The St. Louis Blues are riding a high into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the same can be said for their opponent, the Minnesota Wild. It will be key for the depth scoring to continue for the Blues, but they also need to expect better performances from key players who struggled in the regular season.
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This could be the most evenly matched first-round series between two teams that are nearly identical in their style and rosters overall.
Perron-O’Reilly-Saad is the Blues’ Best Line
There is an argument to be made that this line was severely undervalued with the emergence of Robert Thomas and his line. David Perron had a massive hot streak after the All-Star game, Brandon Saad has been a consistent goal scorer all season, and Ryan O’Reilly has been fantastic in all three zones with his offense beginning to emerge at the right time.
Over the month of April, O’Reilly’s offense has been coming along, as he has four goals and eight assists in 15 games. The numbers aren’t as good as they’ve been in his first three seasons as a Blue, but his game has remained similar in style. He currently has 19 goals for the season, and has a chance to become the ninth player on the Blues with 20 or more goals in the regular-season finale with the Vegas Golden Knights.
It has been an interesting season for Perron, who has struggled with injuries and a lack of production, but that has improved recently. Since the beginning of March, he has scored 15 goals and 13 assists for 28 points in 27 games. He has been perfect in his role on this line since becoming fully healthy, even as he battles another injury right now, I expect him to be fine.
Saad has been just about everything the Blues could have asked for and expected this season, it’s his sixth season with 20-or-more goals. He’s meshed exceptionally well with Perron and O’Reilly this season, and they have been a trustworthy line for head coach Craig Berube. They are a line that he will be willing to throw out against the Kirill Kaprizov line in their first-round matchup with the Wild. I fully expect this line to be a model of consistency against a familiar first-round opponent
Parayko Finally Finds His Form
The 2021-22 season has been incredibly bizarre for Colton Parayko, who has been a puzzling player since the Blues won the Cup in 2019. General manager Doug Armstrong took a major risk in allowing Alex Pietrangelo to walk while making Parayko their number one defenseman.
There are clear issues with Parayko’s defensive game, as he is constantly turning the puck over and making odd decisions. The biggest problem is that he has all the tools to be a top-pairing defenseman, whether it’s size or skill, he has shown both of them in his career. The biggest fear would be that previous injuries will hamper his play or the rest of his career, which is not ideal for the Blues and the eight-year contract extension they gave him.
His game has seemingly declined in nearly every season of his career, but he’s always remained in the good graces of the coaches and front office. This season, he has six goals and 29 assists for 35 points, which ties his career-high in points that he hit in both the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons.
With all of that said, I believe that Parayko will find his game in this playoff run, and there are a couple of reasons for that. He will likely have Niko Mikkola or Nick Leddy as his partner on the blue line, and I think he is better suited with them over Marco Scandella. The Parayko and Scandella pairing has not worked, and the main reason is the number of mistakes they both make. The time is now for Parayko to prove that the gamble taken on him will be successful for years to come, there is no better time than the playoffs.
Husso’s Regular Season Performance Carries Over
There have been very few signs of Ville Husso slowing down during what has been a career season for him. The Blues’ ability to score a lot of goals helps him a lot, and it does make up for some of the defensive issues and turnovers that they have.
Despite a save percentage (SV%) of under .900 in two of the last three games for Husso, he has won both of those games. Since the beginning of January, he has a record of 22-4-5 and a SV% of .920, and those numbers are absurd given the defensive struggles in front of him. He has not backed down from any challenge, which gives me confidence in his ability. He has a record of 2-0-0 against the Wild, but he’s struggled with a SV% of .892.
He has given up a total of eight goals to the Wild, and a lot of that is how poor the Blues’ coverage was in front of him — he didn’t cover up for mistakes like he had in previous games. Either way, I trust Husso to be the guy for the Blues in the playoffs, but Jordan Binnington must be ready to go if things don’t work out for Husso.
The Blues are fully loaded and ready to go for this playoff run, the leftover players from the Cup-winning team must be hungry after back-to-back first-round exits. Things seem to be lining up for the Blues with a first-round matchup against a team they have been dominated, but everything should be thrown out for this electric series with the Wild.