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Blues demolish Devils, keep solidifying playoff spot

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It wasn’t that long ago that the St. Louis Blues’ season looked like it was over, set to go in the books as a bitter disappointment after a significant spending spree over the summer to address the shortcomings at forward.

At the 20-game mark the Blues had already fired their coach, had won just seven games, couldn’t keep the puck out of their own net, and weren’t really getting much production out of anybody except for Ryan O'Reilly.

Now they look like they are going to be solidly in the playoffs barring a late-season collapse.

If nothing else, they have at least given themselves a great shot to get there.

They won their seventh game in a row on Tuesday night by absolutely crushing a hapless New Jersey Devils team, 8-3, to continue climbing the Western Conference standings.

The Blues’ win, combined with the Minnesota Wild losing a multiple goal lead against the Philadelphia Flyers, means the Blues are now in sole possession of the first Wild Card Spot in the Western Conference with a four-point cushion over the pack of non-playoff teams behind them, while also having games in hand on several of them. Put all of that together and they look more likely to be a playoff team than not.

The seven-game winning streak is also part of a larger 14-game stretch that has seen the Blues go on an 11-2-1 run to really make their move in the standings.

They have been doing all of this without David Perron, one of their most productive forwards this season, who has been sidelined for more than a month due to an upper-body injury.

Alex Pietrangelo and Ivan Barbashev each had three-point nights in Tuesday’s win, while Vladimir Tarasenko picked up a pair of assists to extend his point streak to nine games. Overall Tarasenko has 18 points during this most recent 14-game hot streak by the Blues.

Overall, it was a completely dominant effort by the Blues as they held the Devils to just 16 shots on goals on the night and were holding a 7-1 lead just one minute into the third period.

The turnaround for the Blues began when rookie goalie Jordan Binnington got his opportunity. All he has done with it is solidify a position that had been a glaring weakness in the first part of the season and now win 10 of his first 12 starts with a save percentage over .930 so far.

The Blues now have an opportunity to really extend their cushion in the playoff race with a huge three-game road trip that takes them through Arizona, Minnesota, and Colorado. The latter two teams are the two biggest challengers to them at the moment, and both have been struggling in recent weeks, with the Avalanche in total collapse mode. A couple of wins over the next three games would go a long way toward solidifying the Blues as a playoff team.

Given the way each team is playing at the moment it is not hard to imagine exactly that happening.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Here come the St. Louis Blues

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The rollercoaster of a season for the St. Louis Blues saw them sitting in 31st place in the NHL on Jan. 3. There were some games in-hand, and a sign things could be improving, but the results just weren’t coming consistently.

Those early days of 2019 are currently referred to in St. Louis as the pre-Jordan Binnington Era. The 25-year-old rookie netminder had appeared in two games in relief this season but had yet to make his first career start. He would get that chance four days later and kick it off with a shutout against the Philadelphia Flyers.

One month later the Blues have jumped up the standings and reside in the second Western Conference wild card spot, six points behind the Dallas Stars in the Central Division with two games in-hand and tied for the fewest games played in the league. They are tied for the third-most points in the NHL since Jan. 3 with 21 points (10-4-1), which includes Thursday night’s fantastic 1-0 overtime win against the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning.

That win featured 32 saves by Binnington, who has overtaken Jake Allen for the No. 1 job in net and been one of the main factors in the Blues’ ascent. The netminder had only one taste of the NHL before this season, a relief appearance during the 2015-16 season, and has spent majority of his professional career in the AHL.

In 10 starts, Binnington has helped the Blues win eight of them, and since that shutout against Philadelphia on Jan. 7, he’s third in the NHL in even-strength save percentage (.954) and, per Natural Stat Trick, has posted a .885 high-danger save percentage — compared to the .796 HDSV% that Allen has recorded this season.

Then there’s the head coach.

This isn’t the first time Craig Berube has led a turnaround. While he had a longer runway to do it with the Flyers in 2013-14, he took over for Peter Laviolette after three games in that season and led them to a win away from the second round. The Blues are 17-13-2 since he replaced Mike Yeo in November and the win over the Lightning encapsulated what he’s tried to instill in his players since taking over.

