The Cup Final Could See A Different Music City This Year.
The St. Louis Blues have made the playoffs in the NHL’s tough central division every year since the 2011-2012 season, but have yet to put together a run that takes them past the conference finals. They fired current Dallas Stars coach Ken Hitchcock mid-season last year in an attempt to change their fortunes. After an impressive 22-8-2 finish by current coach Mike Yeo, they still couldn’t get past the second round.
This year the Blues are putting together something special and could see some playoff success. They are currently tied with both the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators at the top of the central division. They have been able to re-tool this year, as the last two years they saw captain David Backes and top right-handed defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk leave.
They now are set up for not only immediate but sustained success. Sniper Vladamir Tarasenko is now a household name across the NHL, and is signed to a cool $7.5 million annually until 2023-2024, a steal for a player who has been the backbone of the franchise. Aside from Tarasenko, there may not be much known to the casual NHL fan about this team. They have made a few moves that have landed them in the conversation for the Stanley Cup this year.
Stealing Brayden Schenn
Forward Brayden Schenn was brought over from the Philidelphia Flyers during the draft in exchange for the 27th pick, Jori Lehtera, and a conditional 2018 pick. Lehtera has not been producing in Philidelphia, putting up two points so far in his mere 18 appearances for the team. Morgan Frost, the player taken with pick 27, will need to wait a few years before he can factor into this trade. Schenn, however, is lightning up the NHL, sitting top-10 in points and goals. This dude has been insane on the ice this year, as shown in his highlight-reel goal against Calgary the other night.
BRAYDEN SCHENN, WHAT A MOVE! Power play goal for the Blues to tie it up! pic.twitter.com/QTgtN6Tzvx— NHL Daily 365 (@NHLDaily365) December 21, 2017
Schenn is 25, meaning he is just about to hit his prime. He has been playing down the middle as well and is posting a plus-21 which is good for third in the league. He has never hit the 60 point mark in his career, but is on pace to hit that number by the end of February.
Possession-wise, the Blues control above 55% of shots when he is on the ice, and the team dips below the 50% mark when he comes off the ice. Once he can right his face-off percentage above the current 46.4%, Schenn will truly enter the conversation as a true superstar two-way center.
Defensive and Goaltending Depth
There are very few teams, if any, that can afford to trade away a bonafide top defenseman in Shattenkirk and be okay, if not better off. Captain Alex Pietrangelo and young d-man Colton Parayko have been solid on the back end. Both defenseman also posses one of the most coveted attributes in the NHL: being a right-handed shot on the back end.
Pietrangelo has posted a solid +12 this year and Parayko has a solid 53.9% corsi for. Both are signed through at least the next two seasons, Parayko through the next four. They have held down the bulk of the minutes on the right side and have made the departure of Shattenkirk almost non-evident.
In the goaltending department, number one option Jake Allen hasn’t been stellar, posting a .911 save percentage and actually performing worse than the average goalie, with a negative goals saved above average, meaning that the average goalie facing his number of shots would perform better than him.
The same can’t be said for backup Carter Hutton, who has been nothing short of stellar. Through nine games of action, he is posting a .948 save percentage, allowing 1.68 goals per game, and given the number of shots he’s faced, he’s prevented nine more goals than an average goalie.
Among goalies with at least nine games of action, Hutton is first in both goals allowed per game and save percentage. He should take some credit for the fact that the Blues have allowed the second least amount of goals per game. There is a good chance that Allen could be benched down the stretch if Hutton keeps performing at this level, and the problem is a good one for the blues to have.
It is truly a shame that Jaden Schwartz, while having a career year, went down with a major ankle injury. Playing alongside Schenn, he put up 35 points through 30 games before the injury. The Blues were controlling 57% of shots with him on the ice and shooting at a 13% clip. He will be back before the end of the season and will provide a nice boost going into the playoffs.
Schwartz’s injury follows the second year in a row that young forward Robby Fabbri had an injury relating to his ACL, and won’t get to play this season. Add this to injuries from Zach Sanford, acquired in the Shattenkirk trade, and veteran D Jay Bouwmeester, and this team could look a lot better than it does.
The team, once re-evaluated in March, could look a lot better depending on what they do at the trade deadline, as well as how each of these players progresses from their injuries. Providing health can be on their side, the Blues should be able to make some noise come playoff time.
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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