The St. Louis Blues might be the NHL’s perfect example of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The team recently set a new franchise record by winning its 11th consecutive game, a thrilling OT victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. They’ve quickly become one of the league’s contenders heading into the playoffs, but it’s important to remember how different the story was just six weeks ago.
Six weeks ago, the Blues were a total garbage fire. That’s not an exaggeration. They were hanging out in the basement of the NHL and were struggling to just stay above the very bottom of the standings.
Their odds to win the Stanley Cup may help tell the story.
What a wild six weeks for the St. Louis Blues
Their Stanley Cup odds (via @ESPNStatsInfo)
1/7 300-1 T-25th
1/14 100-1 T-19th
1/21 100-1 T-22nd
1/28 100-1 T-22nd
2/4 100-1 T-22nd
2/11 40-1 T-14th
Now 10-1 T-6th
— Emily Kaplan (@emilymkaplan) February 18, 2019
Let’s talk more about how insane this up-and-down season has been for the Blues.
Prior to the 2018-19 season, the Blues were considered a sneaky contender after they made some significant offseason moves. Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, and Tyler Bozak were brought in to shake up a lineup that was under performing. Expectations were high. We even labeled them as the winners of the offseason.
And, just like everyone expected, the Blues crashed and burned. Jake Allen looked lost between the pipes. The defense wasn’t playing as a unit and allowed opposing teams to walk in and pepper the net with quality chances. The offense was inconsistent, and even Vladimir Tarasenko looked like a shell of the player who was once considered a lethal offensive weapon. O’Reilly was the only player on the roster who resembled an actual hockey player worthy of his salary.
The losses kept piling up and head coach Mike Yeo was eventually shown the door. The Blues hit rock bottom and even spent some time as the 31st team in the NHL, literally the worst of the worst. The team appeared to be imploding.
— Charlie Marlow (@CharlieMarlow_) December 10, 2018
Gradually, the overall level of the team’s play improved. But they still ended the month of January with some .500 hockey, closing out the month with a 2-2-1 record in their last five games before a lengthy week-long break. Upon returning in February, the Blues won some games. And then won some more games. And then rattled off 11 straight.
What changed? How did the Blues go from a team that we even said should start selling and make a major trade to one that’s in the conversation for the top spot in the Central Division?
Some were quick to suggest the firing of Yeo was the answer. That may not be the case. At least, not at first.
In 19 games under Mike Yeo the Blues were 7-9-3 for 17 points
In 20 games under Craig Berube the Blues are 9-10-1 for 19 points
They suck no matter who coaches them.#STLBlues
— Augie Nash (@AugieNash) January 6, 2019
That criticism was valid at the time, but may look a bit silly now. One change Berube immediately made (one which took some time to unfold and develop) was an overhaul of the team’s defensive approach. Yeo had the team using a defensive scheme that was labeled “extinct” by an anonymous defenseman. The Blues were trying to play a man-on-man scheme that forced the players to track all around the ice. This led to some wide open shooting lanes and a real issue with fatigue. That approach was nixed following Yeo’s termination.
Another turning point – and perhaps the most obvious turning point – was when Jordan Binnington was given a shot to hold down the Blues’ goal.
The rookie goaltender joined the Blues from the AHL and assumed the backup job behind Allen. As Allen struggled (and that’s putting it nicely), Binnington gradually saw more time. He appeared in two games in December and allowed four goals on 25 shots. His workload increased in January and he made the most of his opportunity. He closed out January and entered the team’s bye week with a 5-1-1 record, a 1.57 GAA, and a .936 save percentage.
While Binnington deserved a ton of praise for his January efforts, the Blues were also rounding into a more cohesive unit in front of him. They were skating with a purpose once again. They were fighting more along the boards, closing down in their defensive zone and looking like they actually cared about what happened out on the ice.
That leads to a February where the Blues have been unbeatable. They’ve toppled some great teams during their streak, including the Tampa Bay Lightning, Nashville Predators, and Toronto Maple Leafs. They’ve played masterfully in all areas of the ice.
It’s one thing to win 11 straight games like the #STLBlues have. But to allow a total of 16 goals in those games is arguably more impressive.
— David Satriano (@davidsatriano) February 20, 2019
Binnington has been insane in February, posting a 1.36 GAA and a .949 save percentage. He has stopped 204 of the 211 shots thrown his way. When talking intangibles, something hockey fans and analysts love to do, the Blues are playing with more confidence and determination with Binnington patrolling the crease.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) February 20, 2019
Blues fans have watched the streak unfold with cautious optimism. The Blues have a long and storied history of building up expectations only to collapse under the weight. This time things feel a little different. The Blues’ horrific chunk of 2018-19 makes the win streak feel extra sweet. Fans are blasting Gloria! (the team’s new victory song) on a loop and feel thrilled to have something to cheer about.
The streak also shifts the trade deadline narrative. Instead of being obvious sellers, the Blues might stand pat as whatever they’ve been doing lately is clearly working. They could even make a minor addition should the current injuries to David Perron and Carl Gunnarsson prove to be long-term issues.
The Blues have been a perfect illustration of just how wild the swings in the NHL can be over the course of a season. Their unpredictability could make them an opponent to avoid in the postseason.
Home ice didn't end up helping Nashville against Winnipeg last spring in Game 7 but I would suggest top spot in the Central Division this year means a very important thing: avoiding the Blues in Round 1. Unless of course, the Blues win the division. https://t.co/qbYU1zA3S9
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) February 20, 2019
Regardless of what happens next, this is a season Blues fans won’t soon forget.