The Blues need a better Binnington
Won’t someone spare a thought for the poor recent Stanley Cup champions who have slowly lost their ability to win? I know getting to the top is the greatest joy a fan can experience, but the slow downward spiral is no fun, and as we speak, the St. Louis Blues are looking for a way out.
One of the most magical cup runs in recent history lifted the Blues to glory in 2019, as a team at the bottom of the league in January went 30–10–5 at the end and eventually fought their way past the Bruins in game 7 of the Finals. Their change was largely due to Jordan Binnington, a rookie goalkeeper who became nearly unbeatable after being called up, even in high-pressure situations. In that game 7Binnington stopped 32 of Boston’s 33 shots, and didn’t give up a goal until two minutes were left and his fired-up team had already scored four.
The slump hasn’t hit the Blues as hard as it could have, especially considering their title is coming off a season that was 50 percent ugly. But they haven’t left as much of a mark on the league in the years since. They were the best team in the West in the abbreviated 2019-20 campaign, but failed to win a game in the qualifying round and were knocked out by the Canucks in the first round. The following year, they were swept by the Presidents Trophy winner Avalanche. And in 2022, after a third-place finish in the Central, it was again the Avs who took them out in the second round.
Binnington, through it all, has shown flashes of greatness, but mostly has struggled to reverse what has been a steady decline since his rookie magic. His regular-season save percentage dropped from .927 to .912 as a sophomore, then down a bit in his junior year. In 2021-22, he lost his status as his team’s first choice, ceding the role to Finland’s second-year substitute Ville Husso, who played very well during the regular season and then parlayed that success into a new contract with the Red Wings. (Binnington is only in the second year of a six-year deal worth $6 million each, which severely limited the kind of offer St. Louis could make.) That meant this year , after some strong playoff performances that were cut short by injury, Binnington should once again be The Guy, with only 36-year-old Thomas Greiss to share the net with him.
It started well enough, with the Blues winning their first three games behind Binnington in net, but that early optimism has crumbled over the last five – all regulation losses by a combined margin of 17 goals – and the former postseason hero looks deeply shaken. At home against Montreal on Saturday night, one of the weakest offenses in the league gutted an early 3-1 lead for the Blues, scoring five goals on Binnington in about 10 minutes of play as they cruised to a victory for 7-4 “We scored four goals” Blues coach Craig Berube said afterward. “We have to win the game.”
They didn’t score four on Monday night, but it wouldn’t have mattered even if they did. In Binnington’s follow-up performance, he didn’t even make it into the second half of the game. A Kings team that has been good at finishing their chances (and played a particularly loose, action-packed brand of hockey) just tore through the Blues’ defense, racking up five goals over a Binnington almost defenseless until he was taken out in the second. period Some keen observers were somewhat amused to note how Binnington gave a little “Look at it, punks” to the Kings bench during his shameless skate. It’s nothing for an eye alone, but for a goalkeeper who really is he earned his reputation for rude problems, frustration is definitely something to control.
Binnington could be a little more solid in net, but he could also be spared more often the indignity of sliding around his crease as the opposing offense moves the puck through a disembodied defense. And all of these problems come without even mentioning St. Louis’ ailing forward group. Louis, who were deep last season but are 30th in the league in goals per game as their young kids have gotten off to slow starts and their Cup squad vets have struggled to keep up . production
“You have to realize how hard it is to win in this league.” said Blue sixth-year Brayden Schenn after Monday’s game. “And I don’t think we realize it right now.”
The problem is not serious enough to start panicking. The Blues should know that better than anyone, considering what they endured during their franchise’s only championship season. But the prospects are not good either. Last year, this was a team that created a below-average number of chances, benefited from puck luck and leaned on its goaltender in its biggest moments. This year’s team is similar, minus the luck and the goalie. Binnington and the defense need to fix their issues and be the foundation this team desperately needs. Then they can make fun of people without looking pathetic.