The bizarro Blues did it again on Thursday night. The circuitry in their on/off switch went crazy.
Inspired hockey, followed by Insipid hockey. Leads taken, leads blown. The Blues show determination, then no-show and disappear. And all of these dramatic fluctuations can happen within the same 10-minute block. They look determined to win. They look determined to give away a game.
Can the boys make up their minds? Can they find a true identity? Probably not. This is the way of The Note through the first 22 games – they are a team that goes every which way, and the swings can be awfully extreme.
In the latest Moody Blues performance at Enterprise Center, the home team somehow emerged with a 6-4 victory over the visiting Buffalo Sabres. In a season that makes little sense, this game made no sense whatsoever.
The Blues careened to a two-goal triumph despite losing territorial jurisdiction to the Sabres. At even strength the Blues had only 40.7 percent of the overall shot attempts, 41.3% of the shots on goal, 36.8% of the scoring chances, and 34.6% of the high-danger shots.
The flow – at all strengths – was all Buffalo. The Sabres directed 82 shots at the St. Louis goal, and 46 of those projectiles landed on target. The Sabres furiously tried to turn St. Louis goaltender Jordan Binnington into a clay pigeon. But he didn’t crack and break into pieces.
Binnington withstood the assault. The Blues squandered a 3-0 lead, but pumped in three additional goals after the Sabres tied it (3-3) in the second period. Binnington allowed only one goal after that.
On the other end of this sloping setting, the Blues managed to score five times at 5-on-5 despite flinging only 18 shots at the marvelously named Buffalo goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. There are 18 letters in his name – or one for each shot the Blues put on net.
“Can’t be giving up 45 shots a night and relying on your goalies so much,” Blues captain Brayden Schenn said after this unusual competition. “Two points, we’ll definitely take it. It’s a tight league, but we’ve got lots to clean up here and start tilting the ice a little bit and start taking over games.”
Good luck with that.
At even strength the Blues have had more total shot attempts than the opponent in only three of their 22 games. They’ve mustered over 50 percent of the shots on goal six times. They’ve generated more high-danger shots than opponents in only two of the 22 contests.
And yet …
The Blues are 12-9-1 for 25 points on this curiously weird season. They’re only one point out of third place in the Central Division, and are holding the No. 1 wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference. The levee hasn’t broken.
The Blues have actualized more success than they deserve – advanced metrics be damned. But can they keep doing this? This season of living dangerously could undermine the Blues at any time. They rank no better than 29th among 32 NHL teams in the influential, underlying factors at even strength. Everything from shot attempts to percentage of high-danger opportunities to expected goals-scored share.
I’ve been monitoring coach Craig Berube. Here’s his assessment of Thursday’s on-and-off nature of Thursday’s win.
“We went out in the first period, I thought we did a good job, got the lead, played pretty good,” he said after the game. “Second period, we just kind of weren’t available for pucks, we didn’t move the puck. When we did, we didn’t put it on the tape, we put it to the other team. That’s all self-inflicted wounds.”
We just kind of weren’t available for pucks.
That’s an awesome description by Berube, who has prevented his impatience from erupting in a full-scale meltdown. His calmness is impressive. Perhaps the Gandhi approach will work.
Here are some of the more unusual facts concerning your 2023-2024 St. Louis Blues. I’ll go with 12 nuggets because the Blues have 12 wins.
1. The Blues have scored six shorthanded goals, which is tied for the league lead. They have only seven power-play goals, which is tied for 29th.
2. The Blues have scored on only 10.4 percent of their own power plays. But they have scored on 10.7 percent of THE OTHER TEAM’s power play. That’s bananas.
3. The Blues are 11-0 when scoring first in a game. They are 1-9-1 when the opponent scores first.
4. The Blues are 7-0 when leading after the first period and 0-8 when trailing after one period. They are 10-0 when leading after two periods, and 0-9-0 when trailing after two.
5. The Blues have only two wins this season when trailing at any point of the game. Only two NHL teams have done worse than that so far.
6. After 22 games, the 2018-2019 Blues were 8-11-3 and had an average of 0.86 points earned per game. That team, of course, went on to win the Stanley Cup.
7. The 2023-2024 Blues are 12-9-1 through the first 22 games, averaging 1.136 points earned per game. That’s significantly better than the first 22-game trend during the Stanley Cup-winning season.
8. Jake Neighbours leads the Blues with nine goals. Who expected that? No one.
9. Through Thursday, Neighbours had scored more goals this season than Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, Kirill Kaprizov, Matthew Tkachuk, Brady Tkachuk, Clayton Keller, Vladimir Tarasenko, Tage Thompson, Jack Hughes, Jason Robertson, Mark Scheifele, Adrian Kempe, Timo Meier, Andre Kuzemenko, Mika Zibanejdad, Tim Stutzle, Bo Horvat, Roope Hintz, Jordan Kyrou, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jaden Schwartz and David Perron.
10. Eighteen of the scorers mentioned in the preceding paragraph had at least 37 goals last season and were ranked among the top 28 of the NHL’s leading goal-scorers in 2022-2023. Neighbours is ahead of those dudes? Didn’t see that one coming.
11. Pavel Buchnevich leads the Blues with four power-play goals. The team’s other 20 skaters have combined for three power play goals in an estimated 474 minutes of combined ice time on the PP.
12. Jordan Kyrou has scored only four goals for the Blues this season. That ranks tied for 188th among NHL players so far. Yes, 187 NHL skaters have more goals than J. Kyrou this season.
I can’t figure any of this out. So I better stop typing to scratch my head. And then take some aspirin. One more thing: the Blues are kooky — but fun to watch because they’re so fascinating. We just never know what to expect.
Thanks for reading and I hope you have a swell weekend …
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 access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
All stats used here were from Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick or Evolving Hockey unless otherwise noted.