Jordan Binnington may not be the only reason the St. Louis Blues are where they are in the Stanley Cup Playoffs — preparing to play the Dallas Stars in Game 5 of their Round 2 series on Friday night (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live stream) — but he is definitely one of the biggest reasons.
When he made his first NHL start on Jan. 7 the Blues were at the bottom of the league standings and a goaltending duo that was performing as one of the NHL’s worst, bleeding goals against and helping to sink what should have been, on paper, a pretty good team.
From the moment Binnington entered the lineup he not only solidified the position, he went on a three-month run where he played like one of the best goalies in the NHL, winning 24 of his 30 starts and helping to carry the Blues back into contention for the Central Division title while also becoming a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year.
Name a goaltending category and chances are here he was near the top of the league from the time he took over the Blues’ net.
- Save Percentage: .930 (5th)
- Even-Strength Save Percentage: .936 (4th)
- High-Danger Scoring Chance Save Percentage: .860 (5th)
- Shutouts: 5 (2nd)
(All rankings among goalies that made at least 20 starts since Jan. 7)
As long as he played at that level the Blues were always going to have a chance to do something significant once they got to the playoffs. The biggest question, though, was how long the Blues could realistically expect a 25-year-old goalie who opened the year as a backup in the AHL to continue playing at such a high level.
Projecting goaltending performance is as complicated and maddening as projections can get at the NHL level, and it’s not a knock to suggest any goalie playing at that level is due to see their production slump back down at some point. Especially one that had almost zero track record to speak of against the world’s best competition.
Along with being difficult to project, goaltending performance isn’t always consistent, either. Just like anything else in hockey it is a very fluid thing that will go through peaks and valleys over a full season. And one thing Binnington never really experienced during the regular season was one of those extended valleys.
Over the course of his 40 starts Binnington only had four five-game stretches where his save percentage dipped below .914, and he never had a single stretch where he allowed more than two goals in three consecutive games.
Now, for the first time all season at the NHL level, he is starting to show signs of slumping, and the timing could not be worse for the Blues because nothing can impact a playoff series more than the performance of the two starting goalies.
He enters Game 5 having allowed at least two goals in nine consecutive games (his longest such streak of the season), at least three goals in each of the past three games (for the first time all season), while his .903 save percentage in his past five games is one of his worst five-game stretches of the season.
That has to be a concern for the Blues, especially because the goalie at the other end of the ice (Ben Bishop, a Vezina Trophy finalist for the third time in his career) has been so good.
Binnington has been a huge part of the Blues’ story over the past three months, but if they are going to keep it going and get through the Stars they are going to need his first little slump of the season to be a short-lived one.