Now that the Blues have returned home from a largely successful 4-0-2 trip to the Golden State, may I have permission to talk about this team’s admirable display of resiliency and adaptability?
I’m not organizing a parade, or anything. Probably wouldn’t be able to do that anyway, given the Covid 19 protocols.
But for a team that’s been whacked extremely hard by injuries since late January, I’m going to put the fussing on mute and take a look at how the Blues are managing to cope. The short answer: all things considered they’re doing well.
For the season the Blues rank 11th in the NHL with a .615 points percentage built on a 14-8-4 record. That’s third-best in the Western division. But other than No. 1 dog Vegas (.750), the rest is being sorted out these days, with the Blues wrangling with Minnesota (.630) and Colorado (.609) in the current positioning for the first four places.
But I want to focus on what’s happened since center Tyler Bozak suffered a concussion in an act of cheap-shot chickenheartedness by Vegas forward Mark Stone on Jan. 26.
Bozak went down and hasn’t returned. And his misfortune began a cruel torrent of injuries that have challenged and limited the Blues in virtually every area.
Other Blues were injured before that — most notably Vladimir Tarasenko, who was busy rehabbing his left shoulder after another round of surgery. And at the time of Bozak’s departure defenseman Robert Bortuzzo was five games into a stretch that forced him to miss 10 consecutive contests with a concussion.
Beginning with Bozak’s exit, the Blues have had 10 players miss at least five games with injuries since Jan. 27. Another, Sammy Blais, has missed four — and make it five if you include a false-positive Covid test that scratched Blais from the Feb. 20 game against San Jose.
Here’s a rundown of how many games individual Blues players have missed since Jan. 27.
- Bozak has missed 19 consecutive games. Still out, and has experienced some setbacks during his recovery.
- Tarasenko missed 17 consecutive games during the post-Bozak period while progressing toward his eventual return to the lineup two games ago.
- Robert Thomas has missed 14 straight games with a broken thumb. Isn’t close to returning.
- Jaden Schwartz, lower body, has missed 12 consecutive games. Will be out for a while.
- Ivan Barbashev, ankle surgery, has missed the last 9 games with a broken ankle. Will be out for a long while.
- Jacob de la Rose, lower body, has missed the last 5 games. No timetable on a return.
- Blais: missed 4 straight games (upper body). But it’s 5 games overall since Jan. 27 if you count the Covid test. He’s been back in the lineup for the last eight games.
- Oskar Sundqvist (undisclosed) has missed the last two games but could return as soon as this weekend.
- Colton Parayko: has missed the last 10 games with a serious back injury that clearly impacted his play in a negative way since early in the season. He’s out indefinitely.
- Carl Gunnarson has missed the last seven games; he’s out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury.
- Marco Scandella (lower body) missed six straight games before returning on Feb. 18.
- And as we mentioned Bortuzzo missed 10 straight games before returning Feb. 8.
The Blues have worked through difficult stretches of missing key forwards and important defenseman through varying lengths of consecutive games lost to injury.
Eight forwards and four defenseman, to be exact. And that includes the injuries that have wiped out much of the Blues’ collection of centers.
The eight forwards have combined for 83 missed games since Jan. 27. The four defenseman have a combined 27 missed games over the same time.
That’s 110 man games lost since Jan. 27. And again, we’re talking about many vital pieces to the roster. That shouldn’t be minimized.
Here’s the encouraging news: the Blues have a record of 10-6-3 since the injury blitz began to hit them from all angles on Jan. 27. If anything the record could have been a little bit better; the Blues gave up leads in their last two games of the Cali road trip and had to settle for a point each time instead of banking two points. Before that the Blues labored during a seven-game “series” against Arizona. The power play blew many fuses and the offense struggled to score goals.
Then again, what did we realistically expect under the circumstances? These little offensive droughts are hardly stunning. Over the 19 games since Jan. 27 the Blues have leaned on a rescue squad for help. Dudes that weren’t playing a lot had to play more. Dudes that were marginal lineup pieces were suddenly lineup essentials. Dudes that never figured to get a chance at the NHL level this season now had a spot on a regular line.
Forwards Mackenzie MacEachern (15) Jacob de la Rose (9), Nathan Walker (6), Austin Poganski (5) and Dakota Joshua (5) have combined to play in 40 games during this stretch. Mikkola, with 13 games, is a regular defenseman now. Jake Walman played one game on defense and another at wing.
The Blues’ points percentage since Jan. 27 ranks 15th in the NHL. To me, that’s more than respectable. With so many broken players, the results could have been much worse. And during these worrisome times, the only thing this team can do is press on and grab as many points as you can.
The Blues did it on their 4-0-2 California trip, pocketing 10 of a possible 12 points.
Since Jan. 27 — when the injury emergencies intensified and damaged their viability — the Blues are 8-1-2 on the road. Their .818 road points percentage is No. 3 in the league over that time.
And in the last 19 games the Blues have outscored opponents 46-40 at even strength; that goals-for percentage (51.5%) ranks 10th in the league since Jan. 27.
“I just think it shows our depth and guys coming in and making an impact for the team,” Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly said Monday night on postgame Zoom, after the Blues salvaged a point at San Jose. “I think it just shows we’ve got so many good pieces here and the more we get healthy, the better.”
In this hazardous time for the Blues, their best players have to be the best players. And we’re seeing strong play from core-nucleus players that are being paid to make a difference.
In the last 19 games David Perron has 7 goals and 15 assists … O’Reilly has 7 goals and 14 assists … Brayden Schenn has 8 goals and 9 assists…Mike Hoffman has 6 goals and 10 assists … defenseman Tory Krug has 12 assists … Justin Faulk has 3 goals and 6 assists.
Younger players are making valuable contributions; Jordan Kyrou has 13 points, and Zach Sanford has 7 goals. The fourth line has been something of a transition zone for incoming players that are replacing injured regulars. And no matter how many times Kyle Clifford has to reset and with new mates on the fourth line, he makes it work.
“You can’t look at who’s out of the lineup, you have to look at who’s in the lineup and guys have stepped up and made most of the opportunity,” Schenn said Monday via postgame Zoom. “We’re playing with two natural centers right now and we’re grabbing points. Once we get guys back and healthy and the guys that have missed time are going to be fresh and that’s great for us. We’re going to be fresh and full of energy and hopefully we get everyone back at the same time and down the stretch and I think this experience of missing guys and guys stepping up will hopefully help us in the long run.”
The Blues can’t afford to let down. They will play Vegas, Colorado or Minnesota 21 times in their final 30 regular-season games.
“We’ve battled hard to this point, but we all know, our toughest games are yet to come with playing a lot of Colorado, Vegas and Minnesota, teams we haven’t played a whole lot of,” Schenn said. “But at the same time, we are ready to get bodies back. We’re going to get some of our star players back and I think this experience with what we’ve gone through, this far with guys being in and out of the lineup, guys stepping up, guys given an opportunity and guys taking advantage of it and knowing that we have to work and compete and bring 60 minutes to the rink each night in order to get two points each night. I think this is going to help us down the road, down the stretch and into the playoffs.”
Craig Berube has done some of his finest work as Blues coach. He’s instilling mental toughness, rearranging lines, and plugging in replacements when bodies go down. Berube has done a superb job of adapting, being resourceful, and refusing to allow the circumstances to unnerve him.
Despite a barrage of adversity, Berube has the Blues on the edge of the NHL Top 10 in points percentage. But it won’t get easier for the coach of his team. Not anytime soon.
Vegas comes to town for games Friday and Saturday.
The Blues have three days off to get some rest.
They deserve it.
Thanks for reading …
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For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
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