By Patrick Kelly
A little over two years ago, the Blues were in a situation to where they find themselves now. During the 2017-18 season, the Blues were in the top three in the Central, sitting a point behind the Predators and Jets while having a seven-point cushion for a playoff spot. The Blues would proceed to lose nine of their next 10 games. When the dust, settled the Blues were on the outside looking in, sitting four points behind the Kings for the last wild-card spot. The Blues were able to gain back some ground, but when the season ended they fell just short of the NHL’s second season.
The Blues took what had happened to them the previous year and were hell bent on not repeating the same mistake. In late January 2019, the Blues had fought back some of the ground they had lost at the beginning of the season but were still three points out of a playoff spot. That’s when they turned up the pressure, blowing past some of the best teams in the NHL for a franchise best 11-game win streak. The Blues sling-shotted their way forward in the standings and were in a playoff spot with a 10-point buffer.
Now, after two years of polar opposite stretches, the Blues are right back where they were but with a few changes. They still have the top spot in the West even though it is shared with the Stars and with the Avalanche not far behind. The Blues have dropped 10 of their last 12, three of which have come in overtime. While both the Stars and Avalanche have been gaining ground on the Blues, it hasn’t come without a price. The Avalanche were already short starting goalie Philipp Grubauer as well as forwards Matt Calvert, Colin Wilson and Nazem Kadri when Monday night Mikko Rantanen went hard into the boards in the Avalanche game against the Lightning. Rantanen immediately let out a loud scream as he hit the boards and clutched his left shoulder. It was later reported that he sustained an upper-body injury and will miss 6-8 weeks, basically ruling him out for the rest of the regular season.
The Blues will hopefully get a small boost Tuesday night when they play the New Jersey Devils. The Devils are on the outside looking in and with the trade deadline approaching they have already started preparing for the offseason. By trading Blake Coleman and Andy Greene, they received a 2020 first- and 2021 second-round pick as well as prospect Nolan Foote. The problem the Blues could run into Tuesday night is the youth of the Devils. With the likes of Niko Hischer and Jack Hughes, the Devils are a team that can never be overlooked especially since they have only lost to the Lightning and Capitals once this year, respectively.
Considering the Blues’ recent struggles, head coach Craig Berube has made some big changes to the forward lines. For the first time this year, Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron will be split up. O’Reilly will be on the top line with Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn. Meanwhile, Perron will stay with Zach Sanford with Robert Thomas getting a well-deserved spot in the top six again.
The third line will be Alexander Steen joined by Tyler Bozak and Jordan Kyrou. Last but not least will be Sammy Blais, Oskar Sundqvist and Ivan Barbashev, all of whom contributed big on the team’s bottom six in last year’s playoffs. Jordan Binnington will get the start in net. Although he didn’t get the win on Sunday he played much better, only letting in two goals and stopping 22 of 24 Nashville shots. Despite this Binnington has had subpar numbers in his last 10 games with a 3-4-3 record to go with a .880 save percentage and 3.48 goals against average.
After this game against an Eastern Conference team, the Blues go right back to the tough schedule of the West with the Coyotes coming to town Thursday. The Blues then head back on the road for two divisional games in Dallas on Friday and Minnesota on Sunday. The Blues are getting down to the witching hour of the regular season and despite their play getting better as of late, it needs to start being reflected in the win column if they expect to earn a favorable spot in the playoffs.