Colton Parayko

Three observations on the Blues’ inconsistent start

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One of the fascinating things about the St. Louis Blues’ worst-to-first turnaround during the 2018-19 season was always going to be the lessons other teams in the league tried to take away from it. For example, how many teams off to sluggish starts this season would wrongly assume they could repeat what the Blues did while ignoring that the Blues were always built to win last season, and even during their dreadful start were always just one key player (a goalie) away from turning it around.

The Blues’ inability to get saves early in the season was the single biggest downfall for the team and was submarining an otherwise strong contender with a great defense. Once Jordan Binnington got his mid-season call-up and steadied the position everything came together and resulted in their first ever championship.

The biggest question after that was always going to be whether or not Binnington’s second half and postseason performance were something he could duplicate over a full season. As the Blues prepare to play their 10th game of the season on Thursday night against the Los Angeles Kings the early results have been a little mixed, and the team is once again off to an inconsistent start having won just four of their first nine games.

So what’s going on with the defending champs?

The goaltending hasn’t been there yet

Defensively the Blues are right about where you would expect them to be, sitting among the league’s best teams in preventing shots attempts and shots on goal. Despite that, they still find themselves in the bottom half of the league in goals against and just like early last season the goaltending has been the biggest issue.

So far the duo of Binnington and Jake Allen has an overall save percentage of just .893, a mark that places them 23rd in the NHL. And while that is better than what they were getting early last season it is still not good enough. Most of that is due to Allen’s two appearances (eight goals allowed on just 53 shots), but Binnington hasn’t really been all that consistent yet, either.

For as great as he played late in the regular season, there was nothing in his professional track record to suggest he was ever going to maintain that level of performance every year. To be fair, the Blues don’t really need that sort of performance to win. They are so good defensively and do such a great job preventing shots that even above average goaltending would make them an incredibly difficult team to score against. When Binnington has given them that level of play this year, the Blues have won. When he hasn’t — as has been in the case in three of his past four starts — the Blues have lost.

They’ve surrendered a lot of leads

A somewhat surprising development given their strong defensive structure, but it’s come down to big keys — the goaltending issue mentioned above with a little bit of bad luck added in.

  • In their season-opener on banner raising night they let an early 2-0 lead slip away against the Washington Capitals and turned it into a 3-2 loss.
  • One week later they had a 3-2 lead against Montreal with 28 minutes to play and surrendered four consecutive goals on their way to a 6-3 loss.
  • In their very next game after that they had a 2-0 lead in New York against the Islanders with five minutes to play and allowed three consecutive goals to lose in overtime.
  • In the game after that they had a 3-1 lead against Vancouver with 27 minutes to play, allowed two consecutive goals, and then lost a marathon six-round shootout where only one goal was scored.

There is an element of bad luck to losing three consecutive overtime/shootout games within the first nine games of a season, especially when one of those games comes down to an extended shootout. You’re basically flipping a coin at that point and hoping it comes up heads, while the game-tying goal against the Islanders came on a rather fluky redirection in front (the first and third goals in that game, though, were not good ones for Binnington).

It is way too early to be overly concerned

The big picture outlook is simple: the Blues have received some of the worst goaltending in the league so far, while the quartet of Ryan O'Reilly, Jaden Schwartz, Colton Parayko, and Justin Faulk have combined to score two total goals — a trend that almost certainly will not continue — and the team has still managed to play at a .611 points pace (a 100-point pace over 82 games). We are also talking about a team that is probably one or two bounces away from having one of the best records in the league despite having not yet played their best hockey yet. The defense is still there, the defense is still playing well, and there is still room for some of their top contributors to produce more. As long as the goaltending doesn’t completely fall into a crater this is still a team that has all the necessary ingredients to get back on track.

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.

Blues gift Laila Stanley Cup ring

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season begins with Wednesday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals when the Blues raise their 2019 Stanley Cup banner. Coverage begins at 6:30p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

There’s no denying that Laila Anderson was one of the emotional forces behind the St. Louis Blues’ run to the Stanley Cup last spring. Anderson, who battled a rare immune disorder called HLH, was going to playoff games, she was building relationships with players and she even got to lift the Stanley Cup on the ice after the Blues won it all. It feels like she’s part of the team because she probably is. Well, the Blues organization showed their appreciation to Laila by giving her another incredible gift.

When Alexander Steen and Colton Parayko showed up to Laila’s family home, the young Blues fan and her mom had no idea why they were there. Steen and Parayko were there to deliver a special package. Yup, Laila got her very own Stanley Cup ring from the Blues.

