Is there a more interesting but likewise infuriating team in the NHL than the St. Louis Blues? Despite seeming to have all the pieces they need to be a dominant force in the league, their inconsistent play during the past month has them sitting in third place in the ruggedly competitive Central Division with the Wild and the Predators, both of which have games in hand.
The Blues‘ maddening inconsistency was evident during the weekend when they shut out the league-leading Dallas Stars on Saturday but were unable to build on that momentum on Sunday night against the lowly Colorado Avalanche and lost 3–1.
After storming out of the gate 11-3-1 in their first 15 games, the Blues are 6-7-3 since November 12 and, in the process, have been unable to mount a winning streak of any kind. Injuries have been a factor. Depth forwards Jaden Schwartz (ankle) and Patrik Berglund (shoulder) have been out since October and agitator extraordinaire Steve Ott (hamstring) recently went down for three months.
On the plus side, Vladimir Tarasenko continues to be one of the more exciting young players in the NHL, putting up 2.55 points per 60 minutes of ice time, good for seventh in the league among those who have seen a minimum of 400 minutes. Offensively, Tarasenko has been worth every penny of the eight-year, $60 million contract he signed last summer, but something is missing from the team's overall mix.
During their first 15 games, the Blues looked like the force that many people expected them to be, registering an impressive Corsi For of 54.6% (all stats are five-on-five, Score Adjusted and via War-on-Ice.com), good for second in the entire NHL. Since then their Corsi For is 53.1%, seventh-best in the league. They’re obviously still driving possession in a big way, especially when they blend their speed with their physical game, two elements that make them tough to beat.
As usual, one factor preventing the Blues from realizing their potential is inconsistent goaltending. During their first 15 games the St. Louis keepers posted an On-Ice Save Percentage of 94.3%, good for third in the NHL. Since then they have dropped to 90.4%, the second-worst figure in the league. Despite the strong season that Jake Allen seems to be having (on paper at least), there are still questions about his game and veteran Brian Elliott, who has shown flashes of brilliance but never been able to secure the No.1 spot. The coach’s penchant for pulling his netminder and putting him back in minutes later saves a time out, but how effective is the move if it toys with the confidence of two goalies who are seeking to be the go-to guy?
In the Blues' last 16 games, Elliott has posted an Adjusted Save Percentage of .928, which is much better than the .902 that Allen has put up. It’s a delicate balancing act trying to get the most out of two goalkeepers of Allen and Elliott’s abilities, especially when they run hot and cold. How coach Ken Hitchcock manages this situation will go a long way in determining how well the Blues finish this season.