Coming into the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the St. Louis Blues were dealt a tough hand as they sit at the table of possible Cup champions. Having to go through a murders row of competition, starting with the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Colorado Avalanche, possibly followed by the winner of the Minnesota Wild versus Vegas Golden Knights series, is no easy task for any team.
With the odds stacked against the Blues, it’s clear to see why they are regarded as one of the biggest underdogs within this year’s playoffs. While they may not be the same caliber of team when compared to their 2019 championship counterparts, the Blues certainly will be a tough matchup no matter the opponent. With a championship pedigree and a hard-nosed play style, there is a definite chance that the Blues could turn some heads and force some major upsets this postseason.
Control the Game Defensively
It’s no secret that the biggest strength of the Blues this season has been their ability to succeed on the defensive side of the puck. Incredibly hard to score against, they’ve made the lives of their opponents difficult all season long. With their hard checks along the boards as well as their stellar defensive IQ, the Blues position themselves beautifully inside their own end, leading to turnovers that can generate scoring chances for themselves.
In the playoffs, defensive ability can make or break a team as the age-old sentiment goes, “defence wins championships.” The Blues will need to rely on their defensive motor and control the pace of games in order to squeak out close victories in the uber-competitive Honda West Division. By controlling the pace of the game through their defence, the Blues can play methodically within the offensive zone, picking and choosing clear shots or waiting for a break in their opponent’s defence to generate a high-danger scoring opportunity.
This game plan revolves around the Blues being able to win ugly, something that they have plenty of experience with this season. While it can be a risk to make your defence your best source of offence, Stanley Cup champions of the past, such as the 1994-95 New Jersey Devils, have been able to use this method to make deep runs in the playoffs. This style of play can be draining for opposing teams over the course of a seven-game series, causing fatigue as they are forced to exert more energy than usual when trying to create scoring chances.
The Blues’ defence can be a deciding factor in their 2021 playoff run and could be an asset for their club as they get deeper into the playoffs. While it is a gamble to play under this style, they cannot afford to take chances by trying to go punch-for-punch with the offensive juggernauts competing within the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Find an Offensive Initiator
With key injuries lingering as they begin their playoff journey, the loss of top scorer David Perron is a massive blow for the Blues. With the loss of Perron’s offensive skillset and playmaking abilities, the already suspect offence could be in jeopardy. With goals coming at a premium for the Blues this season, they will need to find someone to step up and be a leader on the offensive end this postseason.
The obvious candidate for this role would be captain Ryan O’Reilly. With 54 points in 56 games, he has demonstrated he can be a leader on both sides of the puck for his Blues squad. With his tenacious attitude and ability to break down his matchups over the course of a game, he excels at finding weaknesses in the opposition’s game plan and making them pay as a result.
While O’Reilly is a top forward for the Blues, his two-way play style is too vital to his team’s success to begin putting a primary focus on one area of the game over another. This is why a player such as Tyler Bozak could be a driving force in this role.
Bozak is not often looked at as a focal point of the Blues’ offence, but his value to his team exceeds numbers on a scorecard. A spark plug offensively for his club, he has the skills and experience to lead the offence in the attacking zone and create dangerous chances for his teammates. Bozak sees the ice well, and within his limited appearances this season, he has demonstrated he has built great chemistry with his team.
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While this role may not be a job for one player, Bozak has the capabilities to take on a large portion of playmaking duties for his club. That playmaking ability could serve to be a critical asset to his team down the line of the postseason, as we could see an increase in minutes and production for the 35-year-old centre.
Keep Binnington Upbeat
One of the most important players from their 2019 Stanley Cup team, Jordan Binnington has had his share of troubles this season. Sporting decent numbers, he has been able to keep the Blues in close games this season but has also been the reason for a lopsided score against them. Due to this lack of success when compared to the electric start he had early in his career, he’s struggled with the mental side of his game.
Once famously quoted as saying, “do I look nervous,” he has now become somewhat ironic as the netminder has had numerous outbursts on the ice this season to boiling over frustration as a result of his play.
When Binnington has struggled, he has fallen into himself at times, and this has caused slumps in his game. For the Blues to find success in this year’s playoffs, they will need to rely on keeping him positive and upbeat heading into each matchup.
Binnington is likely going to be a workhorse for the Blues in their playoff run this postseason, and with his high usage rate, it will become more important than ever to surround him with protection on the ice. The Blues will need to play conservatively when handling the puck in the defensive zone to prevent dangerous turnovers that could leave Binnington hung out to dry. By keeping him well protected, his trust in his team will grow, as well as his confidence in himself.
If the Blues can manage to rattle off a few wins early on in the playoffs with Binnington in net, this could be the boost needed to get some positive energy into the goaltender they have invested so heavily in. Binnington has shown in the past he can make a world of difference when the lights shine their brightest and could be the difference between a deep run into the playoffs or a first-round exit.
Originally from Owen Sound, Ontario, Matt Eichhorn has spent the past 4 years studying the field of Sport Media at Ryerson University. Eichhorn is a life-long hockey fan with experience working in a variety of media roles around the game. Currently, Eichhorn covers the St. Louis Blues for The Hockey Writers.