The St. Louis Blues are the hottest team in hockey, as they are currently riding a nine-game winning streak that dates back to Jan. 23, before the All-Star break. A number of factors have been responsible for the turnaround, but perhaps the biggest has been the creation of a new first line.
In the first game of the streak, Brayden Schenn was moved from center on the second line to the wing on the first line, alongside Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko. Since that game, the trio has been the most successful line in the NHL, and they’ve fueled the Blues through one of the hottest stretches in the franchise’s history.
Schenn on the Wing
The decision to move Schenn to the wing was made before the Blues’ Jan. 23 game against the Anaheim Ducks. Schenn had been struggling somewhat as a center, particularly because Jaden Schwartz, with whom he had formed a potent partnership in the 2017-18 season, was on a career-long goalless drought. Schenn had played center ever since arriving with the Blues before that season, but had a history on the wing with his previous team, the Philadelphia Flyers.
The move has paid off in spades for Schenn, who has returned to his 2017-18 form and then some. Since moving to the first line nine games ago, he has one goal and 10 assists, bringing his season total to 37 points in 53 games. He has also brought his plus/minus out of the red in that time, bringing it to even with an assist in Saturday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. Though he hasn’t been scoring goals, save for his brilliant overtime winner against the Tampa Bay Lightning, he has made his linemates look like superstars with his strong complementary play.
His play on the wing creates an interesting question for the Blues going forward. Schenn had been thought of as a potential trade candidate because of the Blues’ depth at center. But now that he has found such success on the wing, might he be willing to consider an extension to play there? Nine games is too small a sample to make that decision, but it gives the Blues more flexibility than they may have had before with Schenn’s future.
O’Reilly the Engine
While Schenn’s position may have changed, there’s nothing new about O’Reilly’s dominant play. He’s been the Blues’ best player all season, making whatever linemates he’s been partnered with look better for playing alongside him. That is just as true on the current top line as it has ever been.
Since Jan. 23, O’Reilly has three goals and nine assists, exactly a point-per-game during the streak. He now has 58 points in 57 games, and is a remarkable plus-24 on the season, far and away the best mark on the Blues’ squad. He’s top-20 in the league among forwards in minutes per game, and should be a strong contender for the Selke Trophy at season’s end.
Nine games running …
Schenn: one goal, 10 assists
O'Reilly: three goals, six assists
Tarasenko: nine goals, seven assists
that adds up to 36 points (13 goals, 23 assists). #stlblues
— Lou Korac (@lkorac10) February 16, 2019
O’Reilly has been everything the Blues hoped for and more since they traded for him in the offseason. He’s established himself as a true number-one center, and is a big part of the team’s future going forward.
Tarasenko On Fire
As strong as Schenn and O’Reilly have been, it’s been Tarasenko who has been hotter than any player in the league over the past nine games. He is on perhaps the strongest stretch of his career, and his turnaround has been critical in bring the Blues back into a playoff position.
Tarasenko has nine goals and seven assists in the last nine games, and is on an 11-game point streak to boot. That brings his season totals to 25 goals, 22 assists and 48 points in 56 games. With two points on Saturday, he climbed out of the red in plus/minus, as well.
For a player who was at the center of the NHL trade rumor mill for a period this season, it’s a dramatic and much-needed turnaround. Tarasenko is showing the world, his organization and formerly-disgruntled Blues fans why he is an elite player in the NHL, and in doing so, he’s carrying his team to the playoffs.
The Hottest in Hockey
The Blues’ top line is now the hottest in the NHL. Never was this in starker relief than when the trio took on the Avalanche’s elite top line of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. St. Louis shut out Colorado and its potent top unit, while the trio of Schenn, O’Reilly and Tarasenko combined for four points.
That’s been the pattern for the Blues’ top line for nearly a month now. On the nine-game winning streak, this line has combined for 36 total points, an average of four points-per-game. It’s an incredible feat, and as long as they have this much momentum, the Blues will be hard to stop.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.