Have the Blues found their game? Has it been retrieved from mediocrity? Well, they’ve made progress, having gone 4-1-1 since Dec. 12. But I still don’t trust them. And why should we?
We’ve seen this act before. Winning streaks. Losing streaks. Up. Down. Hot and cold. Recovery and relapse. Effort. Hard Work. Laziness. Carelessness.
The Blues won their first three games of a five-game expedition through the far west. Jordan Kyrou was on fire, shooting flames for goals. The defense tightened. The mistakes were reduced. The minds were sharper. The goaltending was money.
Then came a blow-out loss at Seattle (5-2) followed by a late blown lead at Vegas, with the Blues settling for a one-point night instead of a two-point collection. They yielded nine goals (non-shootout variety) over the two games … and so much for cleaning things up.
After the Christmas rest, the Blues restart their season with Tuesday night’s game vs. Toronto. It’s the first of a three-game home stand, with Chicago coming to Enterprise Center on Thursday, and Minnesota checking in on Saturday.
After recovering from a head-slam hit and sitting two games to clear the clouds away, Kyrou should be back tonight. But the Blues will be missing defenseman Torey Krug for an indeterminate period of time. He’s been placed on long-term injured reserve with lower-body damage.
Krug’s absence could weaken a Blues power play that’s converted on 27.7 percent of the opportunities during the 4-1-1 warming trend. This season Krug ranks third on the team in power play goals (4) and is fourth in PP points (8). That said, the Blues have been outscored 31-21 this season when Krug is on watch at 5-on-5. He’s been awful in non-PP situations.
At least defenseman Calle Rosen will return from his state of involuntarily oblivion to get the first opportunity to fill in for Krug. For whatever reason, the Blues haven’t dressed Rosen for a game for a while … Dec. 8, to be exact. What a waste of a talent.
Rosen has six points in 17 games this season and is a plus 9 at even strength. When Rosen is deployed at 5-on-5, the Blues have outscored the enemy 15-6. That’s a whopping goal share of 71.4 percent for a team that’s weak at 5v5. But yeah, absolutely, let’s keep Rosen in street clothes. No need for a quality, productive defenseman in St. Louis, right? Frankly this is another reason why I’m reluctant to believe in the Blues who too often play the wrong personnel.
OK, back to the narrative.
Despite the Krug departure, the Blues return to the ice with a more confident mindset. The 3-0-1 tour through Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Seattle in Las Vegas had more good moments than bad, and the Blues bagged seven of a possible 10 points.
“The Western Canada swing was good with all six points there, finished with seven of 10,” defenseman Colton Parayko said to reporters, including Lou Korac of SI.com, during Tuesday’s morning skate. “I think we did a pretty good job. Long trip, I think it was maybe the longest one of the year. I thought it went well, try to build off that with three games here at home and hopefully a good start here after the break.
“We’re starting to find our game, finding the stride that we like to play. It’s no secret how we like to play, just get pucks deep, work hard, get pucks towards the net and things like that. I think when we play like that, we give ourselves a very good chance. When we work hard, our skill takes over for sure. We have enough skill where all that will take care of itself. I look forward to obviously this second half or however you want to call it after the break.”
If Parayko is accurate in his state of the team address, then the Blues should have a strong homestand. But we’ve been this way before. The Blues are 6-7-1 this season at Enterprise and rank 24th in the NHL in home-ice points percentage (.464.)
The special teams have been beneficial – rather than detrimental – to the Blues’ recent health. The power play has moved up to No. 12 in the NHL with a 23.4 percent success rate. The previously incompetent penalty-killing unit has ramped up to snuff 85.7 percent of opponent power plays over the last six contests.
But I’m skeptical about the foundational play. Special-teams effectiveness tends to fluctuate. As I’ve written too many times, Craig Berube hockey works only with a total buy-in from the players at 5-on-5, and that is where the Blues will win or lose most of their games.
In case you’re interested, the Blues have scored 46.58 percent of the goals at 5-on-5 in their games this season. If that figure holds, it would be the lowest (as in poorest) percentage of 5v5 goals in a season by the Berube-coach Blues since he took over on Nov. 19, 2018. And their percentage of high-danger goals scored (42.1) at 5v5 would also be the worst in a season by the Berube Blues. The current 5v5 save percentage (.912) cultivated by Jordan Binnington and Thomas Griess would also be the worst in a season under Berube.
Despite the recent increase in commitment in energy, the Blues still drag too often at 5-on-5. This season they’ve given up 2.76 goals per 60 minutes at 5v5, the seventh-worst rate in the league. Their overall yield – all situations – of 3.58 goals per 60 minutes is fifth-worst. But those numbers have improved during The Note’s current six-game upturn, so perhaps that’s an indicator of more consistent play.
We’ll find out a lot more during the three-game stay at Enterprise and the ensuing four-game road trip to Toronto, New Jersey, Montreal and Minnesota.
Five of the next seven games will be waged against opponents that currently are nestled in playoff spots. And as our good friend Jim Thomas of STLtoday noted, the Blues are 5-10-2 this season against teams that would be positioned in the playoffs if the postseason began today.
As of Tuesday afternoon, MoneyPuck gave the Blues a 9 percent shot of qualifying for the postseason. They can’t take the elevator there; the boys will have to do a lot of climbing. I want to trust the Blues, but I’m not there yet.
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.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
All stats used in this column were sourced from Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick, and MoneyPuck.