The Blues opened the season by winning their first three games. Unexpectedly, and without warning, they proceeded to lose their next eight. And just when you were ready to throw in the Towel, man, the Blues have performed a commendable impersonation of the 1976-1977 Montreal Canadiens.
Monday night’s 3-1 win over Anaheim was the seventh consecutive victory for the Blues. Until now, no team in NHL history had won seven in a row after skidding through a losing streak that lasted eight games or more. Crazy.
In their staggering eight-loss combination of dysfunction and malfunction, the Blues scored 24 percent of the goals overall, and 22.6% of the goals at 5-on-5. A cataclysm on skates.
During their current 7-0 happy-times undefeated streak, the Blues have scored 64.4 percent of the goals overall including 70% of goals at 5-on-5.
Back-and-forth, going from one extreme to another.
Watching the Blues has been like listening to a Nirvana song.
I’m so happy … I’m so ugly … I’m not scared … I’m so lonely … I’m not sad … I’m not sure … I’m so excited … I don’t care…
The Blues? They’re not gonna crack … but stay tuned. They wobbled through 16 days without winning a game, and now they’ve cruised through 12 days without losing. Go figure. Too bad the late Dr. Sigmund Freud isn’t around to explain this. There’s no truth to the rumor that the Blues have given a media credential to Psychology Today.
Kidding aside, I don’t think we’ll see the Blues go into another full swoon-and-failure mode that lasts two-plus weeks. They’ve discovered the effectiveness of their depth, enjoyed turnarounds from key players, and assembled better line combinations. An since the Blues have won their last seven, here are seven reasons that best explain the turnaround. I’ll list them in no particular sequence:
1. The first Noel. As in Noel Acciari: During the winning streak the intensely competitive forward has led the Blues in goals (four) and hits (16), won 56 percent of his faceoffs, assisted on two goals, blocked six shots and snatched the puck for four takeaways – without one giveaway. Two years ago, he scored four goals in 41 games for the Florida Panthers. Now he’s scored four times for the Blues in the last seven games – which, by the way, exceeds his three-goal total total for the Panthers in 21 games last season. What a fantastic pickup by Blues GM Doug Armstrong.
2. Josh Leivo refurbishes a key line: Ryan O’Reilly was struggling, and appeared to be approximately 90 years old, during the Note’s eight consecutive losses. But it was just a matter of finding the right fit for O’Reilly after his favorite linemate, David Perron, signed a free-agent contract with Detroit. The Blues haven’t lost since Leivo was assigned to O’Reilly’s line, joining Brandon Saad. The reordered No. 1 line has outscored opponents 6-3 while on the ice during the seven straight wins. Leivo is another swell roster addition made by Armstrong and staff.
2a O’Reilly’s value: reaffirmed. The Captain has three goals and three assists during the team’s 7-0 run, winning 56.25 percent of his faceoffs with no giveaways and eight takeaways. After scoring one goal in his first 10 games this season, O’Reilly has four goals, three assists and is a plus-7 in his last eight.
3. Jordan Kyrou, head on straight. As we know, the fleet and talented skater can be an enigma. But when his mind is properly aligned, and his attention span is sharp, Kyrou is a whirlwind of impact. He has three goals and six assists and leads the Blues in shots on net during the seven-game winning streak.
3a. On a related note – very much so – center Robert Thomas has been good all season … but extra-good as the Blues got back on track. In the last seven games Thomas has two goals and seven assists for nine points and has won 52 percent of his faceoffs. Before the season the Blues invested heavily in Kyrou and Thomas with long-term contract extensions, committing $130 million to them combined. It’s appropriate to see Thomas and Kyrou combine for five goals and 13 assists during the seven-game winning spree.
4. Binn there, done that: Jordan Binnington has provided exceptional goaltending during the hot streak. Starting six of the seven wins, he’s had a .959 save percentage and 1.35 goals-against average at even strength. The expected even-strength GA total was 12.25 in the six games but Binnington gave up only seven. Thomas Greiss stopped 40 of 42 even-strength shots in his one start during this stretch. In their 7-0 surge the Blues rank third in the NHL in overall save percentage (.936), and third in even-strength save rate (.956.) And they’re fourth in save percentage (.955) at 5-on-5.
5. The Buch is back: Winger Pavel Buchnevich leads the Blues in points (10) during the 7-0 run, having scored three goals with seven assists. No surprise there. In his 86 games as a Blue, the team has outscored opponents 128-76 overall with Buchnevich on the ice. That’s a goal share of 62.75%. At even strength the Blues have scored 60.4% of the goals (90-59) with Buchnevich on the ice. That 60.4% goal share ranks 9th best among NHL forwards that have played at least 1,240 even-strength minutes since the start of last season.
6. Depth really matters: We’ve already discussed the important emergence of Acciari and Leivo. And when rendered shorthanded on defense because of injuries, the Blues turned to Calle Rosen and then Tyler Tucker. Rosen has been outstanding during the Blues 7-0 blitz, with two goals and two assists and only one giveaway in 107 minutes of ice time. The quality of his play is reaffirmed by the metrics and Rosen’s expected goal share of 57 percent. Tucker, the rookie, has done nothing wrong during his four–game test, grading well with an expected goal share of 57.6. In Monday’s win, coach Craig Berube entrusted Rosen and Tucker to form one of the team’s three defensive pairings. And in 11 minutes and 12 seconds of their play at even strength, the Blues outshot Anaheim 8-1.
6a. As a group, the Blues’ defensemen have done a good job over the last seven games. Justin Faulk, Niko Mikkola, and the rest. Colton Parayko was rolling until being sidelined for three games by a minor injury, but he’s back and continuing to play his best hockey of the season. Torey Krug takes a lot of heat from the fans, but he scored three goals during the seven-game winning push. And when you can plug in depth dudes like Rosen and Tucker and have them give you above-average performances during your best stretch of the season (to date), that’s when you know you can count in your depth.
7. The Chief knows what he’s doing. That’s why he’s the only coach in franchise history to lead the Blues to the Stanley Cup. That’s why he ranks second to Ken Hitchcock for best points percentage in franchise history. During his time behind the St. Louis bench, Berube has been consistent in his messaging to the plays – calm and consistent, direct and firm – and has continually displayed a winning touch in reconfiguring his lines. He can be demanding, but that’s hockey. The eight–game losing streak was abnormal, and certainly bewildering. But Berube never lost control of himself or the locker room. He got through the adversity and set the right example for his team to follow. When in doubt, the Blues reset and get back to playing Berube Hockey, with a strong foundation at 5-on-5. And sure enough, as I mentioned earlier, the Blues have scored 70% of the goals at 5-on-5 during their 7-0 turnaround.
“That’s the guys,” Berube said in his media session after Monday’s win. “They dug in and started doing things the right way and getting that team game going on the ice. That’s the biggest thing for me. It really boils down to again how you play the game. Our puck battle (win rate) has been extremely high in this run, even starting before that. Competitive. It’s just about your puck play. Not making careless plays on the puck; it’s so important in this game. I get it, you want to make plays and there’s plays to be made, but it’s understanding the situation, it’s understanding the pressure that’s there. It’s so important.”
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated 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 by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which is available in your preferred app store.
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All stats used here were sourced from Natural Stat Trick, Evolving Hockey and Hockey Reference.