Blues Weekly is a new series focusing on how the St. Louis Blues performed over the past week. Not simply a recap or game story of the week’s games, but coverage of key factors, stories, and themes that were pervasive throughout those games and my takes on those situations. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on how the team performed this week, your views on the week’s themes, and any other ideas or questions you have about the team.
Related: Last week’s Blues Weekly
The Blues have continued a slightly bizarre trend of looking like two completely different teams during the first and second games of a series this season. In each of the four series they’ve played this season, they have won the opening game (and have looked great in those games), then proceed to fall off in the second game and lose all momentum going forward.
One step forward, one step back.
This week the Blues dropped the second half of the San Jose Sharks series in a 2-1 loss, being unable to capitalize on a weaker team and sweep the two-game home-stand. They did, however, pick up a point as the second game ended in a shootout win for the Sharks.
They then split games with the LA Kings winning 5-4 and coming back from an early two-goal deficit, but then looking poor again and deserting Ville Husso (who was making his first NHL start) and allowing six goals in a 6-3 loss. In the final game of the week, the Blues traveled to Vegas, taking on former captain Alex Pietrangelo for the first time and winning 5-4 in a shootout.
While they still sit in the upper part of the West Division, the Blues have squandered opportunities to stash away points in the early part of the season. More concerning is their performance as a whole. One night the Blues are crashing and banging four lines and three pairs for 60 solid minutes. The second night they are laid back, porous, and most importantly reckless in terms of coverages, leading to 39 total penalties in seven games, the second-most in the National Hockey League.
Things are hardly dire for the Blues, but a 2-2 week with 50% of the performances being frustrating makes it possibly seem worse than it is. That being said, a continued trend of poor play in the second games of the series is going to be extremely worrisome.
Questions Between the Pipes
I had been hesitant to simply accept that Jordan Binnington was going to bounce back and be the same goaltender he had been for the first year and three-quarters of his Blues career. The odds were in his favor, but it was by no means a given provided the information we had coming out of the Edmonton bubble and the first week of the season.
But it appears Binnington has left his troubles behind and is still the premier tender he has been since becoming the Blues’ starter in 2018. Binnington is passing the eye test, keeping his team in games despite his skater’s horrendous habit of giving up penalties and an evidently even worse penalty killing group in front of him. And despite his slow(ish) start to the season, Binnington has posted league-high stats, including a .919 save percentage good for second in the NHL, third-best total saves with 168, and tied for first in wins with four.
Blues’ fans can rest easy with Binnington between the pipes, but his back-up has yet to shine in any particular way. Husso hasn’t been given a fair shake by any means, but he has also done himself no favors. Making his NHL debut in a relief appearance leading to an 8-0 loss and his first NHL start in a 6-3 loss to the Kings, in which he allowed five goals on 34 shots., the Blues have yet to instill major confidence in the backup goalie situation.
In fairness to Husso, the goaltending was hardly the most egregious performance in his lone loss of the season. The Blues’ defense oftentimes hung Husso out to dry and allowed the Kings to pepper him with shots all night. They also allowed four power play opportunities, to which the Kings inevitably cashed in on.
There really isn’t a controversy going on here. Binnington is the starter, and Husso is the backup. Therefore, those roles are solid. Neither is in danger of losing that role just yet. But again, the seeds of worry continue to grow. The Blues’ goaltending depth is shallow, and if Husso isn’t the guy, there is no true heir apparent for that backup role. As the season wears on, the back-up will be called upon more often, and the Blues need to know they have a guy who can win them games between the pipes.
Justin Faulk and Jordan Kyrou Step Up.
In a large way, the Blues have been buoyed by the breakout performances of two unexpected role players. Justin Faulk has stepped up, becoming a truly impressive three-zone defenseman and filling in the empty role on the blue line of top-pairing defensemen.
Despite having just two points all season and none this week, Faulk’s fingerprints have been all over the game. By leading the team in ice time, averaging 24:37 minutes a game, and filling in stat lines like hits (where he leads the team with 26) and blocks, Faulk is making an impact all over the ice in a way that may not be apricated by the traditional stats. He even dropped the mitts Tuesday against the Vegas Golden Knights and fought Mark Stone when called upon.
Jordan Kyrou, on the other hand, has been establishing himself offensively in a far more tangible way. The 22-year-old winger has been tearing up opposing teams’ defenses, both scoring goals and creating opportunities for teammates. Kyrou is thus far the only point-a-game player on the roster, tallying seven points through the Blues’ first seven games, and is well on his way to breaking his career-high nine points that he tallied last season.
Kyrou is using his speed and passing ability to create scoring opportunities on a team not well known for their speed, oftentimes catching opposing teams flat-footed and setting up odd-man rushes and breakaways. The most impressive thing Kyrou has done has been getting all seven points at even strength.
Considering how anemic the powerplay has been for the Blues, scoring on just 8% of opportunities, Kyrou has been a bit of a saving grace in being able to manufacture opportunities at even strength.
Both Kyrou and Faulk have helped the Blues weather the storm while star players like Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, and Brayden Schenn took a little longer to get up to speed and start having a major impact for the team on the ice. But it is clear those players are starting to feel more comfortable and impact the game in a more dominant fashion.
Perron had two goals in the win over Vegas, and the Schenn, Kyrou, and Jaden Schwartz line has been one of the best in the NHL. While players like Mike Hoffman and Torey Krug have yet to make their mark, Faulk and Kyrou are helping to give them the leeway to become more comfortable in their roles.
The Blues Can’t Stay Out of the Box
Last week it was a concern, but now seven games into the season, the Blues’ inability to stay out of the penalty box is a worrying trend. The Blues have taken 36 penalties through seven games, averaging five a game. They are spending just over a sixth of the game a man down and have allowed a league-high 11 goals against when on the penalty kill.
More than anything, the trend is concerning because the Blues are constantly playing behind the eight ball. Having to rebuild momentum and flow each and every time the team goes down a man. Not to mention the undue stress it has been putting on goalies and the penalty killers, who already average high ice time but now are doing so without being threatening for most of the game. Scoring threats like Hoffman and Robert Thomas are only seeing 11 to 12 minutes of ice time in a game, while in an ideal world, they are seeing closer to 15-16 minutes.
Binnington is third in the NHL in shots against despite having played two fewer games than the players who rank above him. No one has been tested more in the league, and while he is talented and can very well bail out the Blues’ skaters regularly, you can only ask so much of him. Eventually, you can only bend so far.
The Blues have to do a better job giving themselves opportunities to compete, and that starts with staying out of the box.
News, Top Performers and the Week Ahead
- Robert Bortuzzo continues to heal his upper-body injury and has yet to return to the club since taking a hit on January 15th. Tyler Bozak is also now questionable after taking a hit from Mark Stone, leaving the Vegas game and not returning. It’s unknown at this point how long he will be out.
- For all the work to get Vince Dunn signed this off-season, the defenseman has had a slow start to the season and was a healthy scratch Tuesday. There are now circulating rumors that the Blues may be shopping Dunn for a trade.
Braden Schenn: 2Goals, 2Assist
Jordan Kyrou: 1 Goal, 3 Assists
Jordan Binnington: 3 Wins, 1 SO Loss, 122 Saves
Jaden Schwarts:2 Goals, 2 Assists
The Week Ahead
January 28: at Vegas Golden Knights
January 30: at Anaheim Ducks
January 31: at Anaheim Ducks
February 2: vs. Arizona Coyotes