The Blues are wide awake. Energetically so. The boys are scoring goals like crazy, winning games and smiling again. This is an interesting, surprising twist in what appeared to be a throwaway season.
With their overall 34-34-6 record the playoffs are out of reach. But the Blues are 8-5-1 since the March 2 trade deadline including a 5-1-1 spree in their last seven.
Let’s take a closer look at the 14-game stretch.
Over that time the Blues have averaged 4.19 goals per 60 minutes at all strengths, which ranks third in NHL. Only Edmonton and Dallas have scored at a higher rate.
And during their last 14 games the Blues are No. 1 in the NHL with 4.02 goals per 60 minutes at even strength, and No. 1 with 3.67 goals per 60 at five-on-five.
So what’s up with this?
1. Sammy Blais.
2. Jakub Vrana.
3. Kasperi Kapanen.
Brayden Schenn should be added to the list after scoring four goals with nine assists for 13 points in his last 10 games. And the Pavel Buchnevich is always good to goal.
But I want to focus on Blais, Vrana and Kapanen. They’ve sparked a revitalized offense, and their additions are the primary reason for the turnaround. By acquiring all three players, GM Doug Armstrong has given his team a boost and more optimism for next season.
The threesome has scored 35.5 percent of the team’s goals over the past 13 games. And if you include Schenn in there, the four players have combined to score 44.4% of the Blues’ goals over that time.
Blais returned to his original NHL home as part of the Feb. 9 trade that transported Vladimir Tarasenko to the New York Rangers.
In a totally unexpected development since the trade, Blais has scored more goals for the Blues (8) than Tarasenko has scored for the Rangers (6.) Who would have predicted that?
— In his 38 games for the Blues this season, Tarasenko scored 10 goals (all strengths) in 665 minutes of ice time. In his 23 games with the Blues, Blais has eight goals in only 332 minutes. Yep. Blais has only two fewer goals than Tarasenko scored for the Blues this season – despite playing 324 fewer minutes than Tarasenko.
— The story gets even better at five-on-five. Tarasenko scored only six goals for St. Louis during his 519 minutes at five-on-five. Blais? Well, he’s scored eight goals for the Blues in 290 minutes of five-on-five action.
— To do the accounting another way: playing five-on-five, Blais has a rate of 1.66 goals per 60 which ranks first among Blues that have played at least 20 games this season. Before being delivered to New York, Tarasenko averaged only 0.69 goals per 60 minutes for the Blues.
Blais didn’t score a goal in his 54 games for the Rangers over two seasons. In his St. Louis homecoming, he has pierced eight goals in the first 23 games. Welcome home, Sammy.
“I always loved playing here, and in my heart, I never should have left,” Blais told Andy Strickland of Bally Sports Midwest.
Sammy Blais is an intriguing talent who is busy reinventing himself. It’s a combination of factors. Blais has fully recovered from the torn ACL he suffered in his early days as a Ranger. He’s more comfortable and confident as a Blue. He’s playing for a coach, Craig Berube, who believes in him. And his responsibilities have changed and turned into an expanded opportunity.
In his previous stint with the Blues – as a member of the 2019 Stanley Cup winner – Blais was a hit man, a rugged winger who personified the Blues’ physical play that wore down opponents.
This time around, the 26-year old Blais fits any line. He has skated with Schenn and Brandon Saad. He’s skated with Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou. He’s skated with Kapanen and Buchnevich. He’s skated with Alexei Toropchenko and Logan Brown. Berube can play Blais with anyone and feel confident, and that makes Blais even more valuable. In only 23 games, he’s already sixth among St. Louis forwards in most five-on-five goals this season. That’s instant impact.
Kapanen, 26, wasn’t getting much ice time for the Pittsburgh Penguins this season. They tried to sneak him through waivers to make room for another player, and Armstrong pounced. And Kapanen, feeling liberated, has rediscovered his scoring touch. The speedy Kapanen is reigniting his career, scoring seven goals and adding four assists for 11 points in his first 15 games for St. Louis.
At his peak, Vrana had 49 goals and 50 assists over a two-season run with the Washington Capitals. He scored three goals with five assists (and was a plus 5) when the Caps rolled through the 2018 postseason to win the Stanley Cup. Vrana’s career was derailed by personal problems, but he did what he had to do to get healthy and seems renewed. And he’s still only 27.
Armstrong acquired Vrana from Detroit at the deadline for a seventh-round draft pick and a nominal prospect. Vrana has been outstanding, scoring eight goals in 12 games as a Blue.
Armstrong’s instincts with Blais, Vrana and Kapanen were spot on, and all three players are under contract through next season. Army’s low-risk gambles are paying off; during the current 5-1-1 stretch the three new Blues have combined for 13 goals and 11 assists. Remarkable.
Um, is this for real? Will their impact fade? If the advanced metrics could speak, they’d be hollering “highly unlikely, so don’t be stupid.”
Well, for now we can tell the advanced metrics to shut up.
We’ll find out a lot more when the 2023-2024 campaign gets underway. But it’s good to know the Blues have three pieces to take into next season to fill top-six or top-nine forward spots, and suddenly the roster transition looks better.
This team remains deeply flawed at preventing goals. But until that hot-problem spot is fixed, at least The Note has more of a chance to prevail in high-scoring games.
Thanks for reading…
Bernie invites you to listen to his sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. 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 show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
Statistics used in this column were cultivated by using Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick, and Evolving-Hockey.