The St. Louis Blues could never have expected the season they’ve experienced so far. First, they made history, becoming the first NHL team ever to lose eight games in a row and follow it with a seven-game winning streak. Since the latter streak ended, they are 1-5, bringing their record to 11-13, five points out of a playoff position. Apart from the losses, though, another troubling trend has recently arisen: goaltender Jordan Binnington’s on-ice antics. The irascible netminder has had a string of meltdowns in a stretch of games that have seen him go 0-5, with a .841 save percentage (SV%) and 21 goals against. The most recent incident resulted in a very public tongue-lashing from head coach Craig Berube. While Binnington is not exclusively, and perhaps not even chiefly, responsible for the Blues’ struggles, his role in the team demands he cut out the selfish antics and begin to lead by example.
Binnington’s Bad Behavior
It’s no secret that Binnington has a big personality. When the team is in form, it can provide some much-needed fire and confidence, like his iconic “do I look nervous” answer in a post-game press conference, and his furious outburst after a blatantly illegal hand pass cost the Blues a critical game in the Western Conference Final in 2019 (the Blues went on to win the series). His exceeding self-confidence was a huge factor in the Blues’ turnaround from worst in the league to Stanley Cup Champions during his rookie season.
But when things are going poorly, self-confidence looks like self-aggrandizement, and cockiness looks like childishness. Such has been the case in recent weeks when Binnington has played the jester in a series of bizarre on-ice episodes. Here’s a brief list:
- Trash-talking the Los Angeles Kings’ bench after allowing five goals and being pulled in October
- Shoulder-checking New York Islanders’ netminder Ilya Sorokin between periods of a game the Blues lost 5-2
- An attempted check on Carolina Hurricanes Captain Jordan Staal that ended with Binnington flat on the ice (and ultimately a 6-4 loss)
- A dangerous glove-to-the-face of Jason Zucker (that drew blood) as he sped around the net on Saturday
- A war of words with Zucker and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ bench after he was later pulled from that game
Any one or even two of those incidents on their own might be forgivable. But taken as a group, they represent an absurd and arguably escalating trend of childish antics. And it’s not just fans and pundits who have taken notice.
Berube’s Harsh Comments
It’s rare that a head coach criticizes his goaltender. They are the team’s last line of defense, and they need to believe they have the coach’s confidence. But after Saturday’s game, Berube held nothing back when asked about his opinion of Binnington’s hijinx. “It’s got to stop,” Berube said. “That doesn’t help anything… Just play goal. Stop the puck.”
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Berube is not the kind of coach who runs his mouth to the media. His decision to speak on the issue demonstrates that it’s become a point of tension for him and perhaps the locker room. One of the game’s greatest enforcers and a fiery leader, Berube knows what it takes to inspire a team. And his criticism makes it clear that Binnington’s antics do no such thing. They’re selfish and distract the team from its only purpose: finding a way to win.
Critical Crossroads for Binnington
All of this leaves Binnington at a critical crossroads. He can choose to continue down the path he’s on, becoming the most hated man in the NHL while simultaneously letting his team down as its goaltender. Or he can turn both his play and his behavior around and attempt to help the team win.
There are those who are quick to absolve him of any sins this season, arguing the team’s defense is so poor that playing goal behind it is a nearly-impossible task. But it’s hard to completely write off an .895 SV%, a 3.27 goals-against average (GAA), and minus-5.6 goals saved above average (GSAA) and suggest that it’s all the defense’s fault. The losing streak and Binnington’s behavior are all fruit of the same poisonous tree: the goalie’s bad on-ice performance.
Binnington is this team’s goaltender going forward. Thomas Greiss is not going to challenge him for the starting job. Joel Hofer and Vadim Zherenko look great in the American Hockey League but are both far too young to shoulder the load. So Binnington has to decide how he wants his legacy to be remembered. Is he going to go down as perhaps the franchise’s greatest netminder, a Stanley Cup Champion, and team leader who plays with a chip on his shoulder? Or will he continue to build his resume as a whiner who collapses when things don’t go his way? The Blues certainly hope that he’ll choose the right lane, but right now, it’s anyone’s guess whether he can wake up and stop the nonsense.
Stephen Ground is a veteran of over three years at THW, focusing on the St. Louis Blues, NHL goaltending, and the annual World Junior Championship. He is the co-host of the Two Guys One Cup Podcast, a hockey podcast focused on the Blues.