Since losing eight in a row and then winning seven in a row to tease their fans and fool themselves, the moody Blues are 1-5 in their last six games.
Here we go again. Spin the wheel. During the latest check-out phase the Blues haven’t felt like competing to the max, or fully utilizing their brains to play smart and clean hockey. There’s no consistency to their form or their attitude. They soar. They crash. They give joy, they cause migraines. It’s all very confusing, and maddening, and sad.
And all three things can be true in the same game – or in the same period. To quote lyrics written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails: “I was up above it, I was up above it, now I’m down in it.”
Coach Craig Berube can probably relate.
The St. Louis penalty-killing percentage (66.67%) is, to this point, the worst by a Blues team in a season in franchise history.
The Note is 25th in the NHL in average goals per game, and 29th in goals-against per skirmish.
The goaltender Jordan Binnington has lapsed into the rodeo-clown mode, acting up on ice to the amusement of fans but not his understandably grumpy coach.
When Binnington is sharp between the ears, he protects the Blues from harm and frustrates opponents by stealing wins. When Binnington’s headwires are disconnected, the Blues must protect themselves from him. When The Binner’s personality goes on tilt, he goes ‘round the bend, and opponents laugh at him.
The latest occurrence happened in Saturday’s dreadful 6-2 loss at Pittsburgh. Binnington’s latest tantrum embarrassed the franchise. But he did not embarrass himself, simply because he’s incapable of feeling embarrassed.
“It’s got to stop,” Berube said after Saturday’s clownery in Pittsburgh. “That doesn’t help anything. It doesn’t help anything. Just play goal. Stop the puck.”
That probably did not register with Binnington. You may recall that earlier this season, he said this to Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic: “I’m good with how other people want to view it. It’s part of the game. It’s how I play the game.”
Binnington can go into the pro-wrestling state of mind when he’s playing well. But when he’s not playing well, that makes his tough-guy routine look foolish. Berube is 100 percent right: STOP THE PUCK.
Here’s how Binnington has been playing lately: a 6-9 record in his last 15 starts with a 3.71 goals-against average and hideous .884 save percentage. In his last five starts Binnington is 0-5 with a 4.84 goals-against average and .841 save percentage.
Sure there are many accomplices in the Blues’ failures. But this doesn’t seem to impact backup goaltender Thomas Greiss; in his last five appearances he’s calmly handled assignments by turning in a .909 save percentage with a 3.32 goals-against average.
For the season, among 28 NHL goaltenders that have played at least 700 minutes overall, Binnington ranks 22nd in save percentage (.895), 22nd in goals-against average (3.27) and 25th in high-danger save percentage (.786.)
Binnington is also a part of that soft penalty-kill unit; his .789 save percentage on the PK this season ranks 31st among among 34 NHL goaltenders that have played at least 55 minutes of facing the other side’s power play.
As I mentioned, Binnington isn’t the only disappointing Blue this season. Among other points that must be made about Blues goaltenders, I’ll add this: they’re under more pressure than most. As I mentioned in a column last week, the Blues are last (32nd) in the NHL in percentage of takeaways (43.56%), and fifth worst in the league in the percentage of giveaways (66.87%) that take plays in the defensive zone. Only three teams have allowed more rebound shots than the Blues so far.
But Binnington is definitely part of an issue that includes many others. Those guys are all over the place for multiple reasons ranging from underachieving performance, physically slowing down, not playing up to their contract level, frustrating inconsistency or just general flakiness in the mental part of the game.
Names: Ryan O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jordan Kyrou, Colton Parayko, Nick Leddy and Torey Krug. And I’ve seen Justin Faulk play better. In every case of the players that I mentioned there, the Blues have scored only 42 percent of the goals (or lower) at 5-on-5 when each guy is out there.
The Blues face the Rangers in New York on Monday night. It will be a showcase of sorts. I say that because of the location (Madison Square Garden), a little extra media scrutiny, and a contest against a high-profile opponent that’s gone 1-5 in its last six. It’s a little early for the trade mart to open, but I can’t imagine that Blues GM Doug Armstrong would put up with this for much longer. Going into Monday, the Blues had a 7.6 percent chance of making the playoffs (per MoneyPuck.)
So make your move, boys. If you want to. If not, then you’ll make it easy for Armstrong to bust up this team.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical 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.
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All stats used here were sourced from Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick and Money Puck.