5 Observations From the Blues’ First 5 Games

The St. Louis Blues are 3-2-0 through five games. The Blues have played fewer games than every other team in the league, which can hurt a team’s performance with so many days off. It hasn’t affected the Blues all that much though, they have embraced it.

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It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses for the Blues though. They struggled at points in every game of the season thus far. It’s certainly challenging to stay loose and ready on so many off days, but things will ramp up for them with a loaded schedule incoming.

Goaltending Has Been Elite

No complaints from myself when it comes to the play of both Jordan Binnington and Thomas Greiss. Binnington is 3-1-0 with four starts in five games, while Greiss is 0-1-0. In the loss to the Winnipeg Jets, Greiss kept the Blues in the game with a whopping 39 saves on 42 shots. The Blues were simply outplayed by the Jets, which is something that just happens every so often throughout an 82-game season. I was not thrilled with the signing of Greiss, but after a quality preseason and one start, it’s been fine.

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

The story in net this season has been Binnington. He’s come into a critical season, where the outsider confidence in him is low, and he’s dominated. Through four starts, Binnington has a save percentage (SV%) of .936 and a goals-against average (GAA) of 1.74. On top of those numbers, he also has a shutout and multiple periods of keeping his team in the game. There is still a lot of season left, but the numbers and eye test have been excellent for Binnington.

I’m interested to see how head coach Craig Berube handles the goaltending split this season. I assume that Binnington will get at least 55 starts if healthy, but it could be less if Greiss is consistent. Either way, if the Blues make the playoffs, it’s Binnington’s net until further notice. The signs have been all positive with the goaltending in St. Louis through five games.

Injuries Have Already Popped Up

The main injury issue for the Blues has been Pavel Buchnevich’s lower-body injury. He suffered it in the first game of the season and hasn’t played since. He was placed on injured reserve (IR) earlier this week so the Blues could sign forward Tyler Pitlick to a one-year deal. It’s unknown how much longer Buchnevich will be out, but it’s a huge loss for this team. He is arguably their best overall forward, he had a tremendous preseason and scored two points in the first game. If the injury is as serious as it appears, it’s a good thing that the Blues are allowing him to heal up now.

The other injury is Brandon Saad, who has missed two games with an upper-body injury and is set to miss his third against the Nashville Predators in the sixth game of the season. It’s been a slow start for Saad, he scored zero points in his first three games and had a plus/minus of minus-2. It remains to be seen how Saad’s recovery progresses, but hopefully, he doesn’t end up on IR like Buchnevich did after it seemed like he may return. The Blues forward group has struggled this season and injuries could be a major part of that, they’re relying on youth and depth forwards to get through this.

Need More Production from Forwards

The Blues went two games without a goal from a forward, those games being the shutout win over the Edmonton Oilers and the loss to the Jets. In the first two games of the season, the Blues had seven goals from forwards. Since then, they have had one goal in three games from forwards. Ryan O’Reilly’s line has struggled mightily this season, they haven’t generated enough. It took O’Reilly five games to get his first point of the season, it’s just been a slow start.

Ryan O'Reilly St. Louis Blues
Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Another major issue with the O’Reilly line has been the wingers. As mentioned earlier, it was a slow start for Saad before he got injured. As for Jordan Kyrou, he simply looks lost on the ice if he’s not skating by everybody with the puck. This has been a worry with Kyrou for quite some time, dating back to last season as well. The difference was his production last season was elite, it hasn’t been so this season. He has one goal in five games, zero assists, and he’s a minus-6.

When Kyrou doesn’t have the puck, he probably shouldn’t even be on the ice. He lacks awareness and doesn’t backcheck well, both of these issues date back to the second half of last season. It’s far more noticeable when he isn’t generating or producing offense. I expect Berube to continue to mix the lines up as he did in the final two periods of their loss to the Oilers.

The Blues also haven’t gotten much production from their bottom six, but that was to be expected. They need more from their forwards, that’s just the absolute truth. Although they shouldn’t be expecting a lot of offensive production from the bottom six, they need them to start scoring to take a bit of pressure off of everybody else.

Thomas and Tarasenko Have Been Excellent

Although their production has slowed in the last couple of games, Robert Thomas and Vladimir Tarasenko have been two of the Blues’ best forwards. I would also like to shout out Brayden Schenn as well, who has six points in five games. Thomas and Tarasenko racked up a lot of their points in the first few games of the season, but they’ve continued to generate offensive chances since. They’ve been able to drive play despite being without their anchor in Buchnevich, who does a lot for them.

Robert Thomas St. Louis Blues
Robert Thomas, St. Louis Blues (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Berube put Schenn alongside Thomas and Tarasenko in last night’s game, and I think this line could be really good with how they’re all playing. There’s a lot of power and finesse with these three players. While Schenn isn’t as good as Buchnevich, he can fill in really well on this line with how motivated he’s looked this season. This line should definitely get more minutes than O’Reilly’s line, and I’m confident that Berube agrees.

Defensive Unit Issues Still Exist

This is not a surprise whatsoever, but the Blues’ defensive unit is still hanging the goaltenders out to dry. A perfect example of that is Colton Parayko not covering Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the game-winning goal in their 3-1 loss to the Oilers. While Justin Faulk and Torey Krug have been solid, the other four defensemen have had their struggles. None of this should come as a surprise given the lack of confidence in this unit going into the season. The Blues have allowed just 12 goals in five games, but almost none of that is due to defensive coverage. The goaltending has been excellent and most of the forwards have done a good job in the defensive zone.

While I think Nick Leddy has been solid, his partner Parayko has picked up where he left off last season. Most of the goals that this duo has been on the ice for were either turnovers or bad coverage, usually both by Parayko. He needs to find his game quickly, the Blues have eight seasons invested in him starting this season. I think Robert Bortuzzo and Niko Mikkola have been solid, but penalties are still an issue for them. The defensive unit still has issues, but most of them lie with the Leddy and Parayko pairing, which shouldn’t be a surprise.

The Blues have only played five games, so there is no reason to overreact. However, there have been concerning trends to begin the season. It’s going to be hard to rely on their goaltenders that much in each game for an entire season. They have to start defending better in front of them, they’ve struggled to do that for three straight seasons. Another concern is the lack of production from the best forwards, namely Kyrou and O’Reilly. If they can get production from them, they will be fine. I still think this team is a high-level contender and there is no reason to freak out, but these trends must be fixed.

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