Defending champs showing signs of inconsistency

Zach Remelius, Courier Staff

 

Since the All-Star break, the St. Louis Blues are 2-4-1. It is their worst stretch of games since 2018 when they were in last place before flipping the switch in 2019 and winning the whole thing. If they want any chance at winning another Cup, they need to get back to what made them successful: hard nosed forechecking, keeping their gaps on defense and getting a timely save from Jordan Binnington or Jake Allen when needed. In seven straight starts, Binnington has given up three or more goals. His angles seem to be way off and he is giving up way too many goals from shots that shouldn’t have a chance at going in. Binnington, of course, to this point has had an excellent career and this is the first real struggle he has had for this long a period. Every goalie goes through it no matter how great they are and if the Blues want to accomplish anything this season, they will need Binnington to bounce back and prove he is an elite goalie.

Injuries have played a part as well. Oskar Sundqvist has missed some time here recently and he is a valuable piece to the Blues forward group. He is really Craig Berube’s swiss army knife. He can play up and down the lineup, contribute 15 goals and 35 points while being one of the better defensive forwards on this team. Also, for the record, it was impressive how well the Blues offense was doing while missing Vladimir Tarasenko. However, sooner or later when you are missing an elite goal scorer, it is going to hurt and this appears to be the time. The report is on Feb. 15 the Blues and Tarasenko will meet to discuss a timeline on when the Russian star will be back on the ice.

At the beginning of the season after the trade to bring in Justin Faulk, outside of maybe a tweak, everyone thought the Blues would be done with trades. They don’t necessarily need a trade right now, but a little shakeup could be beneficial. Now for a little math and numbers talk. Currently with Tarasenko on injured reserve, the Blues technically have about six million to work with to make a deal. However, if Tarasenko comes back to the team and his $7.5 million cap hit in the regular season, they have to be cap compliant. No big moves for a forward could be made. If he doesn’t come back until the playoffs start, his salary won’t go against the cap because there is no salary cap in the playoffs. The Blackhawks made a similar maneuver in 2015 and were able to add a few pieces that were key to their Cup run and kept Patrick Kane on IR until the playoffs.

If the Blues were going to make a move, it would be for a forward on the left side. Currently in that group is Jaden Schwartz, no problem with him on the first line obviously, Zach Sanford and Sammy Blais in the middle six and then Alex Steen. No issues with Steen on the third line but that middle six group could use an upgrade. After starting off the season strong, Blais hasn’t been the same since coming back from injury. If he can find his game a third line of Blais, Tyler Bozak and Robert Thomas would be better than most third lines. Zach Sanford recently went on a six game point streak but he could be the odd man out. The names available for the Blues include Chris Kreider, a speedy forward for the Rangers who averages about 25 goals a year. He would be the biggest add the Blues could make and according to some league insiders like Elliot Friedman of Sportsnet the Blues are heavily interested. Kreider is a free agent after this year and it would be unlikely the Blues could resign him, so the price has to be right. The Rangers are looking for a first round pick and high tier prospect. Another name that has popped up is Ottawa forward Anthony Duclair. After bouncing around the league, the 24 year old has found a home in Ottawa. He has 21 goals in 54 games and could add a speed boost to the left side. The last name has only recently poppedup and that would  be Ilya Kovalchuk. After being left for dead in Los Angeles and his career thought to be over, he has reemerged in Montreal. Twelve points in 15 games including six goals and adding a borderline Hall of Famer who still has an incredible shot would not be a bad thing.

It would be very beneficial for the Blues to win the NHL’s Central Division. Playing a weaker team from the Pacific or the Predators or maybe even the Blackhawks would be so much more advantageous to a team trying to go on a repeat run. If they should let Dallas or Colorado take the division the Blues would be stuck playing one of those teams in the first round and then playing the other in the second round if they are able to win. That would be brutal and hinder any chance this team has of winning a Cup. There is still plenty of time for the Blues to turn it around and gain that title, but they need to start racking up wins again soon.