Blues: 13-4-1 (8-2-0)
Minnesota Wild: 9-8-2 (4-4-2)
Dallas Stars: 9-6-1 (6-3-1)
Vancouver Canucks: 6-6-3 (4-5-1)
Arizona Coyotes: 9-6-3 (4-4-2)
Anaheim Ducks: 4-11-2 (3-7-0)
Edmonton Oilers: 6-9-2 (2-6-2)
Colorado Avalanche: 3-10-2 (1-6-3)
Chicago Blackhawks: 8-5-3 (7-3-0)
With the exception of the Dallas Stars, every single team has lost as many, or more games than they’ve won in 2019. Again, the Blues deserve the majority of the credit for turning their season around, but it couldn’t have happened without the mediocre to pathetic performances by the teams in their conference.
It’s pretty amazing what the Blues have been able to accomplish over the past month and a half. Most people, including myself, thought this season was a lost cause after an embarrassing first half, but Berube and his coaching staff have turned this team around. Not only are the Blues right on track to make the postseason, but they now look like a legitimate Cup contender come April.