Hockey

As we learned here to varying degrees, championships come with their own questions. Most are pleasant and even fun, but others are tough and can dictate just how long you remain in the sun. How much do you weight sentimentality? Value age and production? The Blues will face all of these with Alex Pietrangelo the rest of this season and the summer.

OrangeJello used to be a figure of fun around these offices for years. While he was the Blues #1 d-man for years, and somehow connived his way onto Team Canada in 2014, we just didn’t get it. He never pushed the play at much above the team-rate and was sometimes below it. He scored enough, somewhere between 40-50 points consistently, but wasn’t quite a dynamic offensive performer from the back either. We didn’t even think he was that good defensively, and he didn’t move as well as many other #1 d-men in an ever-quickening league.

Of course, then last year’s playoffs happened, where Pietrangelo piled in 16 points in 20 games, was simply everywhere most nights and looked to have found a snap to his game we hadn’t seen before. Also didn’t hurt his cause that he was the first Blue ever to raise the Cup.

Not much has changed this year. Pietrangelo is on pace for a career-best 57 points. His individual metrics–shots, attempts, chances, expected goals–are miles ahead of his career numbers. He’s been unleashed as a purely offensive d-man a lot of the time, and it’s clearly going down well with him. Hi relative numbers to the team in Corsi and xG% are stratospheric compared to what had come before.

Which is handy for him, because it just so happens he’s an unrestricted free agent come this summer.

Which definitely puts the Blues in something of a quandary. At this rate, Pietrangelo is an $8M or $9M player. And as this is probably his one chance at a big contract, he’s going to want as many years as he can get. The Blues just handed Justin Faulk the same $6.5M per year that Pietrangelo makes now, but he’s not the captain and #1 d-man on a defending champ. Clearly, unless he’s extremely charitable, Pietrangelo is aiming higher. And if he were extremely charitable, he’d probably already be signed now.

He also turns 30 next month, so it’s fair for the Blues to ask how many peak years does he have left? His game should age ok, but this is probably as good as it will be. Do they really want to lock him in for six, seven, or eight years when he definitely won’t be this?

The Blues are also locked in for a good amount of money for next year already. At the moment they’re estimated to have only about $7M in space next season. Maybe they can move along some combination of Schwartz, Bozak, Bouwmeester, Allen, or Steen in some fashion to open up space. But Schwartz isn’t going anywhere, no one is likely biting on Bouwmeester or Steen other than retirement. So there just might not be space.

And the Blues may just conclude they’re buffeted for Pietrangelo’s departure. They have Parayko, they have Faulk, they have Dunn who all provide flair and dash. They’ll need to find some free safeties, but those are easily scraped up. Could the Blues actually just wave their captain goodbye and thank him for his service? It would be the prudent move. But as we’ve learned up here, that’s not that easy of a lever to pull.

 

Everything Else

I’m not even gonna give it a name. You know what we’re doing here.

2018-2019

FUCK YOU

Goalies: So the question isn’t whether you believe in love after love…well, I mean it kind of is. If you believe “love” is Jordan Binnington being able to repeat what he did over the final 32 games last year. And really, his regular season was a huge January and February, as he was rather ordinary in March and April, By then it of course didn’t matter. And he was good enough in the playoffs without being spectacular, as a .914 is not spectacular. In his first full season in the NHL, you can probably expect something like Matt Murray has gone through, which is very up and down and overall probably just ok.

If it’s anything worse, somehow Jay Gallon is still here. Perhaps this is what he was always meant for, with no pressure as a backup. He can probably fill this role well. It would be hilarious and a market correction if both Binnington and Allen both stained the sheets (in the bad way), but most likely the Blues are looking at no worse than solid if not song-worthy goaltending. FUCK YOU.

Defense: What really fucking sucks is that Justin Faulk, whom the Hawks should have been after for two goddamn years, is a major upgrade on Joel Edmundson, who was a rock-headed fuckstick that was over-worshipped by the inhabitants of the IQ desert down there. Now that they’ve let Alex Pietrangelo off the hook, the Blues have yet another puck mover, to go along with another season of growth from Vinnie Dunn Bag O’ Donuts Ovah Here! I’m still sure Colton Parayko is a disaster waiting to happen, except I’m still waiting. Jabe O’Meester and Robert Bortuzzo for sure are something that needed to be cleared with vinegar and baking soda, but it was enough once. If O’Meester is a healthy scratch a fair portion of the time, they’ll sadly be fine. FUCK YOU.

Forwards: Boy it must really piss the Predators off that the Blues stole their act of having only one genuine top line forward (Tarasenko) and a bunch of tweeners after that and went somewhere the Predators never have and never will. Sure, Ryan O’Reilly did a fine impression of a genuine #1 center in the playoffs, and took home the Conn Smythe as a demonstration of that. But we know what he is. But with him, Brayden Schenn, Tyler Bozak, and if Robert Thomas sees any time in the middle, they basically have three or four guys who slot between 1-2 or 2-3, so it’s just about the same thing. This corps is actually short on fuckwits and dipshits, which you would think would be illegal in West East St. Louis. But it’s young, and it’s fast. Thomas gets another year, as does Sammy “TO BLAIS, WHICH WE ALL KNOW MEANS TO BLUFF, SO YOU WERE PLAYING CARDS…”. Fabbri Robby or Robbri Fabbi or whatever is back before something else goes snap. Jordan Kyrou is going to get a full look after a pretty impressive half-season in the AHL last year and a cameo at the top level. Other than maybe Zach Sanford, the Blues are going to boast speed on all four lines. What the fuck kind of world is it when the Blues are sporting a lineup chockfull of speed both at forward and the blue line and the Hawks make the same sound as your car stuck in the mud/snow? FUCK YOU.