What a moment:

“She’s special to us,” Blues defender Colton Parayko said of Anderson back in June. “She’s taught me a lot of life lessons outside of hockey. We’re excited to see her get better and obviously see her at more of the games.”

To see the length in which the players and organization are going to make Laila feel like part of the family is so special. This is such an awesome story. Hopefully it inspired other teams to go the extra mile for some of their loyal fans that are battling through difficult times.

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.

Previewing the 2019-20 St. Louis Blues

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, looking at whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or worse: The Blues are bringing back mostly the same team that won the Stanley Cup just a few months ago and that is generally a pretty good sign for a team’s chances. Whether or not they are any better or worse depends on your perspective and what your expectations are. There is a very good chance they finish as a better regular season team, but end up doing worse in the playoffs for no other reason than winning the Stanley Cup two years in a row is a brutally difficult task. If they finish with, let’s say, 105 or 106 points but get eliminated in Round 2 or 3 a year after winning the Stanley Cup are Blues fans going to be disappointed with that result? Going to guess they will not be.

Strengths: Their defensive play. They are a lockdown team that is one of the best in the league at limiting shot attempts against and as long as they get competent goaltending are one of the toughest teams in the league to score against. They have two great blue liners in Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko, do not really have a true weakness anywhere on their defense, and have one of the best shutdown centers in the league in Ryan O'Reilly. Their other strength: Having one of the league’s elite goal-scorers in Vladimir Tarasenko. Since the start of the 2014-15 season only Alex Ovechkin (236) and John Tavares (183) have more goals than Tarasenko’s 182. Tarasenko has also played in fewer games than both during that stretch.

Weaknesses: It is probably more of a question mark than a “weakness,” but what will Jordan Binnington be able to do over a full season? His call-up was a turning point in the season and he fixed the team’s biggest early season flaw. But can he play at that level from the start of the year and maintain through the playoffs? That is the big unanswered question for the Blues entering the season and it will go a long way toward determining what they are capable of.

[MORE: Three questions | Under Pressure | X-Factor]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Craig Berube has been behind the team’s bench for less than a year and in that time the Blues went 38-19-6 during the regular season (that is a 106 point pace over 82 games) and then won the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. His coaching hot seat rating is a 1 out of 10. It is probably even lower than that.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Robert Thomas, Jaden Schwartz, and Robby Fabbri are three players to watch.

The final numbers for Thomas’ rookie season do not really jump off the page, but keep in mind that he was 19 years old and playing meaningful minutes for a championship team. That is impressive, and even though it did not always result in goals or points you could see the potential he has and why the Blues are so excited about what he is capable of in the NHL. Does he take a big step in year two?

Schwartz had what was probably the worst regular season of his career offensively, scoring just 11 goals in 69 games, a massive drop from what he normally produces. It was almost entirely the result of a 6 percent shooting percentage that was entirely driven by a lot of bad luck. Every other aspect of his performance was right in line with what the Blues expect and it was only a matter of time until he bounced back. He did just that in the playoffs with 12 goals in 26 games, exceeding his regular season total. There is no reason to believe he will not be a 25-30 goal scorer again this season.

Fabbri is going to be fascinating just to see if he can get his career back on track. He is talented and had such a promising start four years ago only to be robbed of three years due to injuries. Can he get some better injury luck and still become the player the Blues hoped he would be?

Playoffs or lottery: As long as Binnington does not have a massive regression there is no reason this is not a playoff team again. They were built to win a year ago and the slow start in the first half was simply the result of not having any goaltending. Once they fixed that, combined with the improvement they saw under Berube, this team was a machine. They are not going away.

More
Blues turn back the clock with alternate jersey
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

PHT Stanley Cup Tracker: Cup heads to the Canadian prairies

Associated Press

The PHT Stanley Cup tracker will keep tabs on how the St. Louis Blues spend their summer celebrating.

We’re back once again and on the trail of the Stanley Cup, which is traveling around the world this summer in the hands of the St. Louis Blues.

According to the Blues, the Cup will travel nearly 29,000 miles across three continents and five countries over the next two months.

This week, the Cup was in Western Canada, visiting head coach Craig Berube’s’ quaint hometown in Alberta and in Regina, where Brayden Schenn and Co. took the mug to Mosaic Stadium, the home of the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The Cup made its way to Busch Stadium two weeks ago as several of the Blues players hoisted it in front of thousands of St. Louis Cardinals fans.

And here’s Conn Smythe winner Ryan O'Reilly throwing out the game’s first pitch.

Brayden Schenn got his day with the Cup in Saskatoon on Friday and took it right to the place where his father has worked for 28 years as a firefighter.

