The playoff push began in earnest last night for the St. Louis Blues as they beat the Calgary Flames at Scottrade Center 4-1. The win was significant in many ways, not the least of which was seeing the end of a two game skid as the Blues begin their final stretch of regular season hockey.
New Lines Find Scoring Touch
St. Louis has had success this season against the Flames, winning all three match-ups by outscoring Calgary 12-2, but last night they began the playoff push without their top two scorers, Vladi Tarasenko and Alexander Steen. You have to go back to March of 2014 to find the Blues winning a game without Tarasenko in the lineup.
Missing two of his biggest stars meant Ken Hitchcock shuffled the lines even more than usual, and he may have found a new top line for the playoff push as Jaden Schwartz (1G,1A,) Paul Stastny (1G,1A,) and T.J. Oshie (1A) looked to have instant chemistry. Schwartz took a pass from Oshie in the corner and made a brilliant move to the net to score the first goal of the game just over a minute in. It was the first 1st period goal by the Blues in TEN games going back to March 10 (also Schwartz) versus Winnipeg.
Does This Team Prefer Jake Allen?
So St. Louis heads into their playoff push by ending a losing streak, ending a 1st period goal drought and, not to be ignored, they did it behind their backup goaltender, Jake Allen. About two weeks ago I wrote that there was no goalie controversy in St. Louis, and I stand by that assertion. Brian Elliott is still this team’s number one goaltender and I believe he’ll not only get the majority of starts over these final 5 games but that he will, barring injury, also be tapped to lead the team as the playoffs start two weeks from now. However, Allen’s strong play this season cannot simply be ignored.
Allen won his 20th game last night, making the Blues one of only two team in the league this season with TWO 20-game winners in net. Jake is 3-0-2 in his last five starts, almost single-handedly stealing points for his team in an overtime loss to Vancouver and a win against the Dallas Stars. Over Elliott’s last three starts, he’s given up 12 goals in three losses behind some of the worst defensive play we’ve seen all season from the Blues. Does this team play better in front of Allen? Do they give Ells 100% when playing in front of him and does it makes sense for him to be the starter for this playoff push and beyond?
Should be a silly question. Of course the Blues always want to win, no matter who their goalie is but their play has frequently defied that logic over the last two weeks. Team defense, usually their strong suit, has failed St. Louis on numerous occasions and it seems to happen most often with Elliott in goal. Last night they held Calgary to only 18 shots and poured on 43 of their own. What was different? Robert Bortuzzo was on the ice for the first time since March 24. The Blues lost both of the games he missed in that span. Coincidence? The Blues need Bortuzzo in the lineup for their playoff push.
St. Louis righted the ship last night in a few different ways. Steen may be back before the regular season ends and it’s been said both he and Tarasenko will be ready for the post-season. The Blues may have found some new chemistry for the playoff push but lines will shuffle again when everyone is back, likely before. We all know Hitchcock is a tinkerer. The keys for this team may end up being which forwards show up come April 15 and which defensemen the staff decides gives them the best chance to win, night in and night out. I know who I think should be out there.