Prediction: With Winnipeg looking an absolute train wreck-in-waiting, the Predators possibly slipping back or at least going stale, there is no reason the Blues don’t win the division. Maybe Colorado is ready to take that big of a leap, but we’re talking about a leap of 15-20 points, which is asking a lot. Especially out of a team that has an iffy blue line, as the Avalanche kind of do. Yeah, the Blues might not have a lot of top end scoring. But they might have a wealth of second-tier scoring to make up for it. They might not have any top-pairing d-men, depending on what your opinion of Pietrangelo is. But they might have four or five 1B or second pairing guys to make up for it. The only hope is the goaltending completely drops out, but under Craig Berube their metrics were so good they can mitigate the goaltending to a point if they have to.

FUCK YOU

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 in San Jose, Saturday 7pm

Game 2 in San Jose, Monday 8pm

Game 3 in St. Louis, Wednesday 7pm

Game 4 in St. Louis, Friday 7pm

 

We’ve been here before. It was only three years ago. The Sharks roster is pretty much the same, though Erik Karlsson is a big change and younger players on that team have matured into stars now. The Blues roster is much different from that one. So I guess there’s no point in talking about it. Whoops. But past iterations of the Blues always matter. Because they’re the Blues. Hopefully we get the same ending. Will we?

Goalies: It would seem callous to say the shine has come off Jordan Binnington just a tad when he gave up all of two goals over seven periods-plus in the last two games against the Stars. But the Stars were terrified to cross their blue line until overtime of Game 7, so he wasn’t asked to do all that much. In Games 2-4, where Binnington saw more than 30 shots in regulation, he gave up 10 goals. So really, the expectation here is if the Blues expect Binnington to win this series by himself, he’s not going to. But he’s not going to lose it by himself either. Still, this is not a Jets team actively quitting or a Stars team that’s afraid of its own shadow offensively. He’s going to see more than 30 shots in regulation pretty much every game, or so you’d think. We’re in un-chartable territory for him. He’s going to be asked to do more, let’s say.

There was a handsome and charming blogger who predicted that Martin Jones would be this year’s Braden Holtby, and cast aside a woeful regular season to come good in the playoffs. I wish I could remember who that was. Since the start of Game 6 against the Knights, Jones has been at .921, and that includes a couple heaves against the Avs. He hasn’t been the problem all of San Jose was praying to Yahweh to fix. He’s still capable of a clanger, but while the Blues have done it through a collection, they don’t have any force like MacKinnon or Rantanen or even some of the Knights. And they’re more conservative. The Blues have only managed more than 35 shots in regulation twice in any game yet this spring.

It wouldn’t have seemed like it before the playoffs started, but this is a pretty even matchup now.

Defense: We have our blindspots here. The Bruins depth, Freddie Andersen in general, the supreme being that is Teuvo. And another thing you’ll never get us to believe is that the Blues’ defense isn’t complete shit. It’s slow and dumb and not all that skilled. And yet it was enough to repel the Jets, whatever their focus level, which should be one of the bigger arsenals in the league. It barely survived the one-line attack of the Stars, but it survived. Pietrangelo has carried the play, whether paired with Vinnie Bag Of Donuts Dunn or Carl Gunnarsson or whoever. And the rest were able to remain competent against the Stars. But I don’t buy it. When the Jets bothered, Mark Scheifele tore Colton Parayko and Joel “This Tastes Funny” Edmundson to shreds, they just didn’t try all that hard to get matchups. The Sharks are rolling with three lines scoring at the moment and I find it hard to believe that Parayko and Edmundson and Gunnarsson are going to be able to hide for a whole series. Call me crazy.

This should be a big advantage for the Sharks, but it hasn’t played that way. Brent Burns has been exposed as a complete jabbering nincompoop in his own zone this playoff run, and Erik Karlsson (however healthy he is) hasn’t been much better. The metrics suggest both are getting kind of domed. Marc-Edouard Vlasic has been marvelous, but his coach keeps saddling him with Brenden Dillon who is an onion in the sun for two weeks. Joakim Ryan is good and can’t seem to find the ice, except in Game 7 overtime against Vegas which sends all kinds of mixed messages. The Sharks haven’t had any time to rest to heal up Karlsson, and Burns is Burns, so this is at-best a white-knuckle ride that breaks even for them.

Forwards: I’ll do my best to fight my biases and say the Blues are getting help across the board. I even noticed Robert Thomas for once in Game 7, even after all Blues fans kept assuring me he’s the second coming of Muhammad I’m Hard Bruce Lee instead of another word for Nick Schmaltz. Tarasenko was pretty much irrelevant against Dallas, but with the more open space San Jose will provide he probably will show up at various points. Jaden Schwartz is on a heater before something falls off of him again. Ryan O’Reilly hasn’t really been all that good in these playoffs either. You can count on continue playoff production from David Perron and Tyler Bozak if you want, I’ll just be over here pissing on my shoes.

The Sharks have the greater star power, but they’ve also been getting the same depth of scoring. Logan Couture went supernova from Game 7 in the first round on, and provides the kind of scoring-from-nothing that the Blues don’t have if Tarasenko can’t be bothered. Hertl has been just as good, and Meier, Labanc, Nyquist have all pitched in. Pavelski is back, though if he in fact knows where he is is another question entirely. Thornton’s line has been getting punched in the groin possession-wise, but they’ve managed to produce to balance that out. You just worry about the collective age here, though more at the back.

