Once upon a time, the St. Louis Blues were known as a “defense-first” team. They were built using the classic recipe, from the blue line out, and they prided themselves on their gritty, physical, shutdown mindset. But for the first time in recent memory, the Blues enter the postseason with more questions than answers on defense. Colton Parayko has been inconsistent, Marco Scandella has been downright awful, and for as good as Justin Faulk’s all-around game has been, he is far from the lockdown defender that St. Louis number ones have historically been.
Fortunately for the Blues, they don’t have to rely on defense any longer, and a stout blue line is no longer their identity. Instead, they’ve built a forward group three lines deep, with one of the most dynamic and dangerous top nines in the league. Heading into what projects to be a very tough series against the Minnesota Wild, forward depth will be the team’s greatest weapon, and scoring goals in bunches will be their path to success throughout the playoffs.
Blues’ Best Line Ever?
Historically, the Blues franchise has had some great offenses, and some incredible lines. No one could forget the dynamic duo of Brett Hall and Adam Oates, known colloquially as “Hull and Oates” in an homage to the hit eighties musical act. Later on, stars like Pavol Demitra, Doug Weight, and Keith Tkachuk put forth massive point totals. Even the Great One himself briefly played for the Blues alongside Hull. But in all that time, there might not quite have been a line as dynamic and in synch as the Blues’ top line this season.
The Blues added Pavel Buchnevich last summer, and he immediately posted a career year, finishing with 30 goals and 76 points. Despite requesting a trade in the offseason, Vladimir Tarasenko returned to the only NHL team he has ever played for, and he had an unbelievable bounceback season that should earn him consideration for the Bill Masterton Trophy. He led the team in goals (34) and points (82), the latter surpassing his career high.
The pair joined Robert Thomas to become one of the most prolific lines in hockey, especially in the later stages of the season. Thomas took an astronomic step forward, nearly doubling his previous career high in points, and finishing with comfortably more than a point per game. He ensured that result in part by going on a 17-game point streak in the final month-plus of the season, tying the longest such streak of the 2021-22 campaign, the other set by Connor McDavid. All told, the line of Buchnevich-Thomas-Tarasenko combined for 84 goals and 235 points in the 2021-22 season, a result that even the most bullish Blues optimists could never have seen coming. Few, if any, lines in Blues history have ever been as good.
Three Lines Deep
And still, the Blues were anything but a one-line team this season. In fact, with Ryan O’Reilly’s two tallies in the final game, they finished with nine forwards who scored 20-plus goals, a mark only surpassed in franchise history during the 1980-81 season. Grading by era, the accomplishment this season is much more impressive. And the Blues will enter the postseason with three full lines of dangerous scoring threats.
Brandon Saad became a welcome addition to the team, despite his ties to the archrival Chicago Blackhawks, after signing as a free agent this summer. He gave a stalwart linemate for O’Reilly and David Perron, who have formed an unbreakable partnership, but struggled to find a consistent third last season. That line combined for 72 goals and 164 points.
Not to be outdone, two of the Blues’ breakout players of the season, Ivan Barbashev and Jordan Kyrou, both hit the 26-goal mark. Seasoned veteran Brayden Schenn finished with 24, and the trio combined for 193 points. Kyrou slowed in the second half of the season, and will look to regain the form that led to his seeming breakout at this year’s Winter Classic, playing against the same opponent in the playoffs.
Two Goalscoring Powerhouses Square Off
All in all, the Blues combined for 309 goals, good for third in the NHL (behind the Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers) and first in the Western Conference. It is a complete transformation for the franchise, and a brand new identity to take into the postseason.
Of course, Wild are fifth in goals, suggesting there will be no shortage of firepower in their postseason series. The Blues will need every single weapon in their arsenal to find an edge in the series against their conference rival. Everything is setting up for an iconic playoff clash.
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.