St. Louis Blues are for real

NHL


Greg Wyshynski: The St. Louis Blues are 12-3-1 and sit atop the Central Division. Are they for real? Depends on your concept of reality, man.

They’re not this good. With a PDO of 103.32, the Blues are bound to have some level of regression. They’re averaging 3.27 goals per game, up from 2.84 last season. They’re probably facing a course correction on the defensive side, where their expected goals-against is a minuscule 1.88 per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, down from their already-impressive 1.97 last season. Plus, they’re living off the spark of their top line of Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz, which has produced 37 percent of the team’s total goals this season.

That the Blues have accomplished this despite some critical early-season injuries — including to Robby Fabbri, who has been done for the season since training camp — is nothing short of remarkable and should be lauded no matter how and when this torrid start cools off. Which brings us back to the concept of reality: The Blues are, without question, a playoff team, and, without question, a team that will challenge for the division lead. I just don’t know if this early-season juggernaut is what we end up seeing in the playoffs — although I imagine that goalie Jake Allen wouldn’t mind it if this offense actually showed up in the postseason, unlike last spring, when the Blues averaged just 2.00 goals per game.

Emily Kaplan: Last week, I designated the Blues as the best team nobody was talking about, so my stance is clear: Take these guys seriously. They have resolve, and their story of how they got here is pretty good too.

Right before their game against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night, the Blues’ public relations staff sent out an email announcing that Fabbri had undergone successful surgery on his left knee. It was a timely reminder that for all of the success the Blues have enjoyed — they have an NHL-best 25 points through 16 games — it wasn’t supposed to be this way. I’ll flash back to September, in training camp, when Fabbri’s season-ending injury was first announced. I was visiting the Pittsburgh Penguins‘ training camp around that time and ended up hanging at the practice facility all day to watch a USHL tournament. A bunch of NHL scouts were there, and in the breaks between games, I asked about the significance of Fabbri’s injury. I remember one scout said, “Yes, it’s a problem.” But he noted just how many injuries the Blues were working through. “That’s the problem,” he said. Indeed, fellow top-six forward Alexander Steen ended up missing the first six games. Patrik Berglund is still rehabbing from shoulder surgery, while defenseman Jay Bouwmeester experiences lingering effects from his broken ankle. Zach Sanford is out indefinitely. So, shortly after the Fabbri injury, Blues GM Doug Armstrong announced that the team was exploring signing Jaromir Jagr, essentially because they were desperate for forward depth. It obviously didn’t happen, but when you have a team considering all options that late in training camp, you know things are dire.

I compare that backdrop to the product we’re seeing now, and it’s hard to ignore: This team has mettle. And this has nothing to do with stats or fancy stats, but teams with mettle tend to make it far into June.

Chris Peters: I tend to agree with Greg on this one, especially given the numbers he cited. I don’t think there’s any question that the Blues are a really good team. That said, you can’t have a start this hot without having a little good fortune, and it’s hard to make that last for a full season. But this is a team with a good amount of talent up and down the lineup, with their top players playing at a high level, which is making a huge difference.

Schwartz has been out of his mind to start the season. In 16 games, he has 21 points, including nine goals. The talented winger has scored on 24.3 percent of his shots. With a career shooting percentage of 13.9, we should see his scoring cool over the course of the longer season, but he’s still on his way to a career year. Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo is kind of doing the same thing, averaging nearly a point per game with some help from a higher shooting percentage. Then there’s Vladimir Tarasenko, who has been a reliable producer for years now but might be approaching another level.

Those three players might not produce at the levels they’re producing at now for the entire season, but they might not have to. St. Louis is getting some decent secondary scoring, particularly from Paul Stastny and Vladimir Sobotka. The Blues are also playing in a Western Conference that is up for grabs. Aside from the Los Angeles Kings, no team has really established itself as a force to be reckoned with. So even if the Blues taper off some, they’re positioning themselves well for when we get closer to playoff time.



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