Prediction: If there was ever something about the Blues that made you thought this was the team to punch through, now is probably the time. Here’s the other thing about the Blues: they’re the Blues. There’s nowhere I can point to and say they’re definitely better than the Sharks right now. What they do have going for them is they’re younger, so the lack of rest for either probably affects them less. But still, while the San Jose power play hasn’t caught fire yet other than that one time, you know they’re going to get plenty of chances with this collection of unbathed nitwits and fuckwads running around. Parayko, Edmundson, and Perron are probably good for one killer penalty each this series. I don’t really believe much in Pete DeBoer, and he needs to stop pairing Karlsson and Burns together except late in the 3rd when the Sharks are behind. So maybe the Blues have an edge there? You’ll have to go a long way to convince me that Craig Berube is General Cornwallace during a game, though. And if Karlsson or Burns or both can actually start turning things up the ice, those are weapons the Blues just don’t have.

You can’t run from your nature. Sharks in six. 

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 in St. Louis – Tonight, 8:30

Game 2 in St. Louis – Saturday, 2pm

Game 3 in Dallas – Monday, 7pm

Game 4 in Dallas – Wednesday, 8:30

I said it on the podcast, but I’ll say it again. If you have literally anything else to do, do not watch this series. The Stars are boring as fuck, and on purpose because it’s how they hang, and the Blues don’t have the speed the Predators do and that series was its own energy vampire. I’ll be shocked if any team gets to four goals in any game this series. Cue the 5-4 series opener tonight, of course. Let’s do this together.

Goalies: Perhaps the biggest reason this is going to be a tough watch. Ben Bishop threw a .945 at the Preds and sent them home, including a couple 40+ save outings. He’s a Vezina finalist for multiple times for a reason, and carries a career .930 in the playoffs. He also has the added spice of being from West East St. Louis, and playing against a team that gave up on him long ago (I watched Viktor Stalberg light him up in a Presidents’ Day matinee live in St. Louis, once, and believe me everyone hated him there).

On the other side, Jordan Binnington wasn’t that great against the Jets. It was enough, but a .908 probably isn’t going to get it done against the complete opposite of Winnipeg, a team that’s only interested in playing defense. He was kind of all over the map, with three really good games, two bad ones, and a meh one that didn’t matter because the Jets had already quit. He’s unlikely to see a ton of shots here because that’s just not what the Stars do, but there will come a game or two where he’s probably going to have to make a lot of saves and rob the likes of Benn and Seguin on big chances. Let’s call us skeptical still that he’s ready to do that. Edge here for the Stars.

Defense: On the sheets, the Stars are better off here. Somehow a child shall lead them, as it was Miro Heiskanen that led them in ice-time against the Predators. Klingberg and Lindell were actually marvelous against Nashville’s top line, and that’s at least equivalent to O’Reilly-Schenn-Tarasenko. No matter how many draws ROR wins and the broadcast won’t shut up about. Still, Roman Polak is here and playing significant minutes and when that happens calamity is never too far under the surface. Same goes for Ben Lovejoy. Still, with Heiskanen and Klingberg, that’s two better puck-movers than anything the Jets could boast, including the very disinterested and bloated Dustin Byfuglien.

We’ll never buy into the Blues blue line. Alex Pietrangelo is overrated. Colton Parayko was turned into sawdust and vomit by Mark Scheifele. Jabe O’Meester is a zombie that isn’t particularly interested in eating brains. Vinnie Dunn might be something one day, but not yet. Still, they turned back a deeper crop of forwards than the Stars can dream of. The task will be awfully different here, as the Stars are going to dare them to carry or pass their way through a barbed-wire filled neutral zone, and there’s no one on the Blues who can do that. And if they force it and turn the puck over more, that’s what the Stars are feeding on right now.

Forwards: Same drill as with a lot of teams now. The Stars are one line. It’s a hell of a line, but that’s it. There were flickers of light of a second line between Hobbit Zuccarello, Roope Hintz, and Jason Dickinson, and if that can continue they’re on to something. But the top line has to score and it has to score a lot. Good thing the Blues don’t really have a shutdown pairing.

The Blues will tell you they have depth. And they do if Jaden Schwartz builds off his series-clinching hat-trick. We’ve already talked about the top line, they seem to believe pretty heavily in Oskar Sundqvist (whatever), and they have foot soldiers like Maroon and Thomas and Perron who might chip in a big goal or two. Overall, the Blues do have a deeper set here. They just don’t have the top.

Prediction: Again, this will be cruel and unusual. But the Blues simply are not built to bust through a trap consistently. And even if they do, it’s a much better goalie waiting playing better. And the Stars have just more of a top end. Because of how awful this will be to watch, you know it’s going the route. Which screams a Bishop shutout on the road.

Stars in 7. 

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 Wednesday in Winnipeg, 7pm

Game 2 Friday in Winnipeg, 8:30

Game 3 Sunday in St. Louis, 6:30

Game 4 April 16th in St. Louis, 8:30

While everyone…ok, everyone in Toronto, might bitch about the playoff format, you can’t argue that the 2-3 matchups provide a fuckton of intrigue. Across the board here, three of the four of those look like they’ll be long, competitive, fun series, with only the Pens and Isles being the exception because Trotz will turn it into a local council meeting. And it will probably still be competitive. This one might be the hardest to call, because it’s hard to know what the fuck the Jets have been doing and it’s hard to know what the Blues really are. It probably comes down to whether Jordan Binnington waked up and realizes he’s Jordan Binnington or not. This one feels like it’s going the route.

