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.
As one bad headache begins to relieve itself for St. Louis Blues head coach Mike Yeo, a new, good one is starting to begin.
By most estimations, Yeo’s St. Louis Blues simply weren’t supposed to be doing this well this early. Or even at all.
Decimated by injuries before one puck had been dropped in the NHL’s 2017-18 regular season, the Blues were forced to rely on depth players to carry some of the load.
In Patrik Berglund (shoulder), Jay Bouwmeester (ankle), Robby Fabbri (knee), Petteri Lindbohm (shoulder), Zach Sanford (shoulder) and Alexander Steen (hand) the Blues currently have 310 games, 53 goals and 81 assists from the 2016-17 regular season on the sidelines.
That’s a lot to replace and expect to still rattle off the wins.
Berglund’s offseason injury to his shoulder required surgery and a four-to-six-month timeline to heal – a tough pill to swallow on a team hoping for swift recoveries from Fabbri and Lindbohm, who also went under the knife.
And then training camp came and things got much, much worse.
Fabbri’s season was over as it was just beginning after he tore his ACL in his left knee on Sept. 24, the same ACL that was surgically repaired just months before in February. Seven days earlier, 15-year veteran defenseman Bouwmeester fractured his ankle and two days before Bouwmeester’s injury, winger Sanford dislocated his left shoulder, rendering him out for five-to-six months.
Yet, instead of crumbling, the Blues somehow managed to excel.
The Blues went 10-3-1 in October and two-thirds of the way through November, St. Louis is the top dog in the Central Division, the Western Conference, and the second place team in the whole of the NHL.
Not too shabby from the Band-Aid brigade. The depth general manager Doug Armstrong has managed to put together is impressive.
His offseason acquisition in Brayden Schenn has thrived in his new threads, with eight goals and 26 points and a current seven-game point streak. Schenn, the fourth-best point producer in the NHL thus far this season, is tied for the team lead in points with Jaden Schwartz, whose early season trends have him on pace for a career year, already having amassed 10 goals and 16 helpers.
The type of headache that doesn’t require an Advil begins for Yeo on Tuesday against the Edmonton Oilers, a game that will be live on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET.
Bouwmeester will play his first game of the season on Tuesday as he’s been deemed fit to return to the lineup.
The 34-year-old is expected to resume commanding big minutes, as he has done throughout his 15-year career. Blues fans will be hoping he can help out their 23rd-ranked penalty kill. He’s been pretty good in that area.
His return leaves the Blues with eight healthy defensemen, leaving Yeo with what he called a “good problem to have” on Monday.
Yeo has played rookie Vince Dunn in all 21 games this season and the 2015 second-round pick has done more than just earn his keep in the Blues rearguard, averaging 16:38 per night. Yeo said Monday that Dunn needs to be playing. It’s expected that Carl Gunnarsson makes way for Bouwmeester.
Berglund practiced in Monday’s full-contact skate and has been working with the team on-ice for a while now.
It appears more good problems are in Yeo’s future.
When the 2017-18 season began the St. Louis Blues looked like a team that was going to be in some trouble for no other reason than a significant chunk of their lineup was hammered by injuries. They lost Robby Fabbri for the season before it even began, while players like Alexander Steen, Patrik Berglund, Jay Bouwmeester have all missed significant time. Being without that many key players can be a significant blow to a team’s depth and could quickly put a team in an early season hole.
Could being the key word.
That has not been the case for the Blues, however, is they enter the weekend with a 10-3-1 record that is the second-best mark in the league. They are a top-10 team in goals scored and goals against, they have been a strong 5-on-5 team and other than some goaltending that might see a little bit of a regression in the coming weeks and months there is not much to indicate that this start is unsustainable. They have simply been a really, really, really good hockey team even without some key players.
Working in their favor is the fact they still have one of the top-10 players in the league in Vladimir Tarasenko. With a point-per-game average through the first month of the season he is doing what should be expected.
The player that is driving the bus for the Blues to this point, however, has been forward Jaden Schwartz.
As of Friday Schwartz was not only the leading scorer on the Blues with eight goals and 17 points, he is also one of the top scorers in the league. He has recorded at least point in 11 of his first 14 games and has been the most consistent player in the lineup … at both ends of the ice.
Part of Schwartz’s success this season is due to a pretty large jump in his shooting percentage (currently at 25 percent), but even if that regresses a bit the way he is playing is still going to produce some pretty strong results that are, at worst, right in line with what he has done throughout his career.
Playing on a team that has Tarasenko it can be easy for a player like Schwartz to get kind of lost in the shuffle a little bit and perhaps not get the respect he deserves. When you look at Schwartz’s career he has been an outstanding top-line player for several years now, averaging between 50 and 60 points per 82 games while consistently posting possession numbers better than 53 percent.
It would be easy to call Schwartz underrated, but his Blues teammates really don’t want to hear that word connected to him.
Here is Tarasenko talking about it, via Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Maybe for you it doesn’t seem like this,” said Tarasenko, sticking up for his teammate. “‘Schwartzy’ has always been a great player. We all know this, and whenever guys say something about him, that’s their own opinion. Let them talk.
After an absolutely maddening run of injuries before the season even began, there was some concern that the St. Louis Blues would miss the playoffs. Instead, they’re in a position to run away with the Central Division with November about to begin.
You can forgive the Blues for setting their sights higher than that, too, even after all those false alarms about “this being the year,” to some extent stretching back to the days of Al MacInnis’ booming shot and Steve Yzerman-administered heartbreak.
Maybe it’s fitting, then, that the Blues enter Tuesday tied with Yzerman’s Tampa Bay Lightning with matching 10-2-1 records as the top teams in the NHL (and, thus, the top seeds in their conferences). They ended October with quite the win, too, topping the Pacific-leading, also-resurgent Los Angeles Kings.
Really, the Blues’ successes might be more impressive than that of the Lightning and Kings. While everything seems to be going right for the Lightning after an injury-ravaged 2016-17 campaign, St. Louis’ black-and-blue status makes its run of victories seem that much more impressive.
Alex Steen missed a big chunk of October. Jay Bouwmeester‘s status remains murky, and Patrik Berglund hasn’t returned yet. Robby Fabbri‘s season-ending knee issues deprived the Blues of a fascinating young forward. Zach Sanford lost a chance to move up the ranks and prove himself.
With all of that, the Blues are 10-2-1, but are especially hot lately: four wins in a row and a 6-0-1 points streak.
That’s pretty fantastic, and might only be an under-the-radar story because of how well-built this franchise is thanks to GM Doug Armstrong. He doesn’t get many mentions among the game’s brightest minds, yet Armstrong looks pretty shrewd as of this moment.
Let’s ponder what is going right for the Blues, and maybe also consider a few elements that make this run even more impressive.
To start 2017-18, the Blues scored a single power-play goal in five straight games. That man-advantage dominance hasn’t sustained, however, as St. Louis has only generated PPGs in one of their last eight contests (2-for-3 against Calgary on Oct. 25).
After all, Yeo was an assistant-turned-interim head coach last season. This time around, Yeo had the opportunity to implement his systems and really cement his philosophies in training camp. Perhaps that makes some difference in how the Blues are approaching each game?
Of course, the Blues can sidestep some of the plummeting one might expect from the rigors of the season by getting back some key players.
They’ll likely face challenges in their schedule, in the standings, and on the scoreboard to pair with injury headaches, as just about every NHL team hits cold streaks. They still deserve credit for a strong October, all things considered, and their reward is more than just pride: St. Louis currently leads the Central Division by seven points.
Not bad for a team that seemed like an ailing afterthought heading into the season.