31 Takes: Blues seem back on track, but questions remain

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SAINT PAUL, MN - NOVEMBER 02: MacKenzie MacEachern #28 celebrates his goal with teammate Oskar Sundqvist #70 of the St. Louis Blues against the Minnesota Wild during the game at the Xcel Energy Center on November 2, 2019 in Saint Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)
Things are looking up for the champs. (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)

On Saturday night, the St. Louis Blues barely beat the Minnesota Wild, requiring a little help and overtime to pull out the road win.

That gave the reigning Cup winners their fourth win in a row, sixth in the last seven, and points from nine of the last 10. It also broadened their lead atop the Central Division. Not bad. Maybe what you’d expect with how well they played after Craig Berube took over last year.

But: There’s a “but” with all this. It was only about a week ago where we were saying they didn’t look that good. At that time, they were 5-3-3 — on pace for 97 points, not bad but not good either — got smoked by the Bruins, and got some very bad “probably out for the season” news on the guy who’s their only proven top-flight scoring threat.

Then they win four straight. Albeit against Detroit, Columbus, and Minnesota twice. Albeit with three of those games requiring overtime. Albeit while getting outplayed in all but one of them. And suddenly that 97-point pace is looking more like 115, which obviously is elite.

So what happened? Well, again, they played four straight games against teams with no finishing ability, and the win before they lost to Boston was against the Kings. Which is going to help. That’s not a knock, because you can only play the teams you’re scheduled to play and beating the teams you’re supposed to beat is what good teams do. But it is reality.

Back when the Blues were really struggling, starting out the year 3-2-3 (a 92-point pace), you had to say they deserved it. They had a xGF share in all situations hovering around 43 percent. They were giving up a ton of quantity and quality, and the goaltending was quite bad, which meant things weren’t being propped up at all.

The latter factor has been really tightened up in the last seven games but it hasn’t been overwhelming: .897 to start is bad, but .915 since isn’t world-beating. The argument with the Blues last year was that their unsustainably hot goaltending was what they needed to get back to where they “should have been” if they’d played well all year, and that if the Binnington/Allen combo was merely passable, the team would be fine (even if they were dramatically overpaying the goalies to be average).

On the balance of the season, they’ve been about .906, right around the league average. So what’s interesting is that whereas the Blues under Berube were an elite team in terms of both quality and quantity of attempts, that hasn’t been the case this year. In fact, they’re more in “Senators-and-Sharks” territory through 15 games. And that hasn’t improved as much as you might think

Again, we’re talking a roughly 43 percent share of xG through eight games, but in the seven since they’ve only improved it to a little more than 46 percent. Better, but if that was their whole-season number their number would still be between... Detroit and Edmonton.

The real thing to keep in mind with these guys, then, is that the offense is outperforming its expected-goals number by a wide margin. While they’ve conceded five more goals than expected (not ideal), they’ve scored almost 13 more than expected to patch over the warning signs.

You have to believe, based on the quality they showed last year, that this is just a classic “Cup Hangover” and they have it within that room to get things back on track. This winning run does paper over a lot of the problems they need to deal with, but it also buys them time to figure things out.

It’s important to remember that there’s a reason the Blues have three regulation wins in the last 11 games. That said, there are worse positions to be in than “playing poorly but still having the fifth-best points percentage in the league.”

31 Takes

Anaheim Ducks: Yup, the Ducks look better under Dallas Eakins than they did under Randy Carlyle but that’s not necessarily an endorsement, y’know?

Arizona Coyotes: In my opinion, you should use skates where the blade stays on. Just my thoughts.

Boston Bruins: A fun fact is that if everyone on the Bruins who’s not David Pastrnak (13 goals on 43 shots) were their own team, they would be shooting 8.3 percent. That wouldn’t even be 25th in the league. That’s how bad a lot of other teams have been offensively this year.

Buffalo Sabres: This is gonna shock you, but for the second year in a row, it seems like maybe the Sabres AREN’T the best team in the league.

Calgary Flames: Noooo dont suspend Milan Lucic he’s so good ahaha

Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes really do have it in them to score seven in a game or allow five in a game and there’s no one to stop it.

Chicago: Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have been two of the worst defensemen in the league over the past two seasons but yeah you gotta healthy-scratch Erik Gustafsson, who’s been your best defender since the start of last season.