Goalies: Again, Jordan Binnington. He’s been simply cosmically good since finally wresting the starter’s job from Jake Allen when the Blues couldn’t force-feed it to him anymore. He’s the main reason the Blues went from worst to a pubic hair within the division title. Another reason they almost did is the Jets and Preds could never really get going.

Still, it’s Jordan Binnington, who even St. Louis Gametime hadn’t heard of before he came up and those fuckers literally have nothing else to do but sit and think about the Blues and try and craft statues of Stan Musial out of their own ear/toe wax. Maybe he is this good, and he keeps rolling. But he came unstuck a little in the season’s last month, with only a .912 in March and April. That’s better than league average, but you wonder if league average is enough when the Blues are still basically one line and the Jets are three and a half.

Jets fans have been bitching about Connor Hellebuyck all season, it’s what they do to keep warm. And he’s been fine rather than the really good he was last year. .913 is not .924, but it’s still better than average. Hellebuyck wasn’t helped by his defense, but he also didn’t bail them out as much as he should have. He had one of the higher expected save-percentages in the league and didn’t live up to it. But as we stated when the Jets were here last week, they’ve been horrific defensively for a good portion of the season. It’s unlikely Hellebuyck wins this for the Jets, but it’s just as unlikely he loses it.

Defense: We have a policy of never being impressed by the Blues defense. Alex Pietrangelo is fine, but he’s never been the all-conquering heir to Chris Pronger everyone wants you to believe he is. Colton Parayko, Jabe O’Meester, Joel Edmundson actively suck. Robert Bortuzzo is an ox. They’re finally letting Vinne Bag O’ Dunn run around, which gives them a puck-mover they’ve never had since Kirk ShattenKevin fucked off. But they play a style that doesn’t ask these guys much more than to get in the way, and they keep it pretty well shielded. Again, they won’t wow or impress you, but their mistakes never amount to what you think they should. The Jets forwards are awfully deep and awfully fast and certainly big enough where the Blues drooling on them isn’t going to make them quake. And yet it never works that way.

The Jets have their own problems. They’ve been a shit-heap back there for most of the season. Paul Maurice hasn’t shown any inclination to try and change things. Josh Morrissey will return for this, which is a boon as in the past he and Trouba have done the mine-sweeping to let Dustin Byfuglien and his large cowboy act to take the stage. The Jets have played worse than their talent suggests, even if I think Tyler Myers is a puppet show for the truly bewildered. And yet you can’t trust them, can you?

Forwards: The big advantage for the Jets. While the Blues revival came with greater offense, it mostly came from one line containing Ryan O’Reilly’s hero act and Vladimir Tarasenko taking time out from trying to get yet another coach fired to actually playing. He usually brings it in the playoffs, at least when he’s not yelling at Ken Hitchcock. And I expect him to do the later even with Hitch in absentia.

But beyond that, there isn’t a lot. You count on David Perron if you want. All I see is a stupid third period penalty in waiting. They keep boasting about Robert Thomas. I’m not sure I’ve seen a shift of his I remember. Jaden Schwartz isn’t playing with the quality of players that makes him a weapon. ROR and Tank can probably score just enough where they only need the occasional chip-in from someone else.

But against the Jets, that’s not enough. They may suck to high heaven defensively but this is still the deepest forward crop found in the West. I know Laine has had a truly weird year. He’s also capable of putting up 10 goals in a series. The Jets boast at least three lines that can hurt you and a pretty productive fourth line as well. They will find the weak spots in the Blues defense.

Prediction: It really comes down to can the Jets outscore whatever damage their defense is doing to themselves. Strangely, these teams haven’t seen each other since the first week in December, so it’s hard to see what the leaky Jets look like against the new St. Louis Blues. They’re not going to make it simple, but there’s too much firepower for the Jets and I can’t see Hellebuyck being bad enough to not at least hold them up just close enough for the offense to get over the wall. But it’s going to take a while.

Jets in seven. 

 

Everything Else

 vs.

RECORDS: Blues 43-28-8   Hawks 34-33-12

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN

GROSS: St. Louis Gametime

It’s finally over, people. The Hawks desperate, somewhat sad though fun, and always futile lunge/leap/hail mary for the playoffs is now over. Death came a callin’ last night when the Avs won, and now it’s time for this season to journey to the other side. Peachy keen.

There will be plenty of time for the autopsy, for the criticism, for the investigation. For now, I guess we just stare and be somewhat surprised that it’s only the last three games that will be totally meaningless. Because there was a time when it sure looked like the last three months would be. Then again, that’s a criticism of just how bad the West was this year, because in a normal year the Hawks would have never sniffed a playoff spot, much less held one for about 45 minutes. For now, let’s just say that it was all in front of the Hawks, they had it in their own grasp, and they weren’t able to close their fingers around the easiest playoff spot to grab in a decade or more. Someone should pay. No one will.

Which makes for a distinct contrast to the team they face tonight. The Blues sat with the Hawks as the wooden-spooners of the entire league right after January 1st. They were last in the entire NHL. Since then they’ve ripped of a 27-9-4 to this point, which has them within one win of being tied with both the Jets and Preds. Think about that my beautiful babies. In three months, the Blues went from last in the league to being in with a shout of winning this damn division. That’s how mediocre the division has been, but that’s also how much they’ve turned things around.