Schenn was seen wearing a firefighter helmet during the Blues’ parade with the Cup back in June.

“You always think if I win the Cup, you put the thoughts in your head of what I would do with it,” Schenn told the team’s website. “My dad is a firefighter, so this was important to me. I’m trying to do my best sharing it with a lot of people today.”

He also took it Royal University Hospital where he met with sick children, including 16-year-old John Bossaer.

The Cup then headed a few hours south, where Tyler Bozak and Jaden Schwartz shared their day with the Cup with the city of Regina on Saturday.

The duo planted a Blues flag on the Saskatchewan Legislative Building.

They then headed to where people where melons on their heads: Mosaic Stadium.

There, they paraded the trophy in front of thousands of Saskatchewan Roughriders fans who had assembled for the Canadian Football League’s game against the Calgary Stampeders. There wasn’t much to cheer for during the football game for fans — the Roughriders lost 37-10 — but Bozak and Schwartz, along with Schenn, got the crowd into a frenzy.

Earlier in the week, the Cup was a province over in Alberta.

Craig Berube, fresh off a three-year extension as bench boss with the Blues, took the Cup back to his hometown of Calahoo, Alta.

It’s not a big place — the thriving metropolis boasts a population of just 85 — but they were all out to congratulate Berube.

“We all grew up here,” Berube told the team’s website. “My dad and brothers lived on this farm or just down the road. We were grain farmers, cattle farmers, we had it all here, that’s how we grew up. It’s changed now, but still my dad lives here with his brothers and my uncle built a 9-hole golf course on the property over there.

“Every summer I come back once or twice, and when we play Edmonton I come back and visit if I have the chance. But this is the most special trip so far for me.”

His mother, meanwhile, was just as thrilled.

“I never dreamt it. Unreal,” said Ramona Berube, Craig’s mother. “I never thought of something like this (happening). It’s just great for everybody who was down at the arena to see it. You can see how much it means to everybody.”

Colton Parayko, meanwhile, got his day with the Cup in St. Alberta, a city northwest of Edmonton.

Parayko’s day also included an emotional moment as he, along with his grandfather and family, toasted his grandma, who died last November after a battle with cancer.

According to Parayko, a deal was made between grandmother and grandson that if the latter made the NHL one day, the former would take a shot of peach schnapps at her home in St. Albert any time he scored.

With her passing, the family honored the tradition on Wednesday.

“She was a special girl and she means a lot to me and my whole family,” Parayko said. “With me not being in St. Albert here and playing in St. Louis, the shots were a way we could frequently connect (during hockey season). In the summer when I came home, she begged me to score a few extra ones for her.”

“We had such a wonderful life together. I wish she was here to see this.”

Meanwhile, the mayor of Boston, Martin Walsh, made a nice gesture to Laila Anderson this week, congratulating her and the Blues for their Stanley Cup win.

“Dear Laila – We have never met, so let me begin by introducing myself. My name is Marty and I am a passionate, lifelong Boston Bruins fan,” Walsh wrote. “I am writing to you because a couple of weeks ago, I was at home, watching pre-game coverage of game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals, when I saw a story about you, your love of the St. Louis Blues, how the Blues players’ love you in return, and how you inspried an entire city and fan base. After watching the segment, I turned to my partner, Lorrie, and said, ‘This stinks! I love the Bruins and I want them to win! … But I really want Laila to win, too!’

“I don’t know if you or your family plan to come back to Boston anytime soon, but if you should return please let me know as I would be very glad to meet you and your family and show you some more of Boston. I certainly can’t promise you a cooler experience than standing on the Garden ice kissing the Stanley Cup, but Boston’s a great city and would love to have you back.”


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Blues fan Laila Anderson gets moment with Stanley Cup

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St. Louis Blues superfan Laila Anderson has enjoyed quite a ride while inspiring her team to its first-ever Stanley Cup victory.

Despite Game 7 being in Boston, Anderson was there, and she didn’t just get to see the Blues win it all. She even got a moment with the Stanley Cup, and fittingly, her buddy Colton Parayko helped her give the Stanley Cup a kiss.

This completes quite the ride for the 11-year-old, who’s battling a rare disease called HLH. Anderson’s had a bobblehead made in her image, and even had the chance to pump the team and the crowd before Game 3 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final in St. Louis.

The NHL posted wonderful footage of the moment on Twitter:

While PHT’s own Sean Leahy was on the ice to capture the moment:

Even if your team didn’t win it all this season – even if you root for the Bruins – it’s hard not to feel happy for Laila Anderson. Really, moments like these are what it’s all about.

MORE FROM THE BLUES WINNING THE STANLEY CUP

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.