Colorado Avalanche: The Avs are on a four-game losing streak and only have three points from the last six games. It’s almost like losing Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog put them in a tough situation.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Columbus is also on a four-game losing streak, but this time its opponents have taken points in EIGHT straight. Two regulation wins in 14 tries for this group, and it’s given up 50 goals. Woof.

Dallas Stars: It says a lot about Dallas’s start that going 6-1 without an overtime game in the last seven only got them to “a game under .500.” Brutal.

Detroit Red Wings: I mean, honestly, who cares? Is anyone doing absolutely anything with this team at all?

Edmonton Oilers: “If the Oilers do nothing but play .500 hockey the rest of the way with no loser points (unlikely) they would finish with 89 points.” That parenthetical is a weird one, you gotta say.

Florida Panthers: Feels like people should be talking more about the fact that the Panthers only have three regulation losses this season, and one of them was the classic “last game of the road trip” blowout in Vancouver that’s skewing their stats.

Los Angeles Kings: Is it more embarrassing for Chicago to lose to the Kings or the Kings to let Chicago take them to OT?

Minnesota Wild: I could really do without the ref-blaming when the freakin’ Wild lose.

Montreal Canadiens: So… things are going well for the big club this year, I guess.

Nashville Predators: Good idea, maybe not the best execution on the Winter Classic jersey. It’s like a 6.5/10.

New Jersey Devils: Always good when the guy you’re trying to keep around as a UFA this summer is doing the “Oh are you booing me now?” goal celebration at home. Devils should trade him at the deadline.

New York Islanders: A nine-game winning streak in which they give up just 16 while getting outshot by 31? Y’know, sure. The things they do well lead to a 106 PDO.

New York Rangers: Yeah the Rangers don’t have enough disappointing-but-high-drafted Finns who hate their organizations already, right?

Ottawa Senators: I’m assuming “OK” here is a relative term, since I saw this guy get KOed on his feet and faceplant on the ice like 15 hours before I wrote this.

Philadelphia Flyers: An 11-round shootout. That’s way worse than just having a play-til-a-goal 3-on-3 OT.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins are 0-fer on their last 20 power plays, which in my opinion is not good to do.

San Jose Sharks: As of this writing Peter DeBoer has not been fired and I do not get it. They’re minus-22 at 5-on-5 this year, which is certainly bad luck (94 PDO) and predictably bad goaltending, but they’re also a well-below-50 all-situations xGF team in the league.

St. Louis Blues: This is the kind of analysis that doesn’t serve anyone.

Tampa Bay Lightning: This is a smart team but at some point do you have to start thinking about a big change here?

Toronto Maple Leafs: This is from almost a week ago but Mike Babcock continues to be right that the team’s problems aren’t effort, grit, etc. The problem is Cody Ceci’s getting 23 minutes a night. The problem is Tyson Barrie isn’t living up to the hype. The problem is the goalies can’t make a save. The problem is they’re shooting under 9 percent at 5-on-5. The problem is John Tavares is hurt. People want to blame this on team construction but in reality guys aren’t being put in a position to succeed.

Vancouver Canucks: This offense looks like Tampa’s did last year: They score five goals or more every other night. It’s wild.

Vegas Golden Knights: Hm to lose to a team like Winnipeg with a two-goal lead at home? That seems bad.

Washington Capitals: John Carlson’s like “Nice to get some help for once.”

Winnipeg Jets: If Byfuglien knew he needed surgery and didn’t want to play, why not just get the surgery and go on LTIR? What a mess.

Play of the Weekend

Good LORD, Nico. Not a bad way to get your first of the year.

Gold Star Award

Gotta love David Rittich. Picks up the 43-save shutout against Columbus, but you never know which Rittich will show up. He now has seven games of .929 or better, and five of .871 or worse. In his only other appearance, he was exactly .900. Sure, why not?

Minus of the Weekend

You thought Aaron Dell couldn’t get worse than his .886 last season, but he’s at .878 right now and trending down. Unreal.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “M1b3S” wants to move money around.

To San Jose:

- Carey Price (10.5M)

- Something comparable to Mike Keane, hard to make it work without retention

To Montreal:

- Martin Jones (5.75M)

- Ryan Merkley (blue chip prospect with some attitude problem but with a great ceiling)

- Timo Meier (5.65M) ( main piece of the deal while not playing well this year, power forward that can play both wing)


You gotta say yes!

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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