As they head into Wednesday’s game at Los Angeles, the Blues are 28 games into a 56-game schedule. Which leads to the standard, halfway-mark question: how does this team improve during the unofficial second half?
Most of the answers are obvious and redundant.
Get injured players back in the lineup. They’re making progress there, with winger Vladimir Tarasenko already back, center Tyler Bozak reentering tonight, and winger Jaden Schwartz set to return later this week.
It’s essential to reduce the number of goals allowed. The Blues are ceding 3.16 goals per 60 minutes which ranks 23rd in the 31-team NHL. In case you’re wondering, the Blues average yield over the previous two seasons was 2.64 goals per 60; that ranked 5th in the league. Massive difference.
* Win some damn home games.
* Rectify the sacked-out power play.
* Sharpen up and reduce the number of defensive-zone turnovers.
* Play harder. The Blues lose too many conflicts in pursuit of pucks. Coach Craig Berube remains in charge, but whatever happened to Berube Hockey?
* Find a quicker, smoother way to transition the puck from zone to zone. They keep moseying into on-ramp congestion. Find a faster route.
* Do a much better job to eliminate the opponent’s rush. The Blues have been negligent in this area.
* Get taller and bigger on defense to have a stronger presence in those close-company areas of the ice. But let’s be real here; that won’t happen this season unless mountainous defenseman Colton Parayko (bulging disk) makes a healthy, fully functional return.
* Finally, let’s talk about goaltending. It’s a problem. It’s probably more of a problem than we realize or want to acknowledge. We also know that Blues’ goaltenders have been disrupted by the chaos in front of them. I get that. Duly noted.
I can’t explain the decline without using statistics, so you’ll have to be patient with me here. (Or not, hah.)
THE BASICS: In save percentage Blues rank 26th at 5-on-5 (.909) 25th at even-strength (.904) and .892 in all situations (26th.) For context, the Blues ranked among the top 10 in all three categories in the past two seasons combined.
VULNERABLE AGAINST HIGH-DANGER CHANCES: Last season the Blues ranked No. 1 in the league with an .865 high-danger save percentage (all situations.) This year that HD save rate has dropped to .773, which ranks 28th. And after allowing a league-best 1.1 HD goals per 60 minutes last season, the Blues are 22nd this year with a yield of 1.69 HD goals per game.
The average is 1.43 HD goals allowed at 5-on-5; that ranks 21st. And it’s a major downturn; the Blues ranked 3rd in the NHL for fewest HD goals/60 in the previous two seasons combined.
And this isn’t about a withering barrage of shots; the number of high-danger scoring chances (per 60 minutes) against the Blues at 5v5 and even strength has decreased this year compared to last season.
JORDAN BINNINGTON VS. HIGH-DANGER SHOTS: In his first two seasons Binnington’s save percentage against HD shots at 5v5 was .866. This year, that HD save rate has declined to .814. At all strengths Binnington had a HD save rate of .867 last season; it’s down to .797 so far this season.
THE DREADED SOFT GOALS: Last season the Blues ranked 8th in save percentage (.911) on medium-danger shots and gave up an average of 0.72 MD goals per 60 minutes. But too many MD goals are getting through this season. The Blues medium-danger save percentage at all strengths (.848) ranks 30th … and the team is surrendering 1.19 MD goals per 60 minutes at all strengths — more than any team except Ottawa. Terrible.
TROUBLESOME FACTS: In the soft-goal category, the digits are unfortunate for the Blues. Among 52 goaltenders that have played at least 500 minutes (all strengths) Binnington ranks 45th in medium-danger save percentage (.872) and backup Ville Husso is the worst in the league with a MD save% of .818. It’s about the same at 5v5; Binnington (.879) ranks 45th and Husso (.814) is at the bottom.
COMPARING HUSSO AND JAKE ALLEN: Last season, before his trade to Montreal for salary-cap relief, Jake Allen had a terrific season as the Blues’ No. 2 goaltender. Let’s take a peek at how Husso’s all-strengths numbers measure up to Allen’s final season as a Blue.
(With Husso, I set the minimum ice time for goaltenders at 500 minutes to reflect a reasonable standard for the games played by the NHL so far — and to also include backups that have seen a decent amount of action. With Allen, I set the minimum ice time to 1,300 minutes to reflect the larger amount of games played in 2019-2020 compared to now.)
- Husso: .879 (52nd out of 52)
- Allen: .927 (4th out of 54)
High-danger save percentage:
- Husso: 730 (48th of 52)
- Allen: .887 (1st of 54)
Medium-danger save percentage:
- Husso: .818 (52 of 52)
- Allen: .938 (3rd among 54)
Ugh. Look, no one expected Husso to match Allen’s performance standard from last season. (The same is true of Allen’s work as a backup once Binnington became the starter in 2018-2019.)
And in fairness to Husso he’s a rookie that has played 10 games and 525 minutes this season. And that’s it … the extent of his career NHL experience.
Husso probably will get better. But when? And how much better? This really matters. It’s one thing for the Blues to endure a slippage in performance by Binnington. But the situation made much, much worse when the No. 2 goaltender can’t be counted on to deliver consistently solid performances.
If Binnington tires — which he has — the Blues can’t turn to an Allen-caliber backup for relief. And because of the compacted schedule starting goaltenders are being pushed harder than in normal times. Over their final 28 games the Blues will have five back-to-back tests, playing on consecutive days. And they have a bunch of games that will be played after a one-day break.
Unless Husso becomes more reliable, Binnington could be left even more vulnerable because of a heavy-duty workload. If that’s the case, can Binnington hold up and excel? This is a precarious set of circumstances. There isn’t much at stake here — except the Blues’ chances of making the postseason.
Thanks for reading…
Hello, me again. Please check out my sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
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.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.