Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Blues defy odds, jump out of gates 5-0-0 for first time in franchise history

Despite ugly ending to last season, trade turmoil, uncertainty of roster, Blues 
have pulled it together, come out of gates blazing but tempered over hot start

ST. LOUIS -- OK, let's be real here: who had the Blues winning their first five straight out of the gate to begin the season to establish a franchise record?

Hard to imagine anyone did all things considered.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ville Husso (35) makes one of 34 saves to keep the Blues perfect on the 
season after 3-0 win over Los Angeles on Monday.

But here they are, one of four teams that remain unblemished, along with Carolina, Florida and Edmonton, after a 3-0 shutout victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Monday at Enterprise Center.

OK, for all those that say the Blues' opponents are a combined 4-16-2, but let's be real here, Colorado (2-3-0) and Vegas (1-4-0), prohibitive favorites to come out of the Western Conference, were not expected to get off to the slow starts they have.

Yes, injuries and COVID-19 have gotten the best of those teams, Vegas in particular, but you have to play the that you're dealt, and the Blues have done so well.

Their early summer last season began with a four-game sweep at the hands of the Avalanche in the Western Conference first round, then the Vladimir Tarasenko soap opera began with the disgruntled star requesting a trade out of St. Louis after 10 seasons (no need to rehash the stories of why).

This had all the makings of a runaway train on a downward spiral with no end in sight.

But in the end, Tarasenko is still here, and we'll continue to say for how long, nobody knows. Could be a day, a month, a year, two years (his current contract runs out  after the 2022-23 season), nobody knows at this point.

The Blues have invested in youth that has provided an infusion into the lineup with its experienced, veterans leaders and it has provided a healthy mix of guys doing whatever it takes to build their brand back up.

They've brought in new, veteran faces (Pavel Buchnevich, Brandon Saad and James Neal) that have blended in well with the youthfulness of Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas, Klim Kostin, Jake Neighbours and Jake Walman, to go with the usual cast of Ryan O'Reilly, David Perron, Brayden Schenn, Tarasenko, Tyler Bozak, Ivan Barbashev, Justin Faulk, Torey Krug, Jordan Binnington and the rest to formulate a perfect storm. 

"It's great (for) our guys. It's all on the players," Blues coach Craig Berube said after the win Monday. "They've done a great job. Like I told you guys, I thought it started in the summer time. Their work and conditioning and it carried over to camp, we had a real good camp. It's carried over to the season now. That's all on the players."

Think about this: there have been several national publications that felt the Blues' slow decline towards the middle of the pack would continue this season, so much so that they've even been picked to not even make the playoffs. Anything can happen of course, but the fact that they've come out of the gates running at top cylinder speaks of how far they've come and where they want to get back to.

After all, it wasn't that long ago (2019) that the Blues were on top of the hockey world winning their first Stanley Cup, and they have plenty of players remaining from that team that would love nothing more than to forge a new group with the same aspirations.

"We prepare well for the season," Tarasenko said. "We had a good camp. We had some good times in Vail before the season starts. Like I said, yeah we won five, but we can do better, so that's what we focus on."

The team is not content. That's important.

Have they been perfect? Not by any means. But here are some of the positives that have led to the great start:

* Balance and depth -- Each of the skaters that has played at least a game this season has scored a point. Twenty of them, including seven of them that are on a point per game clip (Perron, Kyrou, Tarasenko, Barbashev, O'Reilly, Krug and Thomas). They share the wealth and have no qualms about doing so. This group is the epitome of togetherness and willing to sacrifice for teammates, no matter who basks in the glory.

* Solid goaltending -- It's no surprise, since goaltending for the Blues has typically been at the forefront when things are going well, but Binnington is off to his first 4-0-0 start of his young career, and Ville Husso with another shutout Monday, has two in back-to-back regular-season starts.

"I always defend our goalies. They play awesome," Tarasenko said. "'Huus' and 'Binner,' they are unreal goalies, and sometimes the last couple of years they don't get too much credit, what they deserve. But we try to help them a lot and they help us. 'Huus' stop all the shots and 'Binner' played awesome four games before in a row. So I think we're lucky to have those two on our team."

* Strong special teams -- Despite going 0-for-2 on the power play Monday, the Blues are 6-for-16 on the season (37.5 percent), second in the NHL only behind the Oilers (47.1 percent), and their penalty kill is off to a solid start at 93.8 percent, which is No. 1 in the NHL.

The Blues have outscored the opposition 25-11, plus-14 in goal differential, and that's a solid start, no doubt, but if there are any shortcomings to their season start, perhaps they'd like to continue to cut down on the scoring chances and shots against. The Blues are allowing 34 shots per game against, which is 26th in the league, but the goaltending has been super.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko celebrates after scoring against
the Los Angeles Kings on Monday.

"I think you can tell on the ice, we're playing for each other, we're having fun, we're feeding off the energy the fans are bringing in," Thomas said. "Everyone's having fun so I think we've got to just stay in that moment but at the same time, we got some work to do defensively and tighten it up and not allowing so many chances, and not relying on our goalie so much. So I think at the same time, we've got to keep getting better every single game and obviously a great start. So we've got to enjoy that."

Will there be dips? Of course. An 82-game schedule will do that, but if the Blues keep living in the moment, as Thomas said, there will be a lot more winning than losing. Tests will come, and the next one will be with a fully-loaded Avalanche team that will want revenge for a season-opening 5-3 loss to the Blues, but this team seems to thrive when not given much of a chance.

Ask the 2019 team, which didn't get much of a chance from anyone to do what it did. 

"Keep it going. You can't get complacent in this league and you've got to keep your foot on the gas pedal at all times," Berube said. "You've got to keep your head at an even keel. You never can get too high or too low in this league."


  1. Being a Blues Fan, I was disappointed at the preseason reviews of our team. Yet, I did not expect a start like this one. Even our fourth line is dangerous and not easy to play against. Wait until we have Oscar back in the groove, he's a wrecking ball of a swiss army knife. Someone will have to sit, someone who can play, that's called depth. Good on us...

  2. It's still early, the jury is still out. But they've certainly let it be known, at least for now, that they're in it for the long haul.