The St. Louis Blues snapped a modest four-game losing streak with a tight 7-4 win over the New York Islanders on Tuesday, and they must use this momentum to have a successful three-game homestand against three Central Division contenders or risk falling out of the playoff hunt entirely. Failure to take at least four points from this upcoming stretch could doom the Blues’ season for good. But, conversely, the team could find themselves right back in the race with three wins against the Winnipeg Jets, Colorado Avalanche, and Nashville Predators.
Heading into Thursday’s game against the Jets at Enterprise Center, the Blues sit just three points out of a playoff spot. They have 24 points on the season with a 12-14 record and are chasing the Avalanche, who, with 27 points, have the second wild-card spot in the West.
The next three games at home will be the last home games for the team until Dec. 27, when they open another three-game homestand. Following the Dec. 12 game against the Predators, the Blues will embark on a five-game west-coast road swing that takes them through western Canada, Vegas, and Seattle.
Capitalizing on these three home games will not be easy. The Jets are tied with the Dallas Stars for first place in the division with 33 points, while the Predators remain ahead of St. Louis with 26 points. Despite being the last team in the NHL to play their first game, the Blues have played three more games than the Avalanche and Predators and two more than the Jets. This makes the head-to-head matchups more critical.
Blues Need to Get Healthy Immediately
St. Louis will need to get healthy during this stretch. They lost Pavel Buchnevich and Torey Krug during Monday’s loss to the New York Rangers, but there have been no reports of how long the two stars will be out of the lineup. Getting them back will be vital, especially Buchnevich, who is irreplaceable in the lineup.
The Russian forward is third on the team in points with 20. He has nine goals, ranked second on the team, and his 11 assists rank sixth. Not only will his presence be missed at even strength, but his shot on the power play will be something the Blues won’t be able to replicate.
Krug and Buchnevich are tied for the team lead with Jordan Kyrou with four power-play goals each this season, while no other player has more than one. Getting them back will be vital for the team’s success.
Krug’s production may not match the seven-year, $45.5 million contract he received in 2020, but the former Bruin is second among defensemen on the team with 11 points. Despite netting nine of his 11 points with the man advantage, his ability to move the puck and eat essential minutes at the end of games is something the team will miss while he is sidelined.
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It seems like the Blues lose a key player to injury every week. Thankfully, none of their injuries have been long-term. Significant players on the shelf include Marco Scandella, Logan Brown, and Scott Perunovich, but these injuries have not lingered for more than a week or two.
Keys to Success for St. Louis
For the Blues to be successful, the team needs to be better on the penalty kill (from “Craig Berube fed up with both PK woes and Jordan Binnington antics”, St. Louis Post Dispatch, 12/4/22). They are dead last in the NHL with a 64 percent kill rate. However, they are a very disciplined team, averaging just seven penalty minutes a game, which is second in the NHL. They are used to staying out of the box, but the few times it has happened, it’s come back to bite them.
The Blues are 15th in the league on the power play, and if they can get to at least the middle of the pack on the penalty kill, then we should see the team start winning games more consistently and, as a result, turn the corner to get themselves back in the playoff race.
However, a concerning trend this season has been the team’s ability to give up goals in bunches. They have given up three goals in a period eight games in a row, and it almost cost them against the Islanders after jumping out to a 5-1 lead early in the final frame.
The Blues have to shore up their defense late in games. The first period has been kind to them this season, but they have been outscored 54-78 in the second and third periods. The team has found a way to play 20-35 minutes of excellent hockey before completely imploding to allow three goals in a short span. Consistency on the defensive side of the puck will go a long way during this homestand.
Finally, the Blues need to continue to get secondary scoring from the role players in the lineup. Noel Acciari and Josh Leivo have proved to be great additions by general manager Doug Armstrong. Acciari has eight goals and four assists and has played up and down the lineup for head coach Craig Berube.
Leivo, meanwhile, has eight points and has found a home on Ryan O’Reilly‘s line. His ability to give the Blues’ captain a regular partner during even-strength play has given the Blues some versatility elsewhere in the lineup. Leivo’s scoring numbers will not blow you away, but he has been precisely what the team needed to start the season.
We saw Will Bitten capture his first-career point on Tuesday night on Long Island, and there’s a chance that he sees some regular time while Buchnevich recovers. Bitten was a third-round pick in 2016 and made his NHL debut this week against the Rangers.
The 24-year-old forward has spent most of his professional career in the American Hockey League (AHL). Through 20 games this season with the Springfield Thunderbirds, he had eight goals and 10 points before being called up to St. Louis. He was a consistent 20-goal scorer in the Ontario Hockey League before being drafted but has failed to score more than 13 goals in a season in the AHL. There are many prospects who are being groomed to help the Blues shortly, but Bitten could be a surprise candidate to help during this three-game stretch.
It’s hard to say that three games will make or break the Blues’ season. However, the Christmas holiday is traditionally the time that teams start to look into the trade market to address their issues. So, after the game against the Predators next Tuesday, we will have a good indication of which way the Blues are trending and whether or not they will become sellers at the deadline.
Covering the St. Louis Blues at The Hockey Writers, Jason Martin has spent time covering professional and college sports for almost a decade, including stops at Troy University and Auburn University at Montgomery. He currently resides in Alabama with his wife, Matty.