“The composure that our team’s found, I think more than anything the frustration doesn’t creep in anymore,” Berube said via the Post-Dispatch. “I shouldn’t say anymore, but not as much. We had the three power plays in a row, we could’ve got real frustrated after that but we didn’t. And that’s important. Just stay with it and stay playing.”

It’s a remarkable turnaround considering just two months ago Berube and Brayden Schenn labeled the team as “fragile” after they were booed off home ice following a 6-1 defeat by the Vancouver Canucks. Vladimir Tarasenko apologized to the fans for the team’s poor play, and emotions boiled over in practice when Robert Bortuzzo and Zach Sanford scuffled. Then you had trade rumors putting Tarasenko, Colton Parayko and captain Alex Pietrangelo on the next flights out of town.

General manager Doug Armstrong said after firing Yeo that his team was just “not good enough” and that their core “have to get us out of this.” The Blues’ turnaround can’t all be credited to Binnington. That core has been dependable with some assistance. Tarasenko, Pietrangelo, Schenn, and Ryan O'Reilly have led the way, with Parayko and Oskar Sundqvist chipping in as well. This success has also come with David Perron out since mid-January and Jaden Schwarz goalless since Dec. 18.

This run is coming at a good time for the Blues in a wild West playoff race. The last place Los Angeles Kings are five points out of a wild card spot, so things are tight. But outside of the Chicago Blackhawks, the teams around St. Louis are struggling, especially Central foes the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild. The games in-hand are valuable at this point, but are useless if they are unable to take points from them.

Considering the bottom half of the West playoff picture changes nightly, the Blues are in a good place and trending upward at the right time.

“It’s fun to be a part of this group right now, and I think we’re headed in the right direction,” said Binnington. “We’re just going to continue on this path and keep going to make our push.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

How much will Blues miss Perron as he heads to IR?

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After a terribly disappointing start to the 2018-19 season the St. Louis Blues have been trying to play their way back into playoff contention in the wide open Western Conference. They went 7-4-1 in the month of January and because of that have climbed back to within three points of a Wild Card spot.

They are one of the log-jam of teams fighting for those two spots in an incredibly crowded field.

One of the driving forces behind that recent surge has been the play of veteran forward David Perron, currently back for his third different stint with the team after signing in St. Louis in free agency.

Unfortunately for the Blues, they announced on Thursday that Perron has been placed on injured reserve with an upper-body injury after missing each of the team’s past three games.

This is a tough break for the Blues because Perron has been on a white-hot tear for more than a month now having recorded at least a point in each of his past 13 games, and 14 out of his past 15. That stretch also helped him turn his season around after being one of the many players on the roster that slumped out of the gate.

As of Thursday he is the Blues’ second-leading scorer, tied for second in goals, and is one of only three players on the team that has eclipsed even the 30-point mark this season (Ryan O'Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko are the other two). So he’s not only one of the team’s leading producers, he is one of the few players on the team that is doing anything offensively.

Offense was a huge problem for the Blues a year ago as they finished 24th in the league in goals score. That was the single biggest reason they fell short of the playoffs by just a single point and their response was to go all in on adding offense over the summer. They traded for O’reilly and went big in free agency by signing Perron, Tyler Bozak, Patrick Maroon.

The results have been mixed at this point.

On one hand, O’Reilly and Perron have given the Blues exactly what they needed and expected. But the rest of the team — including some of their top returning players like Vladimir Tarasenko and Brayden Schenn — has badly regressed and as of Thursday the team is in a similar position offensively (21st in the league in goals per game).

At this point it is not yet known how long Perron will be sidelined, but their upcoming schedule is especially difficult. After playing Columbus on Saturday, the Blues at Florida, at Tampa Bay, and then have a back-to-back situation with the Nashville Predators all over the next week.

An already offensively starved team having to go through that stretch without one of the few productive players on the roster this season is going to have its hands full when it comes to staying in that playoff race.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

WATCH LIVE: Blues visit Kings on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

After defeating the Penguins 5-2 in LA on Saturday, Jan. 12, the Kings hit the road for a three-game trip to Minnesota, Dallas and Colorado. The Kings lost to the Wild 3-2 after a shootout but then beat the Stars 2-1. They entered Saturday with a chance to make it a four-game point streak, but lost 7-1 to Colorado, allowing six goals in the second period.

