Blues Need Perron to Return to Form

8:19 into the first period of the St. Louis Blues’ game against the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday night, David Perron scored a power play goal on his former teammate and friendly rival, Marc-Andre Fleury. The goal was notable not just for its quality (a toe drag around a Blackhawks’ defender slotted low between Fleury’s pad and stick), but because it was Perron’s first goal since the Blues played in the Winter Classic on January 1st. it was also his first point in six games, and, incredibly, his first power play goal since Oct. 23 against the Los Angeles Kings (a night when he scored two).

Related: St. Louis Blues 2020-21 Report Cards: David Perron

On the season, Perron now has nine goals and 22 points in 33 games. It’s hardly a terrible output for a player who will turn 34 before the Stanley Cup is awarded; however, coming off a remarkable season in which he became the Blues’ first player since Pavol Demitra (2002-03) to register a point per game, it’s hard not to feel it’s a bit disappointing. Could Saturday’s goal be the first step in a return to form for Perron? The Blues will certainly hope so, as they need more from the veteran and first-line winger.

Perron’s Stop and Start Season

Perron may have had difficulty getting going this season because of a series of injuries and other nuisances. He missed over a month of the season between November and December with an upper-body injury. Before that, he had had 18 points in 20 games, so it’s fair to wonder whether that injury has lingered. But it might not just be the injury. In January, the Blues placed him in COVID protocols, forcing him to miss another stretch of action. NHL players live by their rhythm, and it has been hard for Perron to build any in the recent stretch of the season.

David Perron St. Louis Blues
David Perron, St. Louis Blues (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)as

As mentioned, before the injury in November, Perron had 18 points in 20 games. Since then, he has just four points in 13 games, with the goals in the Winter Classic and on Saturday being his only tallies. Perhaps the All-Star Break was exactly the time away Perron needed to fully get right. But his struggles might not be entirely his own.

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Perron has a well-documented friendship and on-ice connection with team captain Ryan O’Reilly, his center on the first unit. O’Reilly himself has slowed somewhat this season by his remarkably high standards. He has 30 points in 41 games, still a very high standard but nowhere close to his near point per game output last season. He also had to deal with COVID and might be struggling as a result. A Perron resurgence can only help an O’Reilly resurgence, and vice versa. The captain has assists in each of two games since the break and might be getting back into form himself. That will only serve to help his friend Perron, and the timing couldn’t be more critical for both of them.

Armstrong’s Contract Decisions

O’Reilly and Perron are two of the players that Blues’ General Manager Doug Armstrong will consider for contract extensions this summer. But O’Reilly has another season left on his current deal. Perron’s extension is more pressing because he is set to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) after the season. Despite playing for five teams in his impressive 15-year career, Perron has never signed a contract with a team other than the Blues. An extension now might keep him from ever doing so. But Armstrong has many factors to consider, including roster bloat with a loaded forward core and Perron’s aging curve. The slump could be a sign of aging, but there is plenty of reason to believe otherwise, particularly his defensive metrics, which are still very high. The advanced numbers don’t belie a player at the start of a sharp decline.

David Perron Player Card (courtesy: Evolving-Hockey)
David Perron’s Player Card (courtesy: Evolving-Hockey)

All signs point in the right direction for Perron, and there’s every reason to believe that he could return to form in the second half, but the timing is of the utmost importance. Not only do the Blues need their veteran, first-liner, and power play weapon to be a threat as they fight to secure a playoff spot, but Perron’s play will help Armstrong determine whether he fits into the team’s medium-to-long-term plans. Everyone, from fans to Armstrong to Perron himself wants the winger to remain with the team until the end of his career. But he needs to prove what kind of player he is still capable of being to ensure that it happens.