4 Keys to Blues’ Potential 2022 Playoff Success

The St. Louis Blues‘ recent hot streak has all but sealed up their inevitable playoff matchup with the Minnesota Wild in the first round. They are currently 43-20-10 with 96 points in third place of the Central Division, behind the Wild in only points percentage.

Related: Revisiting the Blues’ Trade for Ryan O’Reilly

Any matchup in the Western Conference playoffs is bound to be a difficult one for the Blues, that’s just the way of the NHL nowadays, as the number of quality teams is astounding. They have matched up well with the Wild this season, which lines up for early playoff success, but these things must happen for that to become a reality.

Kyrou Finding His Form

On the surface, this may seem like a weird key, but it’s clear that Jordan Kyrou has been a bit off his game for a couple of weeks now. He’s had two stints with illnesses that he’s missed games over and injuries have clearly been a factor, but his numbers have remained solid. The Blues still need the early season version of Kyrou to be the most successful they can be.

Jordan Kyrou St. Louis Blues
Jordan Kyrou, St. Louis Blues (Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Dating back to mid-March, Kyrou has six points in 10 games and has a plus/minus of minus-4. His ice-time has been somewhat down during that time as well, which likely has to do with the illnesses and injuries that he has battled. But part of it has to be about him struggling when he’s on the ice, as he’s looked lost in the defensive zone for a lot of those minutes.

At the end of the day, the idea that Kyrou needs to be a two-way forward is wrong. They need him to be the electrifying skater and playmaker that he has been for most of the season, even though many are overreacting to his back-checking or lack thereof. Yes, he needs to be a more defensively responsible forward, but his offensive ability must come first.

Blues Need Prevalent Fourth Line

The key to success for many Stanley Cup runs is an effective bottom-six, and the fourth line always seems to be the most important part of that. The Blues had one in 2019, the New York Islanders had one in the last two seasons with their Eastern Conference Final runs, and many over the last two decades have had one as well.

For the 2021-22 Blues, that line should consist of three of Alexei Toropchenko, Nathan Walker, Logan Brown, or Tyler Bozak. While Mackenzie MacEachern has been solid, I prefer the other four over him, as they’ve played a lot of hockey together this season. A veteran like Bozak should be in the mix for this line, and Walker has earned a chance to be there with his big goals scored. The tough choice is Toropchenko and Brown, and I could see head coach Craig Berube going with both and leaving Walker out due to their size.

Brown has been more productive in point-scoring than Toropchenko, but as of late, they have both played similar games. It certainly seems that size over skill would be the move for the fourth line given Berube’s history as a head coach. I personally believe that a line of Bozak, Walker, and Brown would be a formidable trio. It’s a line of players who bring different skillsets to the table, and that is exciting to think about for the playoffs.

Cohesiveness on the Blue Line

Cohesiveness on the blue line is something that the Blues have been missing all season, as there hasn’t been a consistent period of it in all of seven months. The acquisition of Nick Leddy has turned out to be solid to this point, which is a massive development and gives a level of hope heading into the playoffs. However, after Justin Faulk and Torey Krug, there are major questions with every other defenseman.

Torey Krug St. Louis Blues
Torey Krug, St. Louis Blues (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Blues will need the best versions of Colton Parayko and Marco Scandella to be successful this spring, and that hasn’t been seen from either all season with the exception of Parayko who was good early on. Niko Mikkola has essentially played himself out of the lineup recently, which means that Robert Bortuzzo will likely remain as the sixth defenseman heading into the playoffs, barring any injuries.

The ideal pairings would be Krug and Faulk together as the first pair, the second pair should be Leddy and Parayko, and the third pair would be fine with Scandella and Bortuzzo. The only possible change in personnel that I see would be Scandella playing himself out of the lineup for Mikkola, or Calle Rosen to come back in. It’s not the worst unit that the Blues have put out there in recent seasons, but it certainly isn’t the best.

The playmaking of Krug, Faulk, and Leddy will be a key for the Blues’ transition style, which has been humming in their recent hot streak. However, their biggest flaw on the blue line is actual defensive coverage and it has hurt some of their goaltending this season. Jordan Binnington has been the biggest victim, as the stats spell that out in many different ways. The bottom line is that the numbers don’t lie when it comes to them ranking 26th in goals against this season.

Getting Quality Goaltending from Husso

It’s become clear that Ville Husso will be the starting goaltender going into the playoffs, he’s earned that with his play throughout this season. He’s saved them from losing multiple games this season, as he has eight games with 35 or more saves. In those eight games, the Blues are 6-0-2 with shootout losses to the Florida Panthers and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Ville Husso St. Louis Blues
Ville Husso, St. Louis Blues (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Overall, Husso has a record of 23-6-5 and a save percentage (SV%) of .925. Since early March, he is 10-2-2 with a SV% of .910, all while facing 40 or more shots in three of those 14 games. I would admit that I didn’t think he could keep his elite play up for an entire season, but he has done it. A sample size of 36 games isn’t all that high, but it’s enough to convince me that he deserves the starting role going into the playoffs.

Goaltending is always one of the biggest keys to success in the playoffs, as many Cup-winning teams have had an elite goaltender or a hot one at the very least. The Blues are an example of that, as Binnington was on a roll throughout the run in 2019. Having said that, he has fallen off a bit since then, even after a quality 2019-20 regular season. Husso needs to be elite for the Blues to make a run, and this season has shown that he is capable of doing that.

These four keys are simple and will take the Blues to another level if they all coincide with each other. Their inevitable matchup with the Wild will be a fun one to watch, with a lot of pressure on both teams to have success for different reasons.

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