Halfway through their regular-season schedule, the Blues are 23-11-5 for a .671 points percentage that ranks ninth overall and third in the Western Conference.
As I review at midterm, there are no credible complaints on file. How can anyone be disappointed in what the Blues have turned in through 41 games?
This isn’t to say that the Blues have peaked and can’t improve. They can perform better in the first period to avoid early deficits. Lapses have led to a minus 41 in the giveaway-takeaway differential. The underlying shot-possession metrics should be tightened up; the Blues routinely allow more shot attempts than they trigger. The Blues aren’t terrible at faceoffs, but it would help to win more of them. We’d like to see more consistency from goaltender Jordan Binnington, and a higher motor from defenseman Colton Parayko.
But unless the Blues were doing many things very well – and quickly responding when they didn’t – they wouldn’t be 15-4-3 since Thanksgiving. Only two NHL teams, Colorado and Pittsburgh, have a more stellar record than the Blues over the last two months.
It is an honest, hard-working team that rarely displays signs of a deflated attitude or a look of resignation. It is a team of depth and heart. Coach Craig Berube is demanding but earnest and doesn’t play mind games. The locker-room concord is as healthy as it’s ever been.
From what we’ve watched so far, here are the reasons for the Blues’ strong first half:
1) THE ALL-IMPORTANT BASICS: It’s a well-rounded team that takes care of the most important parts of successful hockey: scoring plenty of goals, and being strict about giving up goals. Through the weekend the Blues rank 5th in the NHL with an average of 3.51 goals per game, and are tied for 6th in the league with an average of 2.61 goals allowed per game. The Blues are the only team in the West that ranks among the NHL’s top six in most goals scored per game, and fewest goals yielded per game.
2) SPECIAL TEAMS: The Blues are No. 2 in the NHL with a 29.4% success rate on the power play. And they’re No. 6 with a 85.3 penalty-kill percentage. They are also tied with several teams for the most shorthanded goals scored this season (six.) The Blues are the only team in the West ranked in the top four in both PP and PK success. Other top teams in the conference – Colorado, Vegas, Minnesota, Nashville, etc. – have struggled on the penalty kill.
3) SHARP GOALTENDING: The Blues are No. 1 in the West and No. 2 overall with a .920 save percentage at all strengths. And they’re fifth overall with a .927 save percentage at five-on-five. Contrast that to Colorado, which ranks 19th overall in save percentage (.902.)
The St. Louis goaltenders are the best in the league at stopping shots from the high-danger areas in the slot. And this is crucial; only seven NHL teams have allowed more high-danger shots on goal than the Blues this season. But with their goaltenders posting the league’s No. 1 high-danger save percentage (.850), the Blues have allowed the fourth-lowest number of high-danger goals. That’s large.
Ville Husso has been fabulous in his 12 starts, and is playing ahead of Binnington these days. Among 48 NHL goaltenders that have logged at least 714 minutes at all strengths this season, Husso ranks No. 1 in save percentage (.941) and high-danger save percentage (.885.) Husso also leads NHL goaltenders (minimum 565 minutes) with a .939 save percentage at five-on-five.
4) FIREPOWER AT FORWARD: Entering Monday, the Blues had 121 goals from forwards this season. That’s fourth in the NHL and second in the West to the 123 goals produced by Colorado’s forwards. Berube is having fun juggling his lines, because most of the combinations click. Five different Blues have scored at least 13 goals this season: Jordan Kyrou (16), Pavel Buchnevich (15), Ivan Barbashev (15), Vladimir Tarasenko (14) and Brandon Saad (13.) Three other forwards are on the cusp of double-digit goal totals: Ryan O’Reilly and Brayden Schenn each have nine scores, and David Perron is next with eight.
5) DEPTH, OF COURSE: Whether it’s injuries or COVID chaos or both – it doesn’t matter much, because they continue to rely on the collective strength of their numbers. The quality depth cultivated by GM Doug Armstrong and staff have kept the big club fully charged.
