Tampa Bay Lightning
Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy
St. Louis Blues
Jordan Schmaltz – Vince Dunn
Starting Goalie: Jake Allen
Tampa Bay Lightning
Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy
St. Louis Blues
Jordan Schmaltz – Vince Dunn
Starting Goalie: Jake Allen
Every season, all NHL teams have to overcome adversity. Some lose players to injury, some go through coaching changes, others might hit a long losing streak along the way. Certain organizations crumble when they face difficult times, but there are others that find a way to weather the storm that comes their way.
In 2017-18, the St. Louis Blues have shown the hockey world that they haven’t just overcome adversity, they’ve thrived in it.
The Blues suffered a number of key injuries early on. They lost Robby Fabbri (torn ACL) for the season, Patrik Berglund missed all of October and most of November because of shoulder issue, Alex Steen missed the first six games of the season because of a hand injury he suffered in the preseason, and Jay Bouwmeester missed a lot of time because of an ankle injury he picked up in training camp.
“I think we did it last year too,” head coach Mike Yeo said of overcoming injuries. “That’s something that’s a quality with this group. They don’t accept excuses. Obviously, losing players like we did heading into training camp- we lost four players that we figured would probably fit into our top nine. And then losing Jay Bouwmeester on the back end too. We weren’t going to allow excuses to dictate how things were going to go for us. So I think we stepped up to that challenge. With that, we also knew that we were going to have to dig in. We started with a lot of games on the road against tough teams, so it really forced us to get to our team game very quickly. And then, when you do that, you build some confidence in it and then we just built from there.”
That’s a lot of important losses to overcome. Not only have they done that, the Blues have been more than competitive in the difficult Central Division. Heading into tonight’s action, the Blues are tied for second in the division with 38 points and 16 regulation/overtime wins (the Jets have the same amount). They trail Nashville by just a single point.
So, how have the Blues managed to stay on track?
There’s no denying that certain players have carried them this season. Brayden Schenn has proven to be an incredible draft-day trade acquisition. The fact that they were able to land him from the Flyers at a very reasonable cost proved to be a game-changer for St. Louis. Through 28 games, Schenn has picked up 13 goals and 33 points.
On top of having Schenn, the Blues have also benefited from having young veterans like Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Taranko. Although Schenn, Schwartz (34 points) and Tarasenko (29 points) aren’t playing on the same line anymore, all three players have come up huge for their team.
“I’ve played pretty much since day one of the season with (Schwartz) and I just feel like he’s an easy guy to play with,” Schenn told PHT before Tuesday’s game against Montreal. “He works hard, he’s good at both ends of the ice, he sees the ice (well), he uses his linemates and teammates, and he’s a great guy in the locker room. He’s a lot fun to play with. And then, whoever is on the other side, whether it’s (Tarasenko) or (Steen), we’ve had a few guys, it’s been fun.”
The star power doesn’t end up front with St. Louis. Alex Pietrangelo has been a monster on the back end for them, as he contributes offensively while playing hard minutes on a nightly basis. The 28-year-old has been mentioned in the Norris Trophy conversation because he already has 21 points in 28 games. He also averages almost 26 minutes of ice time per game.
Depth on D:
Sure, Pietrangelo is the best defenseman on the roster, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other quality blue liners on the team. St. Louis is loaded at the back, as they also have Colton Parayko, Joel Edmundson, Vince Dunn, Carl Gunnarsson, Roberto Bortuzzo and Jay Bouwmeester.
Unlike the Buffalo Sabres, the Blues have received plenty of contribution from their defense. Of the 92 goals they’ve scored this season (tied for sixth), 21 have come from their blue line.
The NHL is a league that’s become about skating, making quick decisions and moving the puck efficiently, and the group of defensemen the Blues have is certainly capable of accomplishing all of that.
Style of Play:
Yeo has the Blues playing the perfect style for the roster they’ve built. They’re constructed like a typical Western Conference power. They’re big, they can move and are a team that can make life difficult for the opposition with the way they forecheck and limit time and space.
Building a team like that isn’t easy. That’s why general manager Doug Armstrong is close to landing a contract extension. Unfortunately for the Blues, the fact that they waited this long to extend Armstrong might cost them.
They aren’t the perfect team (they don’t exist in a cap world). They could still probably use another forward or two that can contribute offensively, but it looks like they can take a punch and they can dish out a few too. That should help come the spring.
When you think of strong NHL teams that simply can’t “get over the hump,” your mind goes to teams like the Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks, and the St. Louis Blues.
Perhaps it’s the missing transcendent success that explains why Blues GM Doug Armstrong is currently waiting on a contract extension, then.
The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford goes in-depth on Armstrong’s lack of a deal (sub required), and honestly stole my thunder in vividly describing how Armstrong’s put together a remarkably clean, competitive roster. One of Rutherford’s most salient points is that, while other teams have used buyouts to clean up past mistakes, Armstrong’s avoided doing so, thus saving the Blues both face and money.
Rutherford’s well-written piece notes that the Blues wouldn’t just risk losing Armstrong; they’d also possibly lose some worthwhile management team members who would follow him out the door if another team would come calling. (And why wouldn’t another team do so? Looking at you, Florida Panthers.)
