Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Blues 40-18-10   Hawks 31-29-8

PUCK DROP: 6:30

TV: NBCSN (All Women Broadcast)

MOS EISLEY CANTINA: St. Louis Gametime

There’s not much I can add to Pullega’s wrap from Friday night. There could not have been a more clear illustration of every failing of this organization–players, coach, and front office–then puking up a game to one of the worst teams in history that you claimed you had to have because you’re trying to sell the fact that you’re in a playoff race that abandoned you long ago. The players weren’t ready, the coaches didn’t have them ready, and the front office provided a roster that couldn’t stomach the losses of a 19-year-old defenseman and another one that has played five NHL games. It feels like after that, if they didn’t before, everyone but the Hawks see them for what they are. And if the Hawks continue to ignore it, nothing will ever change.

And of course, here traipsing into town is the team we used to laugh at for never getting it, that have now gotten it while the Hawks lost the plot. You can’t help but see the symbolism and weep until you seize.

Since the Blues performed their latest third period live-autopsy of the Hawks after the trade deadline, they’ve won three of four from the New York teams and Dallas, but that hasn’t seen them pull away from the Avs for the top of the division. Colorado is two points back with a game in hand, and have the decided advantage in regulation wins so the Blues can’t tie on points. And winning the division certainly has its prize, as it’ll mean avoiding two weeks of mud in the tires against Dallas and getting a first-round matchup with whatever nitwit team finishes as the last wildcard. The Blues and Avs finish the season against each other in Denver, which could be spicy.

The only note about the Blues of interest is that in those four games since beating the Hawks, they haven’t gotten a goal or point from their bottom six. That could be a worry going forward, as last year’s torture was partly based on getting the occasional goal when they needed it from the support players.

The Blues are back at it at home tomorrow against the Panthers, a game they’ll probably view as the harder of the two so the Hawks might get to see Jay Gallon tonight.

For the Hawks, Adam Boqvist will return to the lineup but Carlsson won’t, which means Nick Seeler can continue to make Connor Murphy question every decision in life he’s ever made. Seeler had an absolute disaster against the Blues last time, because he doesn’t have the feet, hands, or brain to deal with the Blues furious forecheck. Other than that, I can’t see a problem for him.

The Hawks will try and tell us that if they win tonight, it’s still six out of eight points this week which would have been the goal anyway. And they’ll tell you they still have the Sharks and Senators up this week. They’ll tell you, while really trying to convince themselves, that it’s still on. But their performance on Friday told you what they really think. A team that thinks it has a real chance doesn’t lay that egg in the home of the biggest collection of trash and discarded gum posing as a hockey team in recent memory. They know they’re done and the second of a back-to-back was simply too much work for them to be bothered to do.

Perhaps they’ll have the decency to try and save some face tonight, knowing they embarrassed themselves on Friday. Combine that with every effort against the Blues this year being sad in its own way, and they should be somewhat inspired. Whether that matters against a genuinely superior team who actually has something to play for, well… I think you know the answer to that one.

It’s something of a landmark night, as least in broadcast terms, as NBCSN will fully broadcast and produce the game with an all-female crew. If you can ignore the large swaths of both fanbases proving how adult they can’t be, it should be enjoyable. Maybe it’ll even cause Jeremy Roenick to finally immolate himself. One can only hope.

Everything Else

 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

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Brad Lee runs a gameday program, like we used to but then we either grew up or lost the light in our eyes, called St. Louis Gametime. It’s like ours if all the people who wrote ours huffed paint for lunch. Follow him on Twitter @GTBradLee.

So when are the Blues hiring Quenneville? Or can you not go down that road again?
Blues fans decided five seconds after hearing he had been fired that he was a perfect match for the Blues. Granted, it’s a wet dream at this point. Coach Connor McDavid can’t teach the Oilers how to play defense or put kid gloves on dealing with Jake Allen. Both sound like pains in the ass. The dealbreaker might be how much power the Stache wants. GM Doug Armstrong is in the first year of his new contract. A new coach would get no power. Period. And make no mistake, the Blues are one bad loss away from a coaching change…before Craig Berube is promoted from associate coach. Of course I prefer the future HoFer.
The Blues are generating barely any chances at even-strength. Why?
Because the Blues struggle to get the puck out of their own end. Because the Blues defense makes shitty exit passes out of the zone. Because the Blues dump the puck in way too much. Because only one forward line wants to play well at a time. Because Ryan O’Reilly can only do so much. Because the hockey gods hate us. Because it’s a .500 team and that’s how .500 teams play.
If it’s not firing the coach, what’s the big shakeup that clearly is coming? Or is there not one coming?
Yeo is a dead man walking. The Blues went 4-3-0 on a seven-game homestand that just ended. At one point they won three of four and Yeo actually said on the television that it didn’t feel like they had won that often. On Tuesday after practice, Yeo tried to tell the media that Jay Bouwmeester is working his way back to previous playing levels. It’s a lie. Potential shakeups: Yeo gone. Bouwmeester on long term IR. Jake Allen sent packing. Possible captaincy change. Probably only two of those are likely.
The Blues and Hawks fighting it out to stay out of the basement of the division. Honestly, doesn’t this feel like where we belong?
As the late Dennis Green would say, they are who we thought they were. And we let them off the hook. On paper, the Blues are supposed to be better than this. They aren’t. Too many core guys look exactly how they did when they got Hitchcock fired. Pushing the boss overboard has gotten easy. Common. Accepted. And it sucks. Is Yeo a good coach? Hell no. He lost the room early. Ultimately that’s his fault. But the reality is he had a partial season, a full season and this one so far. And the players couldn’t figure out a way to play hard for him in that short timespan. That’s rotten. The roots of the core of this team might be rotten. And I don’t know how they fix it without a blowtorch. As for the Hawks, long-term contracts are fun. It spreads the misery out over several years. Most expensive Blues players aren’t signed past 2020.

 

Game #19 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

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

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Let us just throw some numbers at you: .940, .946, .932, .911, .926, .923, .937, .922.

Those are the playoff save-percentages of the last eight Cup-winning goaltenders. The only outlier there is Jonathan Quick‘s 2014 run, which was buffeted by an offense that went Human Torch in the playoffs, thanks to Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, Justin Williams, and Marian Gaborik. So to get to a Cup, the buy-in for a goalie is just about .922.

Jake Allen‘s career playoff SV% is .922. So you might be a pleasant person, with inclinations of optimism (in which case, what are you doing here?), and say, “Well, that’s at the very bottom rung, but it’s at the table. The Blues could do it with this guy!” Well congratulations, you’re the Blues GM now.

Dig a little deeper, and you’ll see the problem. That .922 is buffeted by one series, in 2017 against the decidedly punchless Minnesota Wild. Allen threw a .956 at Minnesota over five games, winning that series pretty much by himself, and condemning Bruce Boudreau to another sweaty, Klondike-filled summer turning more read than he normally is.

But after that, when the Blues came up against an actual offense in Nashville, Allen was hurled back to Earth with impolite speed with a .909 over six games. Which aligns nicely with his .897 in 2016 as he and Brian Elliot played Hide The Pickle in the crease, or his .904 the year before as he hilariously threw up a kitten against that same Wild, including a real tour-da-fuck? in Game 6 of that series. Take away that one series, and Allen’s playoff SV% is .904.

Now let’s throw in the little nugget that Allen has exactly one regular season of a save-percentage over league-average. Would you, a rational human being with passable knowledge of how the game works, turn over your starting goalie job to him yet again?

Let’s pull back. Would you, a rational human being with a passable knowledge of how the game works, make the ultra-aggressive moves of signing Tyler Bozak to a free agent contract at age