Today we are continuing our Central Division Preview as we look at the St. Louis Blues who just barely missed the playoffs but re-loaded in the summer with a big boost to their offense.
Last Year’s Performance
- 94 points, 5th in Central Division (One point out of wildcard spot)
- 51.78 CF%, 51.22 xGF% (courtesy of Corsica, all numbers adjusted)
The Blues have been a model of consistency for the last number of seasons. They made the playoffs for six straight years from 2011-2017 before things went off the rails last season. The Blues finished fifth in the Central last year which was their worst finish since 2007-2008.
So what went wrong for the Blues last year?
This past season the Blues struggled in a few different areas. Similar to the Dallas Stars, the Blues excelled at keeping pucks out of their net but struggled to create any offense.
Some of the Blues struggles can be attributed to Jake Allen. While Allen was supposed to take the reins and be an undisputed number one goalie, he faltered and posted a new career low save percentage of .906. Even while struggling, Allen got most of the time in net as he started 56 games compared to Hutton’s 26. Hutton played really well in those 26 games as he posted a .931 SV%. It’s quite baffling that the Blues gave Allen so much ice time when Hutton was clearly the superior netminder.
Even though Allen didn’t play great during the season, the Blues still finished 6th in the league in goals against by only giving up 2.71 per game.
As for the Blues offensive game, the trend that is beginning to emerge is that teams who do not get chances from right in front of the net tend to not score as many goals. While this may seem obvious, the heat maps provide an important illustration for this point.
Once again, the giant holes right in front of the crease led to St. Louis having a difficult time out-scoring their opponents. St. Louis finished 24th in the league in goals per game and were 30th in PP%.
St. Louis is normally led by Tarasenko who is a premier goal scorer in today’s NHL. Tarasenko scored 37 goals in 2014-2015, 40 goals in 2015-2016, 39 goals in 2016-2017 but only managed to score 33 this past season. Beyond Tarasenko there was a mix of good and bad from the other players.
Brayden Schenn smashed his old season records and finished with a new career high in both goals and assists last season. Jaden Schwartz also had a great year and was scoring at nearly a point per game pace with 59 points in 62 games. Unfortunately for Schwartz, he injured his ankle in December and missed nearly two months of action. Up to that point he was tied for ninth in league scoring and St. Louis was in playoff contention.
After Schwartz got injured, the Blues lost seven of their next nine games and lost major ground in the division. They couldn’t keep pace with everyone else and when they lost seven straight in the month of February, it essentially ended St. Louis’ season.
Regardless, St. Louis still believed they could make the playoffs until they traded away coveted centre Paul Stastny in a move that severely hindered their playoff chances.
Schenn on Stastny trade: “Crazy. One or two points out, move a guy that does a lot for us. But at the end of the day, you know, that’s their decision. I guess we’ll see what happens here within the next hour.” #stlblues
— Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) February 26, 2018
This trade obviously affected the Blues organization and while they might be happy with Foley and the picks a few years from now, it certainly didn’t help their chances last season. This illustrates the disconnect between the management and the players. The team believed they could still push for a wildcard spot while the management were content to miss the playoffs and try to recoup a few assets in return.
Last Season Against Winnipeg
The Jets and Blues split the season series at two apiece. The began their season series in December where they played a bizarre back to back in St. Louis and Winnipeg. It was a weird little quirk in the schedule as both teams had to travel to Winnipeg right after their game in St. Louis. They split those two games and then split the other two in February as well.
Check out the performance in February where the Jets won 4-0 and Petan scored his second goal of the year! (This is for all of you Petan fans out there)
- Ryan O’Reilly
- Tyler Bozak
- David Perron
- Chad Johnson
- Patrick Maroon
- Vladimir Sobotka
- Patrik Berglund
- Paul Stastny
- Tage Thompson
- Carter Hutton
If the Blues’ players weren’t happy with trading away Stastny for future assets they will certainly be more pleased with the moves made in the off-season. The Blues made arguably the biggest splash in the entire league by bringing in two-way centre Ryan O-Reilly. This deal was massive as they Blues gave up Sobotka, Berglund, Thompson (a former first round pick) and a second round pick in 2021.
O’Reilly is a tough player to judge because of his time with such an underwhelming Buffalo team. Even with a terrible team in Buffalo, O’Reilly has put up respectable numbers. Over the last five seasons he has scored between 55 and 65 points. If he plays with more talented linemates next year he should be able to reach new personal bests in multiple categories.
The Blues weren’t done there as they signed a few veterans highlighted by Tyler Bozak and David Perron. This gives the Blues an entirely new look to their team and it should definitely help them improve. Their centre depth is remarkably better as they now have O’Reilly, Schenn, and Bozak anchoring their top three lines.
The Blues are a much different team than last year. Even though they finished fifth in the division, they believe they can win with their current crop of players. Instead of rebuilding after trading Stastny, they loaded up in the summer and will look to challenge for the playoffs. If Jake Allen can return to his old form of a few years ago there is no reason the Blues can’t finish third in the division and get back into the playoffs.