Saturday’s 7-1 loss at the Avs was the team’s worst this season, as they lost the game by six goals (worst differential this season) and allowed seven goals, tied for the most allowed this season.

St. Louis last played on Saturday, beating the Senators 3-2 to earn their fourth victory in their last six games (4-1-1 record). They will face the Kings on Monday before playing the Ducks in Anaheim on Wednesday. Then, like the Kings, will have the All-Star Break and their bye week before playing next on Saturday, Feb. 2 at Columbus. The Blues next home game is Saturday, Feb. 9 vs. Nashville.

The NHL’s hottest player – David Perron – missed Saturday’s win over Ottawa with an upper-body injury. Head coach Craig Berube called Perron day-to-day, but said he would likely not make the trip to California.

Entering Saturday, Perron had a point in 13 straight games (6G-10A), the NHL’s longest active point streak. He has 17 goals this year (had 16 in 70 games w/ VGK last season) and has 19 points (9G-10A) in the last 18 games after recording 16 points (8G-8A) in his first 27 games of the season.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 3 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: St. Louis Blues at Los Angeles Kings
Where: Staples Center
When: Monday, Jan. 21, 3 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
Live stream: You can watch the Blues-Kings stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLUES
Pat MaroonRyan O'ReillyVladimir Tarasenko
Jaden SchwartzBrayden SchennAlexander Steen
Samuel Blais – Oskar SundqvistJordan Kyrou
Mackenzie MacEachernIvan BarbashevJordan Nolan

Carl GunnarssonAlex Pietrangelo
Jay BouwmeesterColton Parayko
Vince DunnRobert Bortuzzo

Starting goalie: Jordan Binnington

KINGS
Ilya KovalchukAnze KopitarDustin Brown
Alex IafalloJeff CarterBrendan Leipsic
Carl HagelinAdrian KempeTyler Toffoli
Kyle CliffordNate ThompsonAustin Wagner

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty
Jake MuzzinAlec Martinez
Dion PhaneufPaul LaDue

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

NHL on NBCSN: Blues look to keep rolling against lowly Kings

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between theSt. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

It wasn’t too long ago that the Blues’ season appeared to be over. They weren’t scoring much, they couldn’t get a save and the losses just kept piling up. But since the start of January, they’ve managed to get their season back on the rails. Things started to change for the Blues when they inserted rookie goalie Jordan Binnington into their lineup.

Binnington has allowed two goals or fewer in each of his five decisions. He gave up two goals on 30 shots in Saturday’s victory over the Ottawa Senators. Even though the 25-year-old’s been rolling, it sounds like interim head coach Craig Berube will continue to use Binnington and veteran Jake Allen.

“I’m going to use both of them right now. I truly believe that’s the way to go,” Berube said. “Then we’ve got the break coming up and it gets really busy again, so we’ll need both of them ready.”

Since the start of the new year, the Blues have gone 6-3-1. This recent surge has allowed St. Louis to pull within five points of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

David Perron, who missed Saturday’s game against Ottawa, has been red-hot of late. Before getting hurt, Perron picked up at least one point in 13 consecutive games. The 30-year-old has 17 goals and 35 points in 45 contests.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 3 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Another player that’s turned his season around, is Vladimir Tarasenko. The 27-year-old is having a down year, but he’s been relatively productive over the last nine games, as he’s picked up eight points during that stretch.

As for the Kings, they’re currently in last place in the NHL standings. Los Angeles is coming off an embarrassing 7-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

“It was just a pathetic second period,” defenseman Drew Doughty said after the loss. “I really don’t even know what to say. Yeah, they played well but we just played poor. And we left our goalies out to dry again. And we’re sick of doing that. When we win games, we leave them out to dry. When we lose games, we leave them out to dry. It’s about time we play for them.”

The Kings have picked up just 42 points in 49 games this season. Since the start of the month, the Kings have gone 1-3-1 on the road, but they’re 2-2-0 at home. Even though they’re in the basement of the West, they’re still “only” 10 points back of the final Wild Card spot. By comparison, the Detroit Red Wings, who are last in the East, are 15 points back of the final Wild Card spot in their conference.

But let’s be honest, there’s no way the Kings can overcome a 10-point deficit. On top of being 10 points out, they’d have to leap over seven teams to make the postseason. That’s not happening.

You have to think that they have a full rebuild coming in their future.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.