The Blues are off to a 5-0 start in the new campaign. So many players are performing at a high level, this would be like having Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson and John Lee Hooker on stage at the same time. It’s entertaining as could be.
OK, perhaps I’m getting a little carried away here. But I wanted to salute the Blues by mentioning some of the greatest Blues musicians of all time. That’s because the Blues are off to their best all-time start in franchise history.
Let’s Roll 4 Lines…
Vladimir Tarasenko had the blues, and now he doesn’t. He may still want to be traded. Or maybe he doesn’t want to be traded. I guess it depends on who’s calling the shots here: Tarasenko or his meddlesome agent.
We can’t worry about this now. Just enjoy the show until Tarasenko is traded, or not traded. Just smile when he smiles. Because when Tarasenko smiles, it means a couple of things: he’s scoring, and he’s happy.
And as a bonus, we can smile just thinking about all of those silly general managers out there who really thought they could convince Blues GM Doug Armstrong to trade Tarasenko to them for a bag of Red Hot Riplets. And we can smile because Armstrong refused to capitulate to the other GMs, or to Tarasenko’s Mo Howard of an agent. Army played this one perfectly, and I have to say, I had my doubts about that at first.
But this is quite a story, eh? Tarasenko broke a 0-0 stalemate by scoring twice in the third period on Monday night, putting two dynamic goals past Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick. The Blues put away the Kings for a 3-0 win at Enterprise Center, and their fans hung around to give Tarasenko an ovation and a “Vlad-eee!” chant.
Man of the People.
It is strange … but oh so true Blue.
Imagine that. After all of the commotion started by Tarasenko and the assorted manipulators around him, Blues fans still love him. They love him very much. This is for sure: I don’t think Tarasenko would trade Blues fans for anything.
“That was a special moment,” Tarasenko said of the cheers, the serenade, the standing O. “It was very emotional. We always have support from the real fans. I always said it in the interviews: Our family got so much help from people from St. Louis. The support through this 10 years was very awesome.”
Coach Craig Berube offered perspective on Tarasenko’s rising popularity rating after a summer of discontent.
“Things come out and players are unhappy at times,” Berube said. “In the end, he’s here, he’s playing for the Blues, he wants to be here, we need him to perform at a high level, and he is. The fans are going to cheer for him.”
He wants to be here?
Blues fans metaphorically hugged Tarasenko in Saturday’s home-opener, a 7-3 win over the Kings. And they honored him with a next-level embrace on Monday night. The elation is genuine. The joy is real. The revival of the Tarasenko Show is impressive. And he will be a huge boost for the Blues if his happy times last.
How well is Tarasenko playing? Let’s have a look, because my stats never sleep:
1) The basics: 3 goals, 3 assists for six points, third on the team behind David Perron and Jordan Kyrou. Tarasenko is a plus-4 at even strength. He leads the Blues in game-winning goals (two), shots, rush attempts, rebounds created.
2) The most telling statistic: When playing at all strengths, Tarasenko is averaging 19.77 shots per 60 minutes. In the past two seasons combined, he averaged 9.4 shots per 60 minutes. This season he’s letting it rip again. There is no hesitation or anxiety over his surgically repaired shoulder. His confidence is obvious. Tarasenko’s mojo is rising.
3) Tarasenko’s 60-minute rates show the strength of his renewed presence, and it’s awesome to see. It’s early, but so far Tarasenko at all strengths is averaging 2.28 goals per 60 minutes and 4.56 points per 60.
4) Tarasenko’s rates during five-on-five play are just as impressive: 18.2 shots per 60 minutes — compared to an average of 7.85 shots/60 over the past two seasons. And after averaging 0.39 goals per 60 minutes during the previous two seasons, Tarasenko is thriving with 2.89 goals/60 at five-on-five this year.
5) Among NHL players with at least 50 minutes of ice time, Tarasenko is tied with Alexander Ovechkin for the league lead with 26 shots on goal. Vladdy is tied for first in the league in rebounds created (five.) He’s in the top 20 for most rush attempts. And his rate of 19.77 shots per 60 minutes (all strengths) is No. 1 in the NHL.
