Let’s Roll Four Lines …
Even with so many deductibles – as in injured players – the Blues have great health insurance. They just make a call to Springfield, Mass. and their emergencies are handled with urgency and expertise.
It sort of makes sense, given that two famous docs grew up in Springfield: (1) Dr. Seuss and (2) Dr. Timothy Leary. Seuss gave patients green eggs and ham. Leary’s favorite medicine? Psychedelic drugs.
Hey, whatever works.
The beat-up Blues keep winning and beating up the odds.
Thursday it was a 6-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings, and the Blues are now 4-1-1 in their last six games. For the season they’re 14-8-2 and have moved up to 12th overall in the NHL.
Not bad at all, considering the Monty Python and the Holy Grail aspect to their journey.
In my somewhat thoughtful opinion, the Blues’ 4-1-1 stretch is more impressive and admirable than their 5-0 launch into the new season. Despite missing as many as nine players that were scratched because of injuries or Covid, the adaptable Blues pushed through the flames of their burning roster to collect nine of a maximum 12 points in a six-game display of resoluteness that began Nov. 27.
The Note’s finest achievement was going 2-1-1 in four games against Eastern Conference powerhouses Tampa Bay and Florida – pocketing five of a possible eight points. That turned the expectations upside down.
In this 4-1-1 statement on their competitive character, the Blues used 21 skaters and three goaltenders – with two other goaltenders, Kyle Konin and Jon Gillies – suited up but not playing. Five goaltenders in six games? CRAZY.
The nine players who missed some (or all) games consisted of five forwards – David Perron, Robert Thomas, James Neal, Tyler Bozak and Klim Kostin – defensemen Justin Faulk and Jake Walman, and goaltenders Jordan Binnington and Ville Husso.
Goaltender Charlie Lindgren relieved the hobbled Husso in Tuesday’s overtime win over Florida and was credited with the win. Lindgren started against the Red Wings Thursday and stopped 29 of 31 shots to put a second victory on his resume. Yep, Ol’ Charlie has more wins than either Binnington or Husso during this six-game jumble.
To fill in the gaps, the Blues tapped forwards Dakota Joshua, Logan Brown and Nathan Walker from Springfield. Walman filled in until joining the injury ward. Defenseman Niko Mikkola took over a regular role. Struggling defenseman Marco Scandella was reinserted in the lineup and has responded with better play.
How’s this for distribution? Over the last six games the Blues have gotten goals from 13 different players – and assists from 18 players.
In the last six games, Walker and Brown have five goals combined – and that’s more than the combined four-goal total produced by Ryan O’Reilly, Jordan Kyrou, Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko.
They defeated the Red Wings with Nathan Walker pumping in three goals and Charlie Lindgren denying goals with a .935 save percentage. Who would have picked that exacta ticket? Not me.
“Everybody has got to chip in and help,” coach Craig Berube said after Thursday’s win. “We’re getting the help from everybody. We’re shorthanded, but everybody is doing their job and contributing in some way, which is important. Our veterans are doing a good job leading the way, playing solid hockey, playing the right way. I think that was the most important thing here tonight coming into the game, them leading the way.”
As most of you know, Walker was born in Wales and grew up in Australia. He’s played in 26 regular-season NHL games, and 24 of the 26 were in service of the Washington Capitals and Blues. He appeared in seven regular-season games as a spot-duty guy for the 2017-2018 Stanley Cup champion Capitals, then jumped in for five reg-season games for the 2019 Stanley Cup champion Blues.
Needless to say, I think the hockey gods were having some fun when they placed a 5-9 energizer battery from Australia on back-to-back Stanley Cup winners.
That’s quite a trick – and then came Thursday’s hat trick in his season debut for the Blues. In this one game Walker’s three scores gave him more five on five goals this season than Jonathan Toews, Blake Wheeler, Nikita Kucherov, Zach Parise, Jordan Staal, Taylor Hall, Patrik Laine, Mark Stone, Phil Kessel, Mike Hoffman, and Jack Hughes. Plus many others.
After scoring three goals in his first 25 NHL games, Walker scored three on Thursday in 12 minutes and 56 minutes of ice time. This, a day after he was called up from AHL Springfield.
Straight outta Dr. Seuss. And more mind-altering than any potion concocted by Dr. Leary.
Walker’s big night became a big headline in Australia.
Here’s a headline on an Australian news service web site:
“U.S. STUNNED AS AUSSIE MAKES HISTORY AGAIN.”
The author continued: “Australia’s Nathan Walker has made waves in the US in the most unlikely of sports, with the Aussie trailblazer making even more history.”
Walker was used on a few line combinations Thursday. But it was really something to examine Walker’s line placements and see how well he clicked with various teammates at five on five situations:
+ With Walker, Brayden Schenn and Oskar Sundqvist together for 5:21, the line outscored Detroit 1-0 and had an expected goals percentage of 75%.
+ On a line that included Walker and Dakota Joshua together for 4:40, the Blues had a 10-1 edge on shot attempts and outscored the Red WIngs 2-0.
+ When Walker was on any line that also included Schenn, the Blues had a 10-3 advantage in shot attempts and outscored the Wings 2-0 in 7:22 of five on five play.
+ When the defensive pairing of Torey Krug and Marco Scandella was on the ice with Walker at all strengths, the Blues dominated shot attempts (10-1), shots on goal (5-1) and outscored Detroit 1-0. Walker worked nicely in his connections to forwards or defensemen, whether it be Jordan Kyrou, Ryan O’Reilly, Colton Parayko, Robert Bortuzzo, Niko Mikkola.
The win over Detroit and the 4-1-1 record in the last six games told us a lot about the Blues’ culture. It’s very healthy – even with an unhealthy roster.
“I think it’s awesome,” Lindgren said. “We’re having a really good year down there (Springfield), a really good start, everyone’s contributing. It’s fun to see us five up here right now. We’re pushing each other. We’re trying to make every day count. And it’s a great group of guys, I think, the leaders on this team, they welcomed us in and they’ve done such a good job with us. I think a lot of credit goes to the dressing room as a whole as well.”
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend.
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 “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
* All stats used here are sourced from Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Reference, Evolving Hockey, or Hockey Card Stats unless otherwise noted.