A huge part of it is Jordan Binnington, whom the Blues handed the job in January in a true “what-fucking-ever” gesture after Jake Allen for the 18th straight year watched the role dribble under his arm and into the net. Binnington has gone .928 since, including a .936 in January and a .945 in February. He’s mostly responsible for this revival. Who knows if it’s real, but if Binnington doesn’t wake up anytime soon, and considering the state of the West, there’s really no telling how far this could go. There’s something to make your avocado toast come back up, huh?

But it isn’t all just Binnington. Interim coach (for now) Craig Berube has gotten the Blues back to their Hitchcock-levels of shot and chance-suppression, while not sacrificing offense totally to do so. Ryan O’Reilly, whom the Blues got for a fucking song the Hawks probably could have easily matched if they weren’t so busy thinking Anisimov and Schmaltz were fine down the middle, has freaked off for 38 points in 41 games in 2019, And he’s brought the give-a-shit of Vladimir Tarasenko from the red to the black, which is no small task as Tank seemed dead set on playing and bitching his way out of town.

Jaden Schwartz and David Perron finally finding some healthy has helped as well, and Brayden Schenn being able to move to ROR’s wing is another boost.

At the back, Berube finally figured out, which Hitch and Mike Yeo couldn’t, that Colton Parayko nor Alex OrangeJello are puck-movers, and moved Vinnie Dunn Bag O’ Donuts up to the top pairing to be that guy. He responded with nine points in March alone, and keeps Colton Burpo and Jabe O’Meester away from spots where they can do harm to themselves or society. When Dunn is out there the Blues can actually get up and go, which is a real change.

It’s not totally fair to compare the Blues to the Hawks. The Blues were built to compete this year in the summer, where the Hawks were built to take up space. But the Blues did identify a weakness, center, and didn’t just half-ass in trying to patch it up. They brought in O’Reilly and Bozak, who’s been fine. They saw a coach who wasn’t working and the team wasn’t listening to and finally canned him, but the new coach actually was able to implement some changes for the better. None of that has happened here, and it truly is a cold and scornful world where it feels like the Blues have more of an idea of what they’re doing than the Hawks do. But it’s hard to see it otherwise right now.

As for the Hawks, it’s time to just see it out. Corey Crawford will get a rest tonight, and it honestly wouldn’t be a surprise to see him sit the rest of the year. There’s really nothing to be gained from him playing, and now that the Hawks have finally got him healthy and at least in the area of being Crow again, what’s the point of chancing it? Dennis Gilbert has been called up to get a look-see, mostly to reward him for a good season in Rockford. And hey, he’ll keep you from having to watch Gustav Forsling tonight.

The only things that matter now happen at the draft and July 1st. Until then, we’re just killing time.

Game #80 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

We went months without have to talk to @StLouisGametime. We were happy. We were optimistic. Food tasted good. There was dancing and revelry and mirth. And now it’s all ruined. Go ahead, it’s too late, everything’s ruined…