And if the person who has signed the Blues’ contracts for the past eight years comes close enough to free agency himself, the Blues may risk losing not only him but his “Army” as well. Assistant GM Martin Brodeur, vice president of hockey operations Dave Taylor, senior consultant Larry Robinson, director of player development Tim Taylor, director of hockey analytics Thomas Cason were all brought in by Armstrong. And in addition to Bill Armstrong being promoted, Rob DiMaio ascended to director of player personnel under Doug Armstrong.
Allow me to add one consideration, and it comes from the KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid) school of logic: waiting too long might literally be costly to the Blues. As in, it might cost ownership some legitimate cash.
Take a moment and look over the standings.
OK, when it comes to the West, how many teams clearly hold an advantage over the Blues right now?
Yes, the Winnipeg Jets are a dangerous team, but there’s a lot of concern about their possession stats, and if that has your eyes glazing over, their ability to defend. St. Louis might end up being the more well-rounded team (also with top-end skill to hang with the Jets) in a seven-game series.
The Nashville Predators stand as a legitimate contender, and might just be the most “complete” team in the West. Still, virtually any team is vulnerable in the salary cap era; what if Pekka Rinne falters and the Predators lose too much ground to pivot in time?
You could carry this exercise out with plenty of other teams. The Blackhawks are dangerous but deeply flawed. The Kings are revitalized, but are they truly better than the Blues? And so on.
And, out East, there are strong teams, yet the Blues would likely be able to match up reasonably well with just about any team.
Long story short, this as as reasonable a time as any for St. Louis to finally make that deep run. If that happens, imagine the sort of leverage Armstrong would have in contract talks?
Risking either losing Armstrong or having to pay him a severe premium seems silly, especially since the Blues are a well-oiled machine as is, despite the frustrations from postseason letdowns.
Maybe that’s not the sexiest outlook, but that’s part of Armstrong’s charm. The Blues have been patient with plenty of quality players (anyone else remember the agony of waiting for Vladimir Tarasenko to finally come to the NHL?), unearthing gems such as Colton Parayko, bringing Jake Allen along, and seeing the likes of Alex Pietrangelo rise in the ranks.
Pundits and Blues fans alike have been burned by “Is this the Blues’ year?” talk often enough to discourage such talk, but Blues owner Tom Stillman has a lot to lose if he ignores that possibility outright.
At worst, this is an opportunity to acknowledge just how great a job Armstrong’s done over the years. He deserves the reward of a new deal, whether it comes in St. Louis or somewhere else.
The NHL on NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Tuesday night, as the St. Louis Blues host the Edmonton Oilers at 8:00 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here.
The St. Louis Blues have been hit hard by injuries so far this season, but that hasn’t stopped them from having some success in 2017-18.
Finally, they’ll be getting some good news, as Jay Bouwmeester is expected to play for the first time this season. Bouwmeester hasn’t suited up for the Blues since suffering a fractured ankle early on in training camp.
“It’s been a long time, especially at the start of the year when you miss training camp,” Bouwmeester told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I’m excited and hopefully and I’ll just jump in and not interfere with what’s going on here.”
“He’s a veteran guy, his skating ability, defensive game, I don’t expect him to step in and his game to be exactly where it’s going to be five, 10 games from now,” head coach Mike Yeo said. “We have to understand he’s missed a lot of time but his experience will make the transition. It will come along quickly.”
The Blues have been just fine without Bouwmeester, so they should be even better now that he’s back. They’ll head into tonight’s game with the best record in the Central Division at 15-5-1.
Things haven’t been going as well for the Oilers, who are alarming close to the basement of the Western Conference through 20 games.
Surprisingly, only two teams (Buffalo and San Jose) have scored less goals than Edmonton’s 50 this season. When you look at the individual numbers on the team, you understand why they’re struggling so much.
Another big issue has been the play of Cam Talbot, who went from one of the top goalies in the NHL to being pretty average this season. Talbot owns a 7-10-1 record with a 3.10 goals-against-average and a .903 save percentage this season.
“He’s part of the team … the goalies have to be better, the defense, the forwards, the coaches have to be better,” said head coach Todd McLellan, per the Edmonton Journal. “None of us have lived up to where we need to be and that’s why we’re where we are in the standings.
“I’m not going to single out the goaltender. It’s team-wide.”
Larry Robinson has joined the St. Louis Blues.
The Blues made the announcement Thursday, revealing that Robinson has joined the organization as a senior consultant to hockey operations.
Based on the comments of Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, it sounds like Robinson will work closely at times with head coach Mike Yeo. It could also further help the development of an already impressive defenseman in Colton Parayko.
“Bringing someone like Larry in, I just think, helps our hockey operations from top to bottom,” said Armstrong, per the Blues website.
“His ability to talk to Mike Yeo about coaching — that’s one area that we don’t have on our staff is a former head coach. You can think you know what Mike’s going through but I don’t know what Mike’s going through. Larry does. So he’s going to be able to relate to him on a lot of the things that he’s going to go through.
“He’s coming in as a consultant. I can learn a lot from him, our assistant coaches can, Parayko can. There’s not an area of our hockey operations he can’t touch to make us a better group.”
Robinson was most recently the director of player development with the San Jose Sharks, however it was reported in May that he would not return to that organization for this season.