NHL

a .500 team still finding its game

a .500 team still finding its game

The coach of St. Louis Blues Craig Berube on Thursday, November 17, 2022 discusses the team’s win against the Washington Capitals. Video courtesy of St. Louis Blues.


Through 16 games, the Blues are even: eight wins, eight losses.

But there has been nothing average this season.

The Blues started the season with three straight wins, then set a franchise record with an eight-game losing streak, and have now rebounded with a five-game winning streak, which is tied for fourth longest so far. season Only two teams in NHL history have had an eight-game losing streak or more and then immediately gone on a longer winning streak: the 2017-18 Flyers and 2005-06 Sharks went from a 10 consecutive defeats to one of six. game winning streak.

Nothing in the first five of the season answers the most pressing question about this team: Who the hell are they? Is it the team that ended Las Vegas’ nine-game winning streak with a 3-2 win on the road last Saturday, or is it the team that lost at home to Montreal? The Blues’ play so far has made it impossible to respond.

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“I think on the road trip we played some good hockey and won some good games,” Blues coach Craig Berube said after his team’s 5-4 win over Washington on Thursday. “We’ve got to keep getting better, for sure. We’ve got to be mentally tougher and make sure we’re checking better than we are now.”

Right now there is little evidence to point one way or the other. In fact, if you were to rate their first 16 games, what they’ve done more than anything has been average. A few good games, a few bad games, but most of his games have been thrown away. The Blues is his record.

At five-on-five, the offense is slightly above league average in creating scoring chances; their five-on-five defense is slightly below average in allowing scoring chances. The power play is slightly above average. The penalty kill is well below average and has allowed goals in 10 of its last 24 chances. They are almost nine goals below their expected goal total, and have allowed one more goal than expected in defence. So, their finishing is off and their goaltending is around average for the league as a whole.

Blues players have pointed to their 2-0 win in Edmonton on Oct. 22 as their prototypical game, the one they most want to copy. The score was tight — it was a 1-0 game until Justin Faulk’s empty-net goal with just over a minute to play — but the Blues believed they would have had more if their end had been better They shut out an Edmonton team that has some of the best offensive players in the league and held them to 1.75 goals expected; the only rival that had less was Columbus at the beginning of the season.

But the Blues, who face Anaheim, the only team in the league yet to win a game in regulation, on Saturday, haven’t had a comparable game, or one in which they’ve been as effective defensively. His 37.5 expected goals allowed (per moneypuck.com) is 22nd in the NHL. The defense is the area that can use the most help. Even before injuries to defensemen forced Tyler Tucker into the lineup, the defensive group, including the forwards, allowed too many easy chances for opponents, and it remains to be seen how much this group can improve. It’s unclear at this time how long the injured Colton Parayko, the team’s top defender, will return, though Berube said it shouldn’t be too long.

The Blues saw in advance how susceptible they are to injuries. Losing Pavel Buchnevich and Brandon Saad three games into their top three lines in disarray. Few teams can afford to lose two of their top six strikers, and the Blues are no exception. Some forwards had to play higher up the ladder than they should, and the third line became almost non-existent as it was recovering in parts. The returns of Buchnevich and Saad have put everyone in their place and led to an upturn in the team’s play, a good sign going forward.

The early signs of struggle for Ryan O’Reilly are gone. Early concerns about Jordan Kyrou’s play in the wake of the big contract extension look increasingly unfounded. He has a team-high six goals, which brings him to 30 goals, and has even made some good defensive plays in recent games. Berube on Thursday praised his work ethic and competitiveness and the finish, in which he always believed,

What the coach can be most happy about is the growth of the previous control of the team, an essential part of a Berube team. “It’s really starting to come around,” Berube said. “We have to keep working on it, keep improving, but this is our game. When we’re a heavy, forward team and play in the offensive zone, we do good things.”

But just as the Blues started playing better before getting the win that ended their losing streak, teams can also go the other way around and start playing poorly before they start losing games. There was every opportunity for the Blues to lose to Washington on Thursday and somehow they avoided it, a gift from the hockey gods possibly to make up for the rebounds that didn’t come in the losing streak. The Blues need this game to be an outlier rather than an omen.

The Blues have had to work hard to get back to where they started the season. Fortunately for them, some other playoff contenders have also struggled, allowing them to be so close to a playoff spot. But no one believes that anything has been solved.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” forward Brayden Schenn said. “When you lose eight in a row, you can’t be happy with a five-game winning streak. We have to keep pushing, keep digging.

“Happy to be back to .500, but now the real work begins.”



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