Shaddup about the “easy” schedule. According to Hockey Reference the Blues have played the least imposing schedule in the league so far. Sure, they’ve taken on opponents that aren’t very good (Arizona), or opponents that are functioning at reduced firepower because of injuries.
I don’t believe the Blues have the authority to set the other team’s lineup. This is the NHL, and injuries are a perpetual hazard during every season. And the Covid 19 drag is just another part of it.
I don’t recall any other NHL teams boo-hooing over the Blues’ injury misfortunes last season when the battered Note had the league’s second highest total for most man games lost to injury. A bunch of players missed 15+ games to injury including defensemen Colton Parayko and Carl Gunnarsson plus forwards Tarasenko, Robert Thomas, Jaden Schwartz, Tyler Bozak, Ivann Barbashev, Sammy Blais and Oskar Sundqvist. The Blues pushed through, lunged into the playoffs and did the best they could. They didn’t cry about the injury blitz.
The Blues have played two home games vs. LA and single road games at Colorado, Arizona and Vegas. Excluding their losses to St. Louis those four teams have a combined record of 4-9-3.
I have a straightforward opinion on the “soft schedule” parsing that occurs in every team sport. Here goes: if you play lesser teams or face opponents that are vulnerable because of injuries, then take advantage of it by winning the games. Because if you don’t win those games, just about everyone will be squealing about losing to teams that you should have handled. So when you do win those games, you get full credit for it.
A shutout for Ville Husso in his first game of the season. This was a sort-of big deal; Husso remains a source of anxiety among the citizens that bleed blue. Husso stopped all 34 shots on goal including 22 shots at five-on-five. He also snuffed all 10 of LA’s high-danger chances. And Husso rejected every power-play shot on net (10) by the Kings.
Monday’s win came in Husso’s 16th career regular-season start. He was wobbly and prone to early-game goals last year but finished relatively strong with solid-to-good work in his final seven starts.
From March 20 of last season through Monday’s victory over Los Angeles, Husso has an overall save percentage of .924 in eight starts. That includes a .926 save percentage at five-on-five. And his overall save percentage (.900) on high-danger chances is very impressive.
Over the same time, but in 24 starts, No. 1 goaltender Jordan Binnington has a .914 save percentage overall, a .924 save percentage at five-on-five, and a .802 save percentage on high-danger shots.
Husso is coming along; he’s actually played better than we’ve given him credit for.
RANDOM BLUE NOTES
— At five-on-five, the Blues rank 26th in the NHL so far with an average of 33.5 shots allowed on goal per 60 minutes. Last season they ranked 15th with 28.8 shots allowed per 60. The Blues also are running a deficit in high-danger shots, getting a share of 46.4% HD attempts in their first five games.
— That said, the Blues have outscored opponents 25-11 overall, and 15-8 at five-on-five. That 25-11 margin represents an overall goals-scored share of 69.4 percent; that ranks No. 2 in the league.
— So what’s the difference? Well, the special teams have a lot to do with that. The Blues have scored six power play goals and yielded only one PP goal to opponents. That’s a healthy plus-5 on the special teams.
— Goaltending is also a factor. Yes, the Blues are getting outshot and allowing too many high-danger attempts. But the Blues rank 4th in the NHL with an overall save percentage of .935 and are 5th in five-on-five save pct. (.940). Their overall high-danger save rate (.867) ranks 5th.
— In 64 minutes of five-on-five time from the defensive pairing of Justin Faulk and Torey Krug this season, the Blues have outscored opponents 7-3. That count is 4-2 when the pairing of Colton Parayko and Marco Scandella are on the ice at five-on-five.
— Among NHL forwards that have played at least 50 minutes this season, the Blues’ David Perron leads the NHL with an average of 4.23 goals per 60 minutes.
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 “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
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* All stats used here are sourced from Hockey Reference or Natural Stat Trick unless otherwise noted.