Quite the renaissance for the Blues lately. Tell us why it’s more than just an unforeseeable heater from Jordan Binnington?
First of all, I’m writing this a few minutes after the Hawks gave the Jets breakaway practice in overtime keeping the Jets two points ahead of the Blues with three games for each left on the schedule. Why not just pull the goddamn goalie? Corey Crawford deserved better. Dicks. Wait, you want me to answer the question? Of course Binnington is on a hot streak. One that started in early February. It’s now April. Dicks. He’s beaten the Lightning twice, a team trying to break NHL records for wins and points in a season. Quite a hot streak. Look, these Blues were horrible. They were tied with the Senators for last in the league in points on Jan. 3. Their comeback to second in the division is nearly unprecedented. There are some reasons. They play better in front of Binnington and not with clenched buttholes in front of Jake Allen. The defensemen have been scoring goals and actually playing defense. The Blues are almost as good at shot suppression as when Hithcock was the head coach. Ryan O’Reilly continues to push this team every night. I’ll get to Tarasenko in a second, but they’re getting some depth scoring. Robert Thomas is going to be a pain in the ass for Hawks fans for years to come. He’s 19. The Blues have made this climb as a team and not just because of a hot goaltender.
What do we make of Tarasenko? He got his second coach fired earlier this season, is coming in for a pretty low 65 points, and there was buzz earlier in the year the Blues might check out the market for him. Yet he’s been much better under Berube. 
Oh, I guarantee they were checking the market on Tarasenko. Aggressively. The Blues sent out season ticket renewals early. Really early, in January. They moved it up before the trade deadline because they were going to move at least one fan favorite if not more. Tarasenko was on every rumor twitter account. Schenn’s name popped up. Toronto started circling Pietrangelo like hungry buzzards. Some shit was going to hit the fan because this core of players was imploding. They had the excuse that the All-Star game is coming to town next season, so there was that carrot to dangle ticket holders. But they were deathly afraid to ask for renewals after unloading some popular players. And then they started winning and crisis was averted. With Tarasenko specifically, his shoulder surgery in the offseason took more out of him than I think he ever admitted. And Tarasenko can apparently be a little mercurial. Shit, sorry for the big word, Hawks fans. He can be accused of being moody. When his game is off, he overpasses. When he should should more to break a slump, he shoots less. Combine that with a slight downturn from Schenn and Jaden Schwartz not being able to hit the broadside of Nebraska for much of the season, the offense was a mess. During the 11-game winning streak, P.K. Subban woke 91 up. There was a play on a Saturday afternoon game where Subban was trying to get physical behind the play. Tarasenko basically said fuck off and then next shift scored a goal. He got animated. He got fired up. He got tired of the bullshit. The next afternoon in Nashville, he scored a hat trick, the third being the OT game-winner. He’s been a different player since. Craig Berube didn’t have anything to do with it. I will say this about Chief, he earned a contract at the beginning of that winning streak. He got a raise making the playoffs. He could get a bigger one depending on how long the Blues’ season lasts.
Have they finally let Vinnie Dunn Bag Of Donuts off the leash?
Saturday night he was on the ice in overtime. He split two Devils players, drove hard to the net, poked it in and went flying as the goal lamp lit with three seconds to play. He was so far ahead of his teammates, he stood by himself for a couple seconds with his arms wide waiting for some guys to come hug him. But here’s the thing with Dunn. He can make electrifying plays. He can skate with the puck. He has a nice shot that could become a good shot. He’s got the vision. But goddammit, the guy still takes dumb risks. Against Toronto, again during the epic and shocking streak, the Blues had a 2-0 lead at the end of the first. As time expired, Dunn made a dumbass play with the puck that could have gone the other way for a goal as time expired. There was video of Berube waiting by the bench door for Dunn to come off the ice and he fucking unloaded on him. But to Berube’s credit, Dunn hasn’t been scratched for some time. He’s getting primo minutes. He’s got to find that knife’s edge of being daring and aggressive vs. stupid and risky. When he figures that out, look the fuck out.
Whether it’s the Preds or Jets, will the cantankerous Blues fanbase be happy with a one and done or does the second half have you lot hungry for more?
I’m fucking torn on this one. Like I said, they were tied with Ottawa in January. The Blues got booed nearly every game at home. They got blown out by the Flames. By the Canucks. By the Coyotes. It was a weird time to be alive. There’s a fake Jay Bouwmeester twitter account that in December declared if the Blues made the playoffs, he’d get Bouwmeester tattooed on his ass. The Blues actually called him out on it. What I’m trying to say is no one thought they’d be in this situation. It wasn’t realistic. It was like saying the Hawks would make the playoffs back in January and they actually did it. No fucking way, right? Same with the Blues. Same. So, it’s kind of like they’re playing with house money. Not supposed to be here, just happy to be here, won’t be here for long. On the other hand, think of it this way. If you fell into a coma right before the season started and you woke up today with the Blues battling for one of the top three spots in the division, you wouldn’t be surprised at all. You’d think it was a helluva season. Should fan expectations be based on October through much of January or what the expectations were going into the season? Maybe the team we thought they built was actually the team we thought they built. Maybe they needed some extra time playing together. Who the fuck knows. Here’s what I do know: the Blues are going to be a tough out. Colorado threw everything they had at St. Louis to stay in the playoff hunt. And the Blues responded. Sure, they gave up the game-tying goal with under a minute to play, but they were dangerous in overtime and they won the shootout. The Avs brought a high level of intensity and the Blues matched it. That’s a great sign to me. In New York last Friday, the Rangers played a boring game and the Blues played just as uninspired. They’ve answered the bell against the best teams in the league the last two months. There’s nothing to say the Blues won’t answer the bell when the playoffs start.
The last time Hawks fans saw the Blues up close and personal, they were garbage. They weren’t playing together. The goaltending was a mess. Mike Yeo was a dolt. They were bad, bad, bad. Please, Hawks fans. Make a shit ton of noise Wednesday night. Ratchet up the intensity in the building. Get the blood flowing in this rivalry and the Blues will show you the team they’ve become. Have fun golfing, and talk to you next season!

 

Game #80 Preview Suite

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 vs. 

RECORDS: Blues 6-6-3   Hawks 6-8-4

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN

EVERYTHING IS EVIL: St. Louis Gametime

No matter where you are in life, or how things are going, there is sadistic joy in looking around and seeing that someone else has it worse. Or at least it provides perspective. In sports, it’s joy. The Germans didn’t create the word, “schadenfreude” out of thin air, folks.

So while the Hawks have fired a coach, and yet still looked pretty helpless, and the season very well might get away from them before Black Friday, they could be the St. Louis Blues. And they should be intimately familiar with what the Blues are now, because we all are, because this will be the fourth fucking time these two have seen each other in a six-week-old season. Thankfully for everyone, they won’t do this again until April. We have enough trash here, thanks. Don’t constantly need to double it up. We could all use the break.

It was something of an outside shot that the Hawks fired their coach before the Blues did, because Mike Yeo showed up at training camp with a noose instead of a whistle. The players have had it out for him since just about the time he took over for Ken Hitchcock, whom they also hated, so it’s a real positive atmosphere down there. Unlike the Hawks however, the Blues went all out this summer to be something, trading for Ryan O’Reilly and signing Tyler Bozak. It has not worked, at least not yet. Maybe the next coach will be the one to unlock the mystery. Just like the last one was. Or the one before that. Or the one before that. And then there was Davis Payne.

And maybe it’s not going to. As we keep saying, and they keep ignoring, this was a castle built on sand. We’ve been over and over the Jay Gallon saga, which once again appears to be turning into him surrendering the starting role to a backup–in this case Chad Johnson. It doesn’t matter what work you do anywhere on the ice if it results in your goalie waving at pucks going by him like an acid head waving at imaginary, friendly flying rabbits toddling off into the sky. For some reason, even though Johnson has been pretty ok of late, Allen will get the start.

