When Ryan O’Reilly lifted a shot over goaltender Frederik Andersen of the Toronto Maple Leafs in overtime on Tuesday, he captured a little bit of history for the St. Louis Blues. Tuesday’s victory marked the 11th in a row for the Blues, a new franchise record. When compared with the teams that won 10 games in a row for the Blues, the fact that this group has broken new territory is very telling about what this team is and where it might go.
Pronger, MacInnis and Quenneville…Oh My!
The Blues have gone undefeated for 10 games two different times; both were in 2002. The first, which began on Jan. 3, 2002 with a 4-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, lasted until Jan. 23, a 5-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres. In that time, they maintained a goal differential of plus-21. The second, which began with a tie on the second game of the following season, lasted through Nov. 5 with a goal differential of plus-27.
The Blues of the early 2000s were a dominant force. In those two seasons, the late, great Pavol Demitra led the team with a combined 171 points. Other legendary players like Doug Weight, Keith Tkachuk, Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis all played during that time. And, of course, the teams were led by future Hall of Fame head coach, Joel Quenneville.
Both teams finished second in the Central Division. The 2001-02 squad made it to the second round, where they were defeated by the eventual Stanley Cup-winning Detroit Red Wings. The 2002-03 group were knocked out by the Vancouver Canucks in the first round (something of a tradition for promising Blues teams).
Despite the lack of postseason success, there’s no denying the talent on those two teams. That is perhaps the most legendary period of the team’s history, and modern fans should take note of just how significant the current streak is for breaking their records.
Blues Win 11
The Blues’ 2018-19 streak began with a 5-1 drubbing of the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 23, immediately before the All-Star break. At the time, it seemed like a whole new Blues team, though many fans suspected that had more to do with the poor play of their opponent.
It seems like those fans were mistaken, though, as the Blues won their next 10 games. Most impressive was the period from Feb. 7 to Feb. 10, when they beat the league’s best team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and then won back-to-back games over the weekend against their division rivals, the Nashville Predators. That streak of three wins in four games against two of the league’s toughest opponents was undeniably the best stretch of hockey St. Louis has played all season.
We recently examined what caused the Blues’ turnaround in depth, but it’s safe to say two factors have played the biggest role: first, Jordan Binnington, the team’s rookie goaltender, has been lights out. He’s an unbelievable 13-1-1 since his debut, with four shutouts, a save percentage of .937 and a goals-against average of 1.61. In 15 starts, he’s allowed more than two goals twice.
Of course, the best goaltender in the world can’t beat opponents without his team scoring goals, and the Blues’ top line has been doing that in droves. Superstar Vladimir Tarasenko has collected 10 goals and nine assists during the winning streak, while O’Reilly has tallied five goals and seven assists. Their play, combined with that of Brayden Schenn, has powered the team’s offense during the 11-game stretch.
A Stanley Cup in St. Louis?
Only time will tell if the current squad creates the legend that the teams of the early 2000s did, or whether the stars of this team will become legends like those stars have. But one thing could cement the 2018-19 group as the greatest in franchise history, even more so than a franchise record winning streak: a Stanley Cup.
Blues fans have waited for over 50 years for the team to win its first championship, and for much of this season, it seemed like at least another agonizing season of waiting was ahead. But this streak has Blues fans dreaming of bigger things. If those dreams come true, we will look back to this streak as the first sign that magic was in the air.
The Blues have a chance to extend their streak to 12 games when they travel to Dallas to face the Stars on Thursday night.