BLUES STREAK TOWARDS PLAYOFFS

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BLUES STREAK TOWARDS PLAYOFFS

St. Louis Blues players celebrate a 3-2 win against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (David Santiago/Miami Herald/TNS)

St. Louis Blues players celebrate a 3-2 win against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (David Santiago/Miami Herald/TNS)

St. Louis Blues players celebrate a 3-2 win against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (David Santiago/Miami Herald/TNS)

St. Louis Blues players celebrate a 3-2 win against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (David Santiago/Miami Herald/TNS)

Patrick McColl, Staff Writer

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As students came back to school from winter break the morning of Jan. 3, the St. Louis Blues were one of the worst teams in the National Hockey League. At a record of 15-18-4, the Blues couldn’t do much right at all. Since then, however, the Blues have had a remarkable turnaround, and as of March 13, stand at 36-26-7, good enough for third place in the Central division.

While many factors have played into the Blues turnaround this season, one of the biggest surprises has been goalie Jordan Binnington, who already has a Blues rookie record 5 shoutouts this season. Jake Allen’s starting role was heavily questioned as the season went on, so the Blues decided to switch to a Binnington Allen platoon swap, and it has definitely paid off. Since the Blues have started utilizing Binnington, the team is 16-4-1 when he starts, and has been a big part of the fuel to the Blues hot stretch. Among goaltenders, Binnington has the third best save percentage, and is first in the league in goals against average at 1.81, which is well above the second place Ben Bishop at 2.08.

Speaking of defense, the Blues defensive lineups, led by Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko have helped keep goals off the board. During the 11-game win streak that flipped the Blues season, the Blues defense and goaltending delivered four shoutout victories, including three shutouts in a row from February 14-17. The Blues are sixth in goals against per game, and third in shots against per game. Essentially, they are keeping the puck out of the slapshooters sticks, and keeping the puck out of the net when it is shot on.

That kind of defense has got the Blues offense boosting confidence on the other end of the rink. St. Louis averaged almost four goals over their the 11 game win streak, and they haven’t let up. Since Jan. 3, when the Blues win, they have averaged 3.71 goals and held opponents to an average of 1.33 goals, which is a +2.38 differential. They aren’t only winning, but often controlling the game.
The Blues have had lots of contribution offensively from right winger Vladimir Tarasenko and center Ryan O’ Reilly. The two have combined for 124 points. O’Reilly has been all over the game, with 26 goals, second on the team only behind Tarasenko’s 28, and 40 assists which leads the team. O’Reilly’s +22 plus/minus, a stat created to help measure a player’s impact while in the game, is far and away the best on the team. Of the over 700 players in the NHL, O’Reilly’s plus/minus is the 20th best in the league

With 13 games left in the season, the Blues have a crucial stretch of hockey still to play. They are definitely not out of position to move up in the divisional standings, sitting four points out of second, and five out of first. A little win streak and luck and they could be right there. However, make the same mistakes or resort back to their play in the earlier season and the Blues could just as easily fall. The Coyotes and the Stars, the two wild card teams in the western conference, have been playing great hockey recently. The Coyotes have won nine of their last eleven, and the Stars five of their last six.

During this final stretch, it will be important for the Blues to capitalize on the softer scheduled games. 10 of the 13 games the Blues will be playing are against teams that aren’t in a playoff spot, which is very nice considering the Blues injury luck recently. A nice winning stream to go off of, some confidence, and decent positioning heading into the playoffs could be all this team needs to finally make a deep try for the Stanley Cup. The pressure is lessened from years past, as the Blues were considered a terrible team earlier in the season. They haven’t set the league on fire the entire season, and they didn’t have any expectations until recently. Considering they weren’t supposed to be here in the first place, the Blues have a chip on their shoulders, and that could propel them to something more than the usual disappointment. St. Louis should be excited to see what this team can do coming down the stretch.