Things had started to look pretty bleak for the St. Louis Blues. The team lost seven games in a row but managed a three-game winning streak that forced general manager Doug Armstrong to stay put at the trade deadline. Then, they began another three-game losing streak, and with several consecutive matchups against two of the best teams in hockey (the Colorado Avalanche and the Minnesota Wild), the path to the playoffs looked slimmer and slimmer.
But now, after four critical wins over the best teams in their division, the Blues are five points ahead of the Arizona Coyotes for the final playoff spot in the West Division, and they have two games in hand. Currently, Moneypuck gives St. Louis a 90.5 percent chance of making the playoffs. So what changed? The Blues saw improvements from three critical groups, and that has made all the difference.
1) Jordan Binnington is Back
Shortly after signing his six-year, $36 million contract extension, Blues’ goalie Jordan Binnington went into a tailspin. In the first eight games after signing his name, he went 1-5-2 with a .893 save percentage (SV%) and a goals against average (GAA) just under 3.00. That streak dropped his overall numbers down to a .904 SV% and a 2.79 GAA, with minus-3.8 goals saved above average (GSAA).
But things began to change when the calendar flipped to April. He had two good starts, then put down one of the best performances of his career in an April 7 win against the Vegas Golden Knights. He made a career-high 50 saves, allowing just one goal, ending the Blues’ losing streak. Since then, he’s been a much-improved goaltender, and his season numbers show it. Binnington is now 15-14-5, with a .909 SV% and a 2.69 GAA, along with 0.9 GSAA. Those aren’t world-beating numbers, but they’re a serious improvement from where he was in March. And that kind of steady goaltending has helped steady the entire team.
2) Veterans Are Waking Up, Hoffman on Fire
At the trade deadline, Armstrong made the decision to hang onto his most obvious trade asset, Mike Hoffman. The embattled forward seemed to be the perfect addition to the Blues’ power play on a one-year deal, but he never meshed with head coach Craig Berube and had been relegated to the bottom six and even the second power play unit. But Armstrong held on, and he’s being rewarded: in seven games since the trade deadline, Hoffman has five goals and four assists. With his help, the Blues’ power play now ranks eighth in the league.
But Hoffman isn’t the only veteran heating up lately. in his last four games, Torey Krug has six assists. In the Apr. 28 game against the Avalanche, Vladimir Tarasenko ended a six-game goalless drought, David Perron ended a nine-game goalless drought, and Brayden Schenn brought a painful 19-game goalless drought to an end. The Blues’ veterans are heating up at the right time, but they aren’t alone.
3) The Kids Are Alright: Thomas, Kyrou, and Walman
In that same game, Robert Thomas ended a 10-game goalless streak of his own. That came during a stretch of five points in four games. Thomas has struggled with injury and inconsistency in a season that was expected to be his breakout campaign with the Blues. Jordan Kyrou, who was red hot at the start of the season, but has also struggled with inconsistency, now has four points in two games. And Jake Walman has been something of an under-the-radar revelation.
Entering the season, Walman wasn’t viewed as much of a prospect anymore. But due to a rash of injuries on the Blues’ backend, he has laid claim to a spot and made it his own. He’s now played in 19 games this season, and though he has just two points and is minus-six, it’s clear that Berube’s faith in him has grown. He’s averaging more and more minutes per game. And despite playing in vulnerable roles, he’s 12th on the team in on-ice expected goals for percentage (xGF%) and seventh in on-ice Corsi for percentage (CF%) at 5-on-5. He’s put together an impressive campaign for a 25-year-old rookie blueliner. And the Blues would be in trouble without him.
Peaking at the Right Time?
The Blues look to be getting hot at exactly the right time. Just over a week ago, the playoffs seemed like a long shot. Now, they are all but assured. And with veterans returning to form, youngsters hitting their stride, and a starting goaltender that has his swagger back again, St. Louis may be looking to turn some heads in the West Division in the postseason.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.