How the St. Louis Blues Salvaged Their 2018-19 Season
by Rick Bouch Scores & Statson
After the 19 games of the 2018-19 National Hockey League season, the St. Louis Blues had just seven wins. They were so bad that general manager Doug Armstrong fired head coach Mike Yeo and handed the team over to 17-year NHL veteran Craig Berube. What the Blues have done since is simply mind-boggling.
The Blues, who were 9-13-4 at one point this season, are now 32-22-5 and sitting in third place in the Central Division. Their 69 points trail Winnipeg (76) and Nashville (75) in the division. St. Louis has won its last 11 straight games, a streak that doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon. How did they do it?
Goaltending – Jordan Binnington In early January, St. Louis had the worst record in all of the Western Conference (16-19-4). On Jan. 7, St. Louis started rookie Jordan Binnington in goal and have been on a tear ever since. The Blues are 15-3-1 since that day and Binnington himself is 13-1-1. The 6-foot-1-inch rookie from Ontario has a .937 save percentage and 1.61 goals against average.
Binnington has made a number of big saves for the Blues and, more importantly, has given the team confidence in its last line of defense. The Blues are now second in the NHL in 5-on-5 save percentage. Their .942 mark trails only the New York Islanders (.946).
No Shot, No Score The easiest way to give up fewer goals per game in the NHL is to give up fewer shots. Under Yeo in the first 19 games of this season, the Blues faced 30.8 shots per game. Since Berube has taken over, St. Louis faces an average of 28.1 shots per game. Why the change?
The answer is simple. Berube emphasizes forechecking and the Blues have bought into the philosophy. They play faster, much more tenaciously than a year ago. They have made life in their own zone much easier by simply staying out of it.
Offensive Juggernaut In their current 11-game winning streak, which dates back to Jan. 23, the Blues have averaged 3.55 goals per game. Center Ryan O’Reilly, the team’s leading scorer with 61 points (23 goals), hasn’t gone more than three games without a point this season. The real key has been Vladimir Tarasenko (51 points, 26 goals) who scored just two goals in December (13 games). In his last 14 games, Tarasenko has scored 11 goals, four of which were game-winners.
Superstition Like all professional athletes, superstition seems to play a role in any sort of streak. In early January, several Blues players had witnessed the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Chicago Bears in an NFL Wild Card game. While watching the game, they watched as Eagles fans danced and danced to a popular 1980s hit called “Gloria” by Laura Branigan.
After Binnington’s first start on Jan. 7, a Blues’ win, the team cranked their new song in the locker room. They have been playing it ever since and likely will continue the new tradition as the season gives way to the postseason. After missing the playoffs last year and starting this season on a down note, the Blues appear headed back to where they belong – the Stanley Cup playoffs.