Exactly one year ago the St. Louis Blues were sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference standings and seemed to be on their way to a lost season. Thanks to the call-up of goalie Jordan Binnington and the changes made by new coach Craig Berube they went on one of the best second half runs in recent NHL history and rode it to their first ever Stanley Cup.
They will not need that sort of second half to make the playoffs this season. They look like one of the league’s best teams — if not the best team — from the very start.
Thanks to their 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday, the Blues are just one point back of the Washington Capitals for the top spot in the NHL, have an eight-point lead for the top spot in the Western Conference, and have now won eight games in a row.
It is already their second winning streak of at least seven games this season.
No Tarasenko? No problem
This is probably the most incredible part of the Blues’ run. Tarasenko, their most dynamic and impactful forward from an offensive standpoint, has appeared in just 10 games and has not played since Oct. 24.
All they have done since then is go 21-6-3 in 30 games. That is a 123-point pace over 82 games. And it’s not like 30 games is a small sample size, either. That is nearly half a season that they have played at this level.
Ryan O'Reilly has continued to be a two-way force in the middle, but one of the biggest difference-makers has been veteran winger David Perron. Since re-joining the Blues last year he has played some of the most productive hockey of his career. As of Sunday he is averaging a point-per-game and has a league-leading six game-winning goals, including four in overtime.
The defense and goaltending remains championship caliber
Even with Tarasenko the Blues never were — and never will be — a team that wins with offense.
They are a defense first team, and when combined with quality goaltending are one of the toughest teams in the league to score against. And that is still driving their success this season.
They allow just 51 total shot attempts per 60 minutes, the third best mark in the league behind only Carolina and Pittsburgh. They also have a top-five penalty killing unit.
When you combine all of that with the fact Binnington and Jake Allen have combined for a .924 save percentage and they are allowing just 2.52 goals per game, fourth best in the NHL. They allowed 2.68 goals per game during the regular season a year ago and 2.69 in the playoffs. Yes, they are doing a better job preventing goals this season than they did during their Stanley Cup-winning season.
They could still probably use another scorer up front, but with the way this team is going they not only look like Stanley Cup contenders once again, they seem to keep getting better.