As the St. Louis Blues get ready to play the final half of the 2021-22 season after the All-Star break, it’s important to look at potential storylines surrounding this team.
The narratives surrounding this team have been mainly about the defense struggling and the goaltending situation, all of these things are huge storylines moving forward. The ways to fix them can be taken care of in the second half of the season, which resumes on Feb. 10 against the New Jersey Devils.
I’m not going to get in-depth with this here, as it’s been discussed enough in previous pieces. But the Blues’ goaltending situation is a huge topic of discussion, especially with the gap in numbers between Ville Husso and Jordan Binnington. The goaltending storyline moving forward is the biggest one for this team, and it’s now a big part of head coach Craig Berube’s job.
One thing that could hurt Binnington’s case to remain the starter for this season is his 18 goals against in three of his last four starts. On the flip side, Husso has allowed five goals total in his last five games. Obviously, the defensive unit has had a lot of issues, and that will be discussed later in this piece.
Overall, Binnington has a save percentage (SV%) of .901, while Husso’s is .941. A lot of it has to do with the defensive struggles, but it’s problematic that Husso and Charlie Lindgren have had dominant runs in net for the Blues, while Binnington has had mostly struggles.
The storyline here revolves around the decisions to be made by Berube and if Husso can keep up the brilliant play that he’s had since returning from an injury. I can guarantee that the Blues will roll with this duo for the rest of the season barring injury, Husso is not getting moved. But the Blues must capitalize on his recent play with his contract being up at the end of the season, while Binnington is the netminder of the future.
Defensive Unit Changes
The Blues’ current defensive lineup is not working, there are issues in nearly every area of the game. In terms of this season, there are major question marks after Justin Faulk, Torey Krug, and Niko Mikkola. We’ve seen flashes of dominance from Colton Parayko, but he’s fallen off since a solid early-season start.
Obviously, Marco Scandella continues to provide very little production and value for this team. He is not worthy of a spot on a playoff team in his current state, he just has not been good since the Blues gave him that questionable contract extension. As for Robert Bortuzzo, he’s been solid in spots but still doesn’t strike me as an every-game player.
The ideal defensive unit, for now, has to include the likes of Faulk, Krug, Mikkola, Parayko, and Scott Perunovich, with the sixth being either Robert Bortuzzo or Jake Walman. There have been injury issues for Perunovich, limiting him, but he’s shown that he is good enough to play for this team.
I don’t see many scenarios where the Blues actually make a significant deadline move to improve their defense, so I could see Scandella just getting benched with Bortuzzo or Walman stepping into that sixth spot if Perunovich is in the fifth spot. But there is no doubt that the core three players of the defense this season are Faulk, Krug, and Mikkola, they would be lost without them.
Puck moving is the least of their issues on defense, it’s bad coverage and poor plays with the puck in their defensive zone. One would think that the veteran presence on the back end would help limit these mistakes, but it hasn’t. A calming presence like Perunovich should make him a lock in the lineup, but time will tell. Another large decision is coming for Berube as the second half of the season approaches.
This is much more in regard to what other teams in the Central Division can do. The Blues have so many cap issues that it would likely take a trade of Scandella to get a deal done, which is going to be difficult to figure out.
The leader of the division is the Colorado Avalanche, who are one of the most dominant teams in the league. It’s hard to find a weakness with them, but they could make a big swing with the Arizona Coyotes in a Jakob Chychrun deal. Those two teams linked up last summer in the Darcy Kuemper deal, so it could happen again. That would make them the Stanley Cup favorites in the entire league, in my opinion; they already have a loaded roster that has been knocking on the door for a few seasons now.
The Nashville Predators are also near the top of the division with 60 points, and they could make an improvement in their forward group. A reunion with Calle Jarnkrok from the Seattle Kraken, who played parts of eight seasons with the Predators, is possible. It seems that the Predators will be looking to add a goal scorer at the deadline, which could take them to another level behind goaltender Juuse Saros.
As for the Minnesota Wild, they’ve been a force, ranking third in goals for and fifth in goals against. They have a balanced attack with six players with double-digit goals. They have gotten quality goaltending from Cam Talbot and Kaapo Kahkonen, and their defensive unit has been solid as well. I don’t see any major needs for the Wild as they have a roster filled with chemistry and veterans, and they are going to be an underrated team in the playoffs. They are very clearly overshadowed in the conference by the Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights.
All of this tells me that the Blues will need to make good decisions with their lineup as they approach the second half. This is a huge stretch of 38 games coming for Berube; he has some big decisions to make as they try to navigate a top-heavy division.