But it goes deeper. This defense isn’t good. It hasn’t been for a while. In a league that gets faster and faster and more aggressive, the Blues have become entrenched with a top four that can’t move and can’t think. Alex OrangeJello has limited mobility. Joel Edmundson has limited IQ. Same with Colton Burpo. Jay Bouwmeester is dead, and when it’s not him it’s Carl Gunnarsson who is essentially the same as Michael Cera’s girlfriend in “Arrested Development.” Way to plant, Carl! The Blues defense is like the worst house cat. It’s like having nothing, and they probably don’t even clean themselves.

So where are the Blues going with their improved forward group if they’re constantly pulling the defense out of the ditch they just backed into in their own zone? Into the basement, where they currently reside (though it should be mentioned they’ve played three less games than the Hawks and when that gets made up, it could see the Hawks with the wooden spoon).

The Blues aren’t going to trade for Justin Faulk or the like to try and correct this. They’re just going to fire another coach and then pray that their players finally start pushing up the mercury on the give-a-shit meter. They haven’t in three years but hope springs eternal! Anyway, that’s the mess that arrives at the United Center tonight.

As for the Hawks, the big story is that Gustav Forsling will make his season-debut tonight. And when that’s your story, you know there are issues. At least it will be in place of Jan Rutta, who is also in plant-area as far as usefulness. The Hawks are screaming for more mobility and spice on their blue line, and this will be Forsling third (and last) chance to grab the NHL brass ring. Now he’s got a coach who believes in him and worked with him extensively last season. It’s now or never, and he should get bum-slaying opportunities at home and on the third-pairing with whatever member of the Eat Arby’s Trio’s number is drawn (it’s Brandon Manning). As the other two puck-movers are barking at each other in the second pairing, this could be welcome.

Other than that, Alexandre Fortin is going to sit so Eddie O can wax lyrical about Andreas Martinsen and John Hayden some more, before turning on Hayden for not shooting from outside the circles. Whatever. Corey Crawford is your starter.

If the Hawks are going to pull out of this, it kind of has to be now. The Blues suck, the Kings are way worse, and you can show me the Wild’s point totals all you like but I just won’t buy it. There’s a three-game road trip either side of Thanksgiving that’s not as daunting as it looks on first glance, even with the expected thwacking by the Lightning. But then it gets real hard, real quick. Points are needed now or the Hawks could very well be buried by Christmas.

No better way to get started than against this lot.

 

Game #19 Preview Suite

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Yes, that’s probably an insult to Denmark to compare it to St. Louis. We hope the Danes forgive us. We love Christian Eriksen. Does that help?

Alex Pietrangelo is something of a yearly post for us. While the Blues have touted and used him as a #1 d-man for a good few years now, we aren’t the only ones who have gone to lengths to show that he’s just not. Is he a good d-man? Yes, unquestionably. If he were a #2 or #3 on a team, that team would almost certainly be really good. At least on the blue line it would be.

But as we’ve pointed out, probably far too much for anyone who still pretends to be of use to society. Pietrangelo just doesn’t push the play that much against the toughest competition. We started when he somehow conned his way onto Team Canada in ’14 (with Bouwmeester! And he played ahead of Subban! Assuredly not because Subban is black!) He’s not prime Keith. He’s not Doughty. He’s not Karlsson. He’s not even Kris Letang. Pietrangelo’s metrics are fine. They’re usually right in line with the team’s, though the Blues’ numbers were always skewed by Ken Hitchock’s ultra-defensive system that didn’t give up much but sure didn’t create much either.

The only time in the past six season that Pietrangelo has exceeded his team’s possession rate by anything significant is this year, where he’s +2.3. That’s going really well for the Blues too, who are still staring up at the Hawks.

Pietrangelo is a good skater, but not great, and can get beat by the faster forwards in the league. And he can get caught with the puck, too. That seems to be a problem this year, where the Blues can’t get out of their zone if there was a carbon monoxide leak. Or maybe there is and that’s the problem. Hard to tell, given the way the whole city smells. Yes, we know carbon monoxide doesn’t smell, just fucking go with us you heathen!

But let’s shelve that discussion for another time. Hockey loves its intangibles. No sport loves to mention what goes on “in the room” more. There is some mystical quality to where the players get dressed, and that has kept some truly woeful hockey players in a job for longer than you’d believe because it was thought they added to this. “The Room” in hockey is somehow weirder than the one with Tommy Wiseau, and maybe it’ll be the subject of its own “Disaster Artist” one day (probably starring David Backes), As if you couldn’t just pack a dressing room full of really good players who win all the time and they wouldn’t just figure it out when they’re not on the ice to get along. We present the 2015 Chicago Blackhawks as evidence.

And it can’t be any clearer that there is something amiss with the Blues both on and off the ice. We can pinpoint the problems on it. The ones off it are a little tougher.

The Blues are about to turf their second coach in less than three seasons. A loss tonight could be the final straw in the case against Mike Yeo. So it’s fair to ask how many coaches the Blues are going to cycle through before they conclude that it’s the group of players who are in someway unreachable.

Pietrangelo is the captain. Along with Vladimir Tarasenko and Alex Steen, that’s pretty much the leadership group in St. Louis, as they’ve been around the longest. While Tarasenko’s performances have never dropped, he clearly had a hand in throwing Hitchcock overboard (quite the feat). But if Pietrangelo is wearing the “C”, the questions have to stop with him.

