Blues Weekly: Bozak, O’Reilly, Thunderbirds, Goaltending & More

The St. Louis Blues went 1-2-0 this week with a split against the Calgary Flames and an embarrassing home loss to the Winnipeg Jets. They played some of the worst hockey of the season in their two losses but some of their best in their win over Calgary.

Related: St. Louis Blues: 3 Trade Deadline Targets

There are still a lot of positives to take away from this week, whether it’s the fact that they are healthy again or the chemistry being established.

St. Louis Blues Weekly Ryan O'Reilly David Perron
Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron (The Hockey Writers)

The Blues are now 26-13-5 with 57 points and they sit third in the Central Division, behind only the Colorado Avalanche and Nashville Predators. Despite some overreaction from the fan base, which is perfectly normal, this team heads into the All-Star break in a great spot.

Bozak Plays 800th NHL Game

In the Blues’ 5-1 victory over the Flames, Tyler Bozak played in his 800th NHL game. He played 594 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs and 207 games with the Blues since joining them in free agency prior to the 2018-19 season. He’s been an impactful center for the Blues, and an important piece to their 2019 Stanley Cup victory.

He doesn’t produce a ton of points, but his impact on his line is large. He’s clearly fit well in St. Louis as he was re-signed prior to this season to a one-year deal to stay and play on the fourth line. Congrats to Bozak on a great accomplishment that can’t be taken away from him.

O’Reilly Plays 900th NHL Game

In their loss to the Jets at home, the Blues had another significant milestone as captain Ryan O’Reilly skated in his 900th NHL game. He’s been a model of consistency as he’s played over 70 games in 10 of his 13 NHL seasons, with a couple of those seasons being shortened.

Ryan O'Reilly St. Louis Blues Winter Classic
Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues Winter Classic (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

He’s been one of the most impactful players in franchise history in only four seasons. He’s scored 221 points in 249 games as a Blue and has been a consistent performer in all three zones. He obviously won the Conn Smythe Trophy for his playoff performance in 2019. He added a Selke Trophy for his dominant two-way prowess in that same 2018-19 season.

The O’Reilly trade with the Buffalo Sabres will certainly go down in franchise history as one of the best moves ever. Blues general manager Doug Armstrong has had a lot of great trades, but this one is the best by far, which is saying a lot.

Springfield Thunderbirds Report

The Springfield Thunderbirds of the American Hockey League (AHL) have had a tremendous season, sitting sixth overall in the AHL. The Blues’ farm system and minor league players have been great this season; this system doesn’t have the super high-end talent, but it’s deep with quality players.

They’re 21-13-4 with 47 points in 39 games even after their recent struggles, as their early-season dominance has kept them afloat. Leading the way for the Thunderbirds is Sam Anas, who has 33 points in 33 games, including 14 goals. Nathan Walker has the special stat of a hat trick at both the NHL and AHL levels this season. He’s been fantastic for Springfield, with 30 points in 28 games.

Nathan Walker San Antonio Rampage
Nathan Walker, San Antonio Rampage (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

With their goaltending, there has been inconsistency from both Charlie Lindgren and Joel Hofer, but they’ve both had their moments. Lindgren is 10-2-1 with a .917 save percentage (SV%) and Hofer is 10-8-2 with a SV% of .901. It’s encouraging to see a fantastic season for the Blues AHL affiliate; it feels like have finally settled into a home with their affiliate.

Assessing the Goaltending Situation

The discussion surrounding the Blues goaltending situation has been fascinating. It’s become about one side versus the other side, which is obviously Ville Husso versus Jordan Binnington. The Blues committed long-term money to Binnington with the six-year extension he got last season, while Husso was a fringe backup going into this season.

Jordan Binnington St. Louis Blues
Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

While Husso has certainly outplayed Binnington this season, the Blues defensive unit is the biggest downfall for both of these goaltenders; they can win with either of them in net. But the defense has not stepped up in any way; two examples of that were their losses this week.

Goaltender (Record)SV%Goals Against Average (GAA)Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA)
Binnington (11-9-3).9013.27-6.1
Husso (9-3-1).9411.9014.4

Source: Hockey Reference (Binnington’s Stats Husso’s Stats)

There is a clear gap in the stats between the two netminders, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The defense has struggled in front of them, but there have been times where they didn’t make big saves when they could have. It’s clear that the Blues have ridden the hot hand with Husso and could continue to do that until he slows down, but it’s Binnington’s job for the foreseeable future.

Whoever gets the nod when the Blues return to play on Feb. 10 against the New Jersey Devils will be fascinating, but my guess would be Binnington. Either way, this will be an interesting decision for head coach Craig Berube to make.

The Week Ahead (All-Star Break)

As mentioned earlier, the NHL All-Star weekend will take place in Las Vegas at the T-Mobile Arena on Feb. 5, so the Blues are off until Feb. 10. Jordan Kyrou will be the only representative for the Blues and should put his speed and skill on display for fans who don’t know how good he is yet. The Blues are in a good spot now and can come back even better.

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