With the 24-team playoff format set to take place next month, it’s important to think about storylines and things to watch for the St. Louis Blues, last year’s Stanley Cup champions.
1. Alex Pietrangelo’s Final Ride in St. Louis?
A lot of the outside noise for the Blues this season has been about the future status of their captain, Alex Pietrangelo, whose contract expires after the 2020 season. Could this be his final ride in St. Louis just one year after the Stanley Cup victory?
I believe a lot of Blues fans will watch the playoffs this year with the impression that Pietrangelo will not be the captain of the team afterward. A lot will happen before then, especially with the uncertainty surrounding the salary cap in the future and what the offseason will look like.
Either way, he’s been a tremendous player and leader of this team for nearly a decade. He’ll go down as one of the most influential players in franchise history, the first one to raise the Stanley Cup in 2019.
There is work to be done for the general manager Doug Armstrong and the entire front office, to try and make it work financially to bring the 30-year-old defender back. This will be a franchise-altering offseason for the club, whenever that happens.
2. The Return of Vladimir Tarasenko
These playoffs will mark the return of sniper Vladimir Tarasenko, who has been sidelined with a shoulder injury since the end of October 2019. Tarasenko has been a vital top-six forward for the Blues for the last decade and is much-needed for the team to make a deep run.
He scored 11 goals over 26 games in the run last year, including a couple of goals in the Stanley Cup Final. Two other major stats for Tarasenko in last year’s playoffs: 14 takeaways and 50 hits. A star player stepping up to the plate with extreme physicality was massive.
He tallied 10 points in 10 games before his injury this season and was starting to pick his game up before going down. You have to assume he’s fresh and ready to go this year.
While the physical play of Tarasenko is likely to be down, getting a big-time offensive machine back in the lineup should make them even better.
3. What Role Will the “Young Guns” Play in This Run?
When you think of the “Young Guns” of the Blues, you think of Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou, Sammy Blais, Vince Dunn, and others. What role will they play in this year’s unprecedented playoffs?
We saw the impressive play from Dunn and Blais last year in the playoffs. Blais’ physicality was paramount in the Blues’ success. He had a massive hit that helped lead to Ryan O’Reilly’s opening goal in Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.
After Dunn’s injury, where he took a puck to the face, he came back and changed the offensive ability from the blue-line for the team. He helped make them harder to play against, with robust two-way defensive play all around.
For guys like Kyrou and Thomas, we could easily see their roles expanded in the playoffs. We all know how good Thomas is, in fact, in the playoffs last year before the Final, he was fantastic with Tyler Bozak and Patrick Maroon.
Kyrou started to play extremely well before the season was suspended, and could easily earn a spot in the lineup during the playoffs this year. The “Young Guns” will have a massive impact on whether the Blues can successfully defend their title this year.
4. How Will Jordan Binnington Follow up Last Year’s Impressive Run?
In last year’s run, we saw a continuation of the hot regular season that Jordan Binnington had, for the most part. He did have some stutters here and there during the Final, but his overall play was excellent. How will he be this time around?
Binnington had a very good season in 2019-20, tallying 30 wins and a save-percentage (SV%) of .912. He did struggle throughout various parts of the season, and if he hadn’t we would be throwing his name into the running for the Vezina Trophy.
If for some reason he struggles in the playoffs, the Blues are lucky to have a solid, experienced backup like Jake Allen. The expectations should be high for Binnington regardless, especially with how well he lived up to the hype last year.
The Blues are in good hands with Binnington, and I will continue to believe that until it isn’t true. They have everything – a solid offense, a good defensive group, and an above-average goaltending duo. Expect nothing less than elite play from Binnington this time around.
5. Will the Overly Physical Style Work Again?
The biggest part of the Blues’ game during the stretch run of the 2018-19 regular season and the 2019 playoffs was their extreme physical style. They were relentless, wearing the opponent down and not giving in.
The team philosophy is simple, play as a team, and win games. An easier way for them to win games is to wear down the opponent and hit them into the ice, on several occasions.
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Will that style work in the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs? I think it will not be as effective, but will still help them in some ways. I do believe that teams will still hit hard during the playoffs, despite the COVID-19 restrictions that may be in place.
Even if the Blues can’t find a way to hit hard and often, they still have the chemistry and talent to win games, it’ll just be harder. It will be very interesting to see how these playoffs are played and how the Blues fare in them.