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On Saturday I called everyone who is not in a divisional playoff spot in the West mediocre at best.
That was right before the St. Louis Blues swept the Predators in a home-and-home. The wins ran their streak to six straight and they’ve now won 10 of their last 13, as well as 12 of the last 17. They also beat Tampa 1-0 in OT earlier in the week, which is, y’know, really good.
So you can definitely say it’s been a strong 2019 for these guys, as they have the third-best points percentage in the league and have clawed their way from “we’re gonna trade everything that isn’t nailed down” up to a playoff spot. Which on some level makes sense, because the Blues were widely considered one of the success stories of the summer, with a number of free agent adds that even the smartest hockey people figured would solidify their chances in what figured to be a tough Central division.
When the Blues made their coaching change earlier in the year, canning Mike Yeo and replacing him with an interim guy in Craig Berube, it felt a lot like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic after it had already hit the ocean floor. But since the turn of the calendar, the Blues aren’t just racking up a ton of wins; more importantly, they look great doing it.
In 2019, they have the second-best possession adjusted numbers in the league and the best shot share in the NHL (getting nearly 60 percent of all shots on goal in their games). They’ve also had a high-end penalty difference. No surprise, then, that they also have the top expected-goals percentage for all situations in the NHL over the last six weeks.
You cannot, however, broaden that out to “since Yeo was fired.” Because in their first few weeks under Berube, the Blues were still quite bad. They went 8-9-1 from his hiring to the end of 2018, only slightly outshot their opponents in all situations (plus-2) but couldn’t score and couldn’t keep the puck out of their own net.
Fair to say, then, that it took a while to learn the system or however you want to put it, and that things are going much better now. But as always, we have to ask, “How sustainable is the success?” Based on all the strong underlyings in the last 40 or so days, it would seem that the answer is “very,” but the concern you simply have to always carry in the back of your mind with these guys is the goaltending.
No doubt about it, the guys in front of Jordan Binnington — who’s gotten the lion’s share of the starts in the new year, appearing in 11 of the 17 games — are making his and Jake Allen’s jobs easier. They don’t face a ton of quantity or quality these days. But can it last? With Allen, who on Sunday appeared in his first game in February, you’re always going to have to wonder about it. Especially because he was only okay against the Preds yesterday. He might be the Rick Ankiel of St. Louis hockey.
With Binnington, we just don’t have the track record. This is a 25-and-a-half-year-old goalie with very little high-level performance on his resume, suddenly playing .930 hockey in the NHL. I am dubious that he can keep it up, but there’s also no reason to suspect that, given how well St. Louis is playing overall, they couldn’t get by perfectly fine with .920 or .915 goaltending.
Even if they’d only ever gotten slightly above-average save percentages, their goal margin in 2019 would still have been considerable because in this calendar year their shot difference is an astonishing plus-132. That’s almost eight a game. And that’s a lot of breathing room for your goalies to come back to earth.
On the balance of the whole season it’s hard to argue this isn’t the seventh-best team in the West or that they’ve just been lucky of late. But there should be a bit of skepticism that they’re suddenly ready to advance to the second round or be counted among the Western Conference’s elite. Maybe they’re safer in a group by themselves with the Stars, who seem to have figured it out a bit these days.
All you can say for sure is that, if they keep this up, or anything close, you don’t wanna play ‘em in the first round.
Anaheim Ducks: Only about three years too late on the Carlyle firing.
Arizona Coyotes: Hey, yeah, I forgot about that Galchenyk trade. He only has 11 goals this year. Maybe Arizona is just a talent black hole.
Boston Bruins: Have you heard of this Bergeron guy? Pretty good. Pretty good.
Buffalo Sabres: The goalies gave them something to work with, but then also it was against Detroit so that’s not so big of a deal.
Calgary Flames: The Flames are probably trying to figure out a way to get Neal on the LTIR for losing some teeth. Maybe for the next four years.
Carolina Hurricanes: Wow a billionaire complaining about an unfair arena agreement. Crazy. Unforeseeable.
Chicago: Corey Crawford is working hard to come back but god, that’s got me worried.
Colorado Avalanche: The Avs aren’t gonna trade any big futures. They might add some fringe players to improve their depth, or make a bigger long-term deal, but big rentals are out of the question.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Cam Atkinson has been so good the last few years. Few will discuss it.
Dallas Stars: Ben Bishop on IR is potentially reallllllllllllllllly bad news for the Stars.
Detroit Red Wings: The Dads are Mad.
Edmonton Oilers: Always good when your coach tells the media, “I don’t have the answers.” Especially when he’s the coach you hired mid-season to replace the coach you previously thought didn’t have the answers. He was specifically referring to making the players care, but guess what buddy: I could care all I wanted in the NHL and not be able to keep up, and it’s pretty much the same with half their roster.
Florida Panthers: They’re gonna be just good enough to not be particularly close to the playoffs and get also still get a less-helpful draft pick. Classic.
Los Angeles Kings: The Kings are bad. Really bad.
Minnesota Wild: The Wild have a decent young line. What else do they have up front besides that?
Montreal Canadiens: People are talking about this being a Dale Weise trade, but it’s the Canadiens giving up on a good low-end defender in Dave Schlemko.
Nashville Predators: Cody McLeod already earning that paycheck, baby!
New Jersey Devils: Fans in New Jersey still aren’t over Zach Parise leaving? Why?
New York Islanders: The Islanders came back from down two goals again. Which is probably why they have one regulation win in the last six games.
New York Rangers: Oh no, the knives are out now that they hurt Adam Graves’s feelings.
Ottawa Senators: You gotta trade all the pending UFAs then overspend on a handful of guys this summer. Like, what are we talking about?
Philadelphia Flyers: Yeah playing the Ducks makes it hard to be bad.
Pittsburgh Penguins: It’s really incredible that Sid Crosby has now played more games than Mario Lemieux, who played into his 40s. I know there are extenuating circumstances on both sides here but man oh man. That’s a lot.
San Jose Sharks: Great question here. *checks the team save percentage* Yeah.
St. Louis Blues: Brayden Schenn kicks ass.
Tampa Bay Lightning: I’m generally against Black Third Jerseys as a trend, but I think the new Lightning jerseys are really good because they’re so simple.
Toronto Maple Leafs: This is not the kind of player the Leafs need.
Vancouver Canucks: Well they just keep winning, I guess. Not sure where it gets ‘em but that’s fine.
Vegas Golden Knights: Weird how it’s hard to score as much as you used to, even if you’re really good, once your center stops scoring on 1 in every 4 shots he takes.
Washington Capitals: This team has some serious deficiencies and has for a while. The Cup really covered that up, so I bet they don’t mind as much.
Winnipeg Jets: When your whole thing is that you score a ton of goals and Milan Lucic has way more goals than you in the calendar year, that’s bad.
Gold Star Award
Kevin Labanc hat trick right when I was starting to think he needed to pick it up. You’re welcome, Kevin.
Minus of the Weekend
Randy Carlyle finished his season with his team getting outscored by 56 in 56 games. And they had way-above-average goaltending all year. That’s an incredible accomplishment.
Play of the Weekend
This is some Keystone Kops stuff but it’s a fun goal with great hand-eye by Bennett to even make contact.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “Funk21” has one I probably do if I’m the Leafs.
Better get the old snow shovel back from Homer, huh?
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Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.
(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)