Even with the overtime loss at Montreal, the Blues completed their four-game road trip by claiming seven of a maximum eight points. That’s swell. We’ll take it.

The tour concluded with a 4-1 victory at Philadelphia. The highlight was the net return of Jordan Binnington, who went back to Philadelphia where it all began to deliver his second Declaration of Dependence as goaltender who can be counted on.

After a brief spell of uninspired incompetence the Blues have checked back in with a 4-0-1 record in their last five competitions. They’ll be back at Enterprise Center for Friday’s game vs. Buffalo. At 30-14-16, The Note is tied with Calgary for third in the Western Conference with 66 points. They’ve edged ahead of Minnesota by a point for second place in the NHL Central standings.

This team is looking fresh and good.

Since Dec. 7 the Blues have played 26 games are are 18-6-2 for the NHL’s fourth-best points percentage at .731. Over that time only Colorado, Carolina and Pittsburgh have won at a more impressive pace than St. Louis.

The difference is especially obvious when we think of how much the Blues labored and struggled a year ago.

The comparison isn’t seamless, because the Blues’ 2020-2021 season didn’t begin until Jan. 13 due to Covid-related considerations. But now that the present group of Blues are 50 games into a full 82-game regular season, it doesn’t take Scotty Bowman to surmise that they’re much better than last year’s model.

Through 50 games last season the Blues had a 24-19-7 record, ranked 18th in the league in points (55) and were 16th overall with a .550 points percentage. This season through 50 the Blues are tied for ninth overall in points (66) and are 10th in the NHL with a .660 points percentage. That puts the Blues 11 points above their total through the first 50 last year – and their points percentage (.660) is 110 percentage points higher than it was after 50 games in ‘21.

And the Blues have reestablished their advantage at five on five play.


+ Last season they scored 48.3 percent of the goals at five on five which ranked 19th in the NHL.

+ This season the Blues have scored 54.8% of the goals at five on five which ranks 8th in the league.

In no particular order, here are the reasons behind the improvement:

1) Ville Husso. Among NHL goaltenders that have played 1,000 or more minutes at all strengths this season, Husso ranks second to the NY Rangers Igor Sheshterkin in save percentage (.936) and quality-start percentage (.722). Husso leads the league with a 1.97 goals-against average and high-danger save percentage (.881.) At five on five it’s pretty much the same story: Husso is second in save percentage (.940), tied for second in goals-against average (1.86) and first in high-danger save rate (8.86).

The Blues are 12-3-2 when Husso is the goaltender of record in a game. They’re 12-10-3 when Binnington gets the decision. And Husso’s .722 quality-start percentage is light years ahead of Binnington’s .360. (Among NHL goaltenders that have started at least 18 games this season, Binnington’s quality-start rate ranks 37th on a list of 39.)

My point here isn’t to disparage Binnington. We all know he’s endured an extensive slump, which happens in this league. Perhaps the 25-save win in Philadelphia will get Binnington rolling. But I contrast the two goaltenders for a reason: imagine what the Blues’ record would look like without Husso compensating for Binnington’s downturn by playing at such a high, top-standard level.

2) The trade addition of winger Pavel Buchnevich, who has 18 goals and 27 assists and fantastic consistency in his all-around play. Just a phenomenal acquisition by Blues GM Doug Armstrong.

3) Vladimir Tarasenko. Through STL’s first 50 games last season, Tarasenko had four goals and 10 assists in 24 games and wasn’t himself after returning from another round of shoulder surgery. At the 50-game checkpoint this season Tarasenko leads the Blues in goals (19) and points (46) and is positively schastliviy.

4) Robert Thomas. After injury troubles and inconsistency over his first three seasons, centerman Thomas is fulfilling expectations. He’s emerged as an elite playmaker, threading 33 assists in his 40 games. Among 137 NHL forwards that have played at least 600 minutes at five-on-five this season, Thomas ranks 5th with a rate of 2.1 assists per 60 minutes. That’s second-best among centers that have logged a minimum 600 minutes at five-on-five. At the Blues’ 50-game mark last season, Thomas had only nine assists in his 27 games. Huge, huge, difference.

5) Buchnevich, Thomas and Tarasenko have formed one of the top lines in the NHL. The Blues have outscored opponents 10-2 at five on five with this excellent trio on the ice. That 83.3 percent goals-scored share is tied for first in the NHL. And their expected-goals percentage – an exceptional 64.4%; – ranks fifth among NHL forward lines at five on five.

6) Depth and danger. The Blues have seven forwards with 11 or more goals. And when David Perron scores his next goal the team will have eight forwards with 10+ goals. That scoring depth has produced an average of 3.54 goals per game; that’s tied for fourth-best in the NHL. Last season the Blues ranked 13th with an average of 2.98 goals per game.

7) Jordan Kyrou. Through the team’s first 50 games last season Jordan Kyrou had 12 goals and 20 assists for 32 points. At the 50-game stage this season Kyrou has 18 goals and 27 assists for 45 points and was rightfully selected for the All-Star game. Among 152 NHL forwards that have clocked 750+ minutes at all strengths, Kyrou ranks 16th with 3.6 points per 60 minutes.

8) Justin Faulk & Torey Krug. If we’re talking about bottom-line goals for and against, the Blues’ defensive pairing of Faulk and Krug ranks No. 1 in the league with a goal-share percentage of 74% at five on five among tandems that have logged 500 minutes at five on five. The Blues have outscored opponents 37-13 at five on five when Faulk-Krug are on patrol. That’s pretty special.

9) Special teams. The Blues’ power play was good last season, ranking fifth in the league with a 23.3% success rate. They’re better this season, ranking second with a 26.71% success rate. But the 2021-2022 Blues have substantially improved in their penalty killing, ranking 5th in the league with a kill rate of 84.4%. Last season they struggled to the No. 25 ranking with a kill rate of 77.8%.

10) Brandon Saad. A fine free-agent signing by Armstrong, Saad has fit right in with 17 goals, 11 assists and all-around professionalism and class. Think about the additions of Buchnevich and Saad and the expanded offensive role for Ivan Barbashev. And think about how much better the Blues are without Jaden Schwartz, Sammy Blais and Zach Sanford.

And though we were impressed by Mike Hoffman’s 17 goals for the Blues last season, he never fit the Craig Berube template and was a source of frequent unrest. The moody Hoffman has nine goals and 17 points and is minus 18 for Montreal this season.

The Blues’ internal chemistry this season is far superior when we pause to reflect on the stress of last season.

Addition by subtraction is another reason why the Blues are better on and off the ice through their first 50 games of the 2021-22 campaign.

12) Brayden Schenn. He warrants special mention. Since he’s returned to full health, Schenn has 11 goals and 7 assists in 15 games. The 11th goals rank 8th in the league since Jan. 5. Schenn is such a strong presence in all three zones.

13) Ivan Barbashev. At the 50-game stage last season, Barbashev had 4 goals and 5 assists in 32 games. This season he’s moved up in the line assignments and jumped into a more offensive role. The result: 16 goals and 20 assists in his 49 games.

14) Ryan O’Reilly. I want to defend the captain. His offensive production is down, but I think too much is being made of that. When O’Reilly is on the ice this season the Blues have outshot opponents and have scored just under 55% of goals at five on five. He wins a lion’s share of faceoffs and is still one of the league’s most respected defensive centers. He’s at the core of the Blues’ strong special teams this season; O’Reilly has worked 90 minutes on the penalty kill, and 122 minutes on the power play. O’Reilly influences games in a way that can’t always be summed up in a simple and tidy way by counting his goals and assists. But he’s tracking well with 14 points and a plus 6 in his last 18 games.

15) Coaching. I though Craig Berube did a helluva job last season just to keep his team from collapsing under the weight of injuries and disappointing performances by several players. This season the sharp and instinctive Berube is making the best use of his personnel and has the golden touch in coming up with line combinations that work. And kudos to assistants Steve Ott, Jim Montgomery and Mike Van Ryn.

Thanks for reading …


Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

Stats used in this column were cultivated from Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick and Evolving Hockey.