It was ice cold, like he’s never had reason to sweat anything in his life. Asked in the moments after he blanked the Nashville Predators whether he felt any nerves playing in close games in recent weeks, St. Louis Blues rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington stared blankly and delivered his message with only a wry smile. “Do I look nervous?” Binnington asked back. “There’s your answer.”
Talk about confidence. But then again, it’s exactly the kind of confidence that Binnington, 25, has every reason to be feeling. Tuesday night, the Blues newly minted No. 1 netminder posted a 19-save shutout. The last time out before that he was beaten only once on 32 shots against the Boston Bruins. And barring a small blip on the radar, a four-goal against effort against the Dallas Stars last week, Binnington has neared on unbeatable, some nights doing his best impression of a brick wall, since he got the shot to be a split-timer with Jake Allen almost two months back.
If that sounds like an overstatement or some sort of exaggeration, consider the facts. Since his call-up from the AHL in early January, Binnington has turned in simply astounding numbers. Among netminders with at least 20 games played this season, his .936 SP is the league’s top mark, a full six points clear of Robin Lehner and Andrei Vasilevskiy, who are tied for second with twin .930 SPs. Binnington’s 1.61 GAA is nearly half a goal against better than Lehner, the next-best keeper, who boasts a 2.10 GAA. And stunningly, particularly given he’s started less than half the contests of the three netminders in the same company, Binnington’s five shutouts are level with Sergei Bobrovsky for the second-best mark in the NHL.
His full-season totals have been buoyed by his play over the past few weeks, especially. Since the beginning of February, during which time he’s started 10 games and appeared in 11 outings, Binnington has turned in an incredible .945 save percentage, 1.44 goals-against average and four shutouts. His blanking of the division-leading Predators marked his third shutout in his past six games, and he has now stopped all but seven of the past 160 shots he’s faced. Binnington’s has been the kind of otherworldly performance and outright confidence we would expect from a Vezina Trophy-caliber and Stanley Cup-winning netminder. Instead, we’re seeing it from a freshman keeper who was fourth on the depth chart as the off-season came to a close and prior to this season hadn’t seen regular season NHL action since the 2015-16 campaign.
Making Binnington’s accomplishments over the past two months all the more difficult to ignore is that they have gone hand-in-hand with one of the most unthinkable climbs up the standings the league has witnessed not just in recent memory, but quite possibly ever.
At the time Binnington was recalled from the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage, where he was a split-time starter with Ville Husso, the Blues were dead-last in the Western Conference and had the second-fewest points in the entire NHL. Two nights later, Binnington was in the crease blanking the Carter Hart-led Philadelphia Flyers. And from that point on, St. Louis has steadily climbed up the standings. According to SportsClubStats, the Blues had a 5.7 percent chance of making the post-season the night before Binnington’s 25-save shutout over the Flyers. It improved to an eight percent chance after the victory. In the time since, St. Louis has all but solidified their spot in the post-season. Following Tuesday’s win, the Blues are now being given a 98.9 percent chance of making the playoffs.
Truthfully, to give all the credit for St. Louis meteoric rise to Binnington would be misleading. St. Louis has done a spectacular job of insulating the crease, and over the past several weeks, the Blues have been exceptional in controlling play and providing Binnington with every opportunity to shine. To wit, since Jan. 5, St. Louis has the seventh-best Corsi percentage (52.9), league-best shot percentage (55.8), third-best scoring chance percentage (53.3) and league-best high-danger chance percentage (61.3) at five-a-side.
Binnington has benefited greatly from the defensive play of the team in front of him, too. When compared to the 30 other keepers with at least 500 minutes played at 5-on-5 since Jan. 5 and measured per 60 minutes, he has faced the fewest shots against (25.5) and second-fewest high-danger shots against (5.6). None of that is to write off Binnington’s output, however. It’s simply to put it into context. Netminders with similar workloads — Carolina’s Petr Mrazek, San Jose’s Martin Jones, Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury — have been nowhere near as remarkable as Binnington. The workload alone can’t make the player.
Inevitably, Binnington’s play will result in calls for Calder Trophy consideration and some might even start to campaign for the Blues freshman to earn some Vezina or Hart Trophy love. Maybe there’s some merit to those arguments, some reason why he should be considered for some end-of-season accolades. After all, he’s snatched the mantle of top rookie goaltender from Hart, and his numbers stack of favorably against those of all netminders, even if he has only played in 20 games. But forget about the individual awards for a minute, because the real story here is that in what has quickly become one of the most unbelievable stories in the league — St. Louis’ rise into a playoff position and legitimate contention for the Central Division crown — Binnington’s play is the most improbable part.
He won’t win the Calder. He won’t win the Vezina. And he won’t win the Hart. But what Binnington has done is capture the imagination of Blues fans and earn the attention of the rest of the league. And, just like he said, it doesn’t appear to make him the least bit nervous.