The Blues are a resurgent 11-6-1 since sacking coach Craig Berube after a loss to Detroit on Dec. 12. We should hold off before portraying interim coach Drew Bannister as the new Scotty Bowman, but the Blues are better since the change.
Under Berube the Blues were 13-14-1 for a points percentage of .482 that ranked 23rd in the NHL. Since Bannister was summoned from the St. Louis AHL affiliate to take over, the Blues have carved a .639 points percentage that ranks 11th among the 32 franchises.
The Blues had a minus 14 goal differential before GM Doug Armstrong made the tough decision to end the Berube Era. And in their first 17 games with Bannister as their leader, the Blues are a +1 in goal differential. There is nothing profound about that +1, but it confirms the improvement.
There’s been clear progress in several important areas. I want to focus on a couple of the more impressive developments since GM Doug Armstrong fired Berube.
1. The Power Play Is Recharged. The Blues were pathetic with the man advantage before the coaching switch, ranking 31st in the league with a PP success rate of 8.4. Since bringing in Bannister and adding power-play consultant Brad Richards, the Blues have converted on 23.5 percent of their PP opportunities. That’s good enough to rank 8th in the league since Bannister’s first game on Dec. 14. It helps to shoot the puck. Before Berube’s dismissal the Blues were 27th in the league in power play shots on goal per 60 minutes. Since the change, they’ve improved to 20th in power play shots on net per 60.
This ain’t electrifying stuff, but at least the Blues are, well, you know … trying harder to score on the power play. That kinda matters, right? In a related note, the Blues had eight shorthanded goals with Berube behind the bench. They’ve added three more shorties with their new coaching supervisor.
It’s pretty cool when your team has scored 11 times with the opponent circling and swooping on its own power play. It’s also a lot more fun when your team can score on its own power play more than, say, once a week.
2. The Boys Are More Determined To Compete: The best way to explain this is to just display the numbers.
* Under Berube: 0-12 record when trailing after one period, and an 0-13 mark when down after two periods.
* Under Bannister: 4-2 record (.667) when trailing after the first period; 2-5 when losing after two periods.
* That’s significant. In Berube’s 28 games this season the Blues did not post a single win when trailing after the first or second period. But they’ve already done that six times in Bannister’s first 17 games.
* Along the same lines: With Berube, the Blues went 1-13-1 when their opponent scored the game’s first goal. But the Bannister-led Blues are 4-5 when the opponent scores first.
* After consecutive wins at Calgary and Vancouver, the Blues have a winning road record (4-3) with Bannister as coach. They were 6-9-1 on the road before Armstrong’s intervention.
The Blues are showing more energy and urgency in the Team Spirit Metric. Of course, no such metric actually exists, but I wanted to make one up because this turnaround needs a fancy title.
The Blues have improved in other ways since Armstrong and Berube had a beer in the coach’s office after Army gave Chief the bad news. They’ll always have 2019, right? That’s worthy of a toast.
— The Blues are giving up fewer goals per 60 minutes at five-on-five. The rate was 2.95 goals per 60 – 28th in the league – before the big coaching move was made. Since Bannister came in, the Blues have yielded 2.36 goals per 60 at five-on-five, and only 10 teams have been stingier over that time.
— Sharp and timely goaltending is a prominent factor in the improvement – but then again we knew that already. During the 11-6-1 run, goaltenders Jordan Binnington and Joel Hofer have combined for an overall .907 save percentage that ranks 7th in the league since Dec. 14. And their five-on-five save percentage (.921) is 10th best.
— Before the coaching flip, the team’s goal differential at five-on-five was minus 12. Since the change, the Blues are a +2 at five-on-five. The Blues are more solid now, but there are underlying concerns.
— The Blues don’t score enough. Their rate of goals scored per 60 minutes at five-on-five was 2.51 before the coaching change. That ranked 21st in the NHL. Since Bannister’s arrival, the Blues have scored 2.09 goals per 60 at five; that ranks 28th. But that’s why a team needs more production on the power play; the success can compensate for a sluggish offensive performance at even strength. Example: at all strengths the Blues are averaging more goals per 60 minutes (2.87) under Bannister compared to 2.80 goals/60 under Berube. That still isn’t enough scoring.
— The Blues are a disaster in the high-danger areas when skating at five-on-five. And they’re losing this battle by a massive margin. Before the coaching change the Blues had a 48.5 percent share of high-danger goals scored in competition (19th in the NHL.) With Bannister in place, the Blues have scored only 32.3% of the high-danger goals – and that’s dead last in the NHL.
— To put it another way: at five-on-five the Blues were outscored by only two goals (36-34) in high-danger scoring zones with Berube as coach. Since Berube’s removal, opponents have outscored the Blues 21-10 in high-danger areas. If this continues, the Blues will eventually suffer repercussions.
The turnaround is far from complete. But I didn’t write this column in an attempt to make a case to show the Blues are a reincarnation of the 1976-1977 Montreal Canadiens. But the Blues have taken an important step in the process: they give a damn. They’re competing harder – not always, but certainly a lot more often. And the Blues are definitely more resilient; just look at the increase in comeback wins. A more vivacious Team Spirit Metric has lifted the Blues into the Western Conference wild-card race. Now they’ll have to prove they can stay there.
Thanks for reading …
A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or grab the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
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All stats used in this hockey column were sourced from Hockey Reference and Natural Stat Trick.