While the Blues were indisputably stupid under the stewardship of David Backes, you couldn’t accuse them of floating and giving up and trying to undermine their coach. Their effort was in all the wrong directions and tactics, but it was there. This will be the second time they’ve downed tools under Pietrangelo. This becomes a theme at some point soon.

Compare that to the local side, where everyone knew that Joel Quenneville was minutes away from the axe from training camp. And yet you never got the impression the Hawks had quit on him. The front office did last year, but the players didn’t, at least for the most part.

Maybe the silly arrangement of having Yeo right there to succeed Hitchcock jaded the players. They could have soured on Yeo before he even took the job, knowing all the time he was going to take the job. Maybe someone completely new juices everything (though the rumors have it that it’ll just be Craig Berube sliding over from assistant, which is how we got here in the first place). Perhaps the Blues want a completely new voice.

Methinks the players are the thing….

 

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Believe us, we’re even more sick of them than you are. But with Hawks-Blues games being crammed into the first month, we have to put up with @StLouisGametime together. Just close your eyes and think of a happier place, and soon it will be over. 

 

When’s Mike Yeo getting fired? Is it tomorrow? It’s tomorrow, isn’t it?

Here’s a fun story. When Andy Murray took over for Mike Kitchen as head coach of the Blues, his first game behind the bench was against the Hawks. When Murray got replaced by Davis Payne, his first game was against the Hawks. When Payne was cut loose, Ken Hitchcock’s first game was against the Hawks. You remember Joel Quenneville used to be the Blues head coach, right? His last game with the Blues was a Hawks game. And here we are, Mike Yeo, embattled Blues head coach, piloting a quickly sinking ship and it’s a Hawks game. Too bad Craig Berube, the associate coach who has experience stepping in mid-season, wasn’t hired yesterday. So Yeo could follow in Q’s footsteps and make tonight his last game. When they beat Toronto a week ago, Yeo said after the game he didn’t know why his team played better. After Thursday’s blowout loss, he said something to the effect of the Blues focused a lot on the end goal for the Blues and not the process of becoming a team. That’s some mumbo jumbo bullshit that frankly sounds like an indictment of his own coaching. He’s tried to be nice. He’s tried to be mean. Nothing works. Maybe this is telling: when the axe finally falls and a new guy is in charge, Alexander Steen and Alex Pietrangelo will still be Blues. Petro was a young guy just coming in, but Steen was established when he came to St. Louis. The next guy will be their fifth head coaches in St. Louis (Murray, Payne, Hitchcock, Yeo, Berube). If Berube is only the interim and they name another permanent head coach, that would be six. These are two of the leaders of the team. Maybe they shouldn’t be.

When’s Jake Allen getting fired? Is it tomorrow? It’s tomorrow, isn’t it?

Jake Allen has to fucking love Mike Yeo. He probably offers him a discreet over the pants HJ on the team plane as a thank you. Because hardly anyone is talking about Jake Allen in St. Louis right now. In eight games this season, his goals-against average is 3.93. He’s pushed his career GAA to 2.53. If he tries hard enough (doesn’t try enough?), he could double his career average this season. Only one more goal a game. And I think he can do it. He’s stopped only 87.6 percent of the shots he’s seen this season. Those numbers would get most goaltenders put on waivers and then not claimed. Of course Allen is in the second year of a four-year deal paying him more than $4 million a year. It’s not Brent Seabrook bad, but even Cam Ward wonders how Allen got that contract. But like I said, no one is even mentioning Allen as an anchor pulling the Blues to the bottom of the ocean. So no, he’s not getting fired tomorrow. Even if he deserves it. He’s problem 1B on a list as long as my arm. And I have long arms.

Why is Vince Dunn terrible this year? Is he getting fired?

Vince Dunn is not terrible. You see, Brad Shaw was an assistant coach here forever. All those coaches I mentioned above, he outlasted almost all of him. He was in charge of the defensemen. Now he’s in Columbus. And Mike Van Ryn is the assistant in charge of the defensemen. I’m sure he has a system. If you named it, the moniker might be Chase The Other Team Around Like A Puppy Chases His Tail And Never Get The Puck Like The Puppy Never Gets His Goddamn Tail. Van Ryn has Jay Bouwmeester go from a healthy scratch for the first time in his career to basically leading the defensemen in minutes the next game to third-pairing to practicing yesterday back on the top pairing. When Yeo gets fired, if he doesn’t pack up Van Ryn with him, there may be a riot. And if there’s anything we know how to do in St. Louis, it’s riot.

Your Schmaltz is as big as ours….

Jordan Schmaltz is a find third-pairing defenseman. He’s not too fast or tough. He’s ok. He’s fine. Don’t get me started on the mistakes the other defensemen are making on a nightly basis. I haven’t screamed his name at the TV or at the game yet. That’s a positive sign. He was a first-round pick, but was one of the slowest in his draft class to sniff the NHL. He’s fine. Honest.

When are you getting fired? Is it tomorrow? It’s tomorrow, isn’t it?

This is my seventh season running the Game Time paper. Before that, I wrote for the previous editor/publisher, Gallagher, for seven seasons — six on the front page. So this is my 14th season writing for GT. Our prospect guy is the only one who has written longer. During that time, the Blues have won four playoff series. All those coaches up above, I’ve written extensively about all of them from Kitchen on. I’m still here and all those guys are gone or will be gone soon. I’m the cockroach of St. Louis underground hockey writers. It’s going to take more than one shitty season to get rid of me. And if this wasn’t a well-disguised cry for help, I don’t know what is.

 

Game #11 Preview Suite

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