Including goaltenders the Blues have used 34 players in games this season; that’s already two more than they used during last season’s 56-game schedule. The Note has gotten goals from 17 players, and assists from 19 players. And the Blues are deep in goal. Binnington and Husso have carried the load. But the three goaltenders behind them – Charlie Lindgren, Joel Hofer and Jon Gillies – stepped in and combined for a 6-1 record and .932 save percentage.
6) FAULK AND KRUG: The Blues have some issues on the back end. That’s why Justin Faulk and Torey Krug are so valuable as a defensive pairing. They’ve been excellent for the Blues this season – separately and when working together. When Faulk and Krug are partnered up, they’ve turned in the best bottom-line result of any pairing in the NHL.
In the 377 minutes of all-strengths ice time that have Faulk and Krug as the defensemen duo, the Blues have outscored opponents 30-9 for a 77% share of the goals. At five-on–five play, it’s 28-9 for a 75.68% share of goals.
Those are the No. 1 goal-share percentages by a defensive pairing in the NHL this season. (Minimum 377 minutes overall, and 363 minutes at five-on-five.) Even here in The Lou, I don’t think we realize the full brilliance of the appreciated but underrated Faulk-Krug partnership.
7) HAIL TO THE CHIEF: Over a considerable portion of the schedule, Berube and staff have had to work on a game-day puzzle and go into the roster box to find the pieces that fit. Continuity has been much more of a wish than reality. Berube’s squad has been among the hardest-hit by injuries and illness this season, but we’d never know it by the team’s record. And the Blues are playing much closer to the effective Berube hockey style. And as was the case in the past, the Berube personality has become the team’s personality.
8) DOUG ARMSTRONG: We’ve already praised Army for his superb roster assemblage this season, but I feel compelled to mention four other things. First, the balanced scoring which is a huge Blues’ attribute this season. That stems from Armstrong’s philosophy of spreading the money around to build a complete team rather than rely on a couple of big-ticket superstars at the top of a team that isn’t as deep or versatile. Second, Armstrong made some changes and gave his coach a roster that was more in line with Berube’s hockey beliefs. Two great examples of this are the trade for Buchnevich and the free-agent signing of Saad. Third, Armstrong equipped this team with more speed, and it’s making a difference. Fourth, Armstrong handled the volatile Vladimir Tarasenko situation with an adept touch. Didn’t trade him, didn’t capitulate, didn’t sell low, didn’t give him away. Now if you want to criticize Army for leaving Tarasenko exposed in the Seattle expansion draft, feel free. But clearly Armstrong had a strong and informed opinion about what Seattle wanted in that draft from St. Louis: defenseman Vince Dunn. The Kraken obviously had little if any desire to entertain thoughts of taking a financial and health and happiness risk on Tarasenko.
9) THE SUM OF THE PARTS: With abundant depth, top-five goal scoring, top-six goal prevention, and first-rate special teams, the Blues scored 57.3 percent of the goals during their first 41 games. For context, consider this: the 2018-2019 Stanley Cup champion Blues ranked 10th in the NHL by scoring 52.6% of the goals (all strengths) in their 82 regular-season games.
10) POSITIVE PUSH FROM BLUES FANS : A year after the COVID fog reduced crowd sizes – or prohibited spectators – the fans are back at Enterprise Center this season, filling the venue with energy, noise, good vibes and the all-out support. And it makes a difference. Blues fans are a factor in the team’s 16-4-2 record that’s generated the fourth-best home points percentage (.773) in the NHL this season. Last year’s Blues went only 12-11-5 at Enterprise for a .518 points percentage that was tied for 21st in the NHL.
Beginning Monday night in Calgary, there are 41 regular-season games to go for the Blues. As the Blues reminded us during a 5-7-2 crawl earlier this season, slumps are inevitable. I think it’s reasonable to expect them to level off a bit in some areas … but not too much. They’re resilient. They’re deep. They’re talented. They’re a helluva hockey team.
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.
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Statistics used in this column were cultivated from Natural Stat Trick and Hockey Reference.