The St. Louis Blues head into this Christmas break with a record of 17-9-5 and 39 points. They are tied for second in the Central Division, just one point behind the Minnesota Wild, who they will soon play in the Winter Classic.
This team has been able to weather a storm of COVID issues and injuries; their record being this solid speaks volumes about the players and coaches. Organizational depth is so vital to success, and Blues general manager (GM) Doug Armstrong has done a fabulous job in that regard. Let’s get into the four biggest season takeaways heading into this short holiday break.
The Russian Line Is Incredible
The clear-cut best line that the Blues have featured three Russians with Vladimir Tarasenko, Pavel Buchnevich, and Ivan Barbashev. They’ve been tremendous in nearly every game they have played in. The chemistry with this line is off the charts, and it’s unlikely they get broken up anytime soon.
The Buchnevich trade always felt like a steal of a deal for the Blues, but it may be even more than that. They were able to sign him to an extension of four years at an annual average value (AAV) of $5.8 million. His size, skill, and production have been just what the Blues needed to replace forwards that they lost from last season. Buchnevich has 29 points in 29 games this season and has been a two-way force for this team. He is the perfect winger opposite of Tarasenko, as he can shoot it and pass it, two things that are vital to this line.
We have also seen the production breakout for Barbashev this season, and it’s been a joy to watch. He’s always been a fantastic and useful bottom-six forward, but he’s taken his game to a whole new level with this line. He is now two points away from surpassing his career-high of 26 points, which he hit twice in 2018-19 and 2019-20. There is no doubt that he has never played with two skill players on a consistent basis like Buchnevich and Tarasenko, and it’s helped him immensely.
Tarasenko is back, and there is no doubt that he returned to a semblance of the player that he once was prior to all of the injuries. He has 29 points in 31 games, including 12 goals. Before this season, he had seven goals in his last 34 games over the last two seasons. He looks confident and has certainly played a better two-way game than ever before. This line is the key to success for this team, and there’s no doubt about it.
Berube Should Get a Contract Extension
This could be a shaky topic to discuss, given the back-and-forth nature of his tenure after the Stanley Cup run in 2019. Lots of folks had him on the hot season after the Blues’ brutal month of November, but I never thought that was fair. His contract is up after this season, so the Blues will need to sit down and get this done unless they want a change of style.
The record speaks for itself with Craig Berube, as he is 124-67-30 with a points percentage of .629. Not to mention, he’s done a fine job this season with the amount of player shuffling in the lineup. Despite the shuffling of players, they’ve stayed afloat, which is difficult to do with the schedule they’ve had.
If the Blues are able to make it into the playoffs and cap off a solid season, he should get an extension. He’s earned a long leash with the success he has had here, and I believe that Armstrong will try to make this happen sooner rather than later. My assumption is that it won’t be an extremely long-term deal, but I expect at least three seasons on his new deal. He’s earned it.
Blues Goaltending Shuffle Has Worked
The most impressive Blues stat for this season could be the shuffling of goaltenders, as they’ve used five of them in 31 games. They’ve had Jordan Binnington for 17 starts, Ville Husso for seven starts, Charlie Lindgren for four, Joel Hofer for two, and Jon Gillies for one. They traded Gillies to the New Jersey Devils after his lone start.
Binnington missed several games while on the COVID list, which also happened to Husso, and he got injured in his return. As for Lindgren, his story has been incredible, as he has a .958 save percentage (SV%) and a 5-0-0 record. They’ve maintained a team SV% of .916, which is impressive with five different goaltenders. Their team SV% is sixth in the league, just behind some of the elite teams in the NHL.
Some of the credit with these numbers go to the defense that has played solid hockey and rallied for whoever is in the net on any given night. I don’t think many teams could have five different goaltenders in 31 games and rank within the top 12 in goals against per game, which the Blues do. It’s a testament to the players, coaches, and Armstrong with the depth they have brought in over the years.
As for what’s next, let’s hope the league can get back up and running as the Blues are scheduled to resume their season against the Devils on Dec. 27. These trends must continue as the Blues stay afloat in a very competitive division. And getting healthier over the break should help.
I have been covering sports for nearly a decade. I started with FanSided as a Baseball Contributor. Now I am writing about the NHL and the St. Louis Blues for The Hockey Writers. I grew up in Central Illinois as a huge fan of every sport. Finally, I do various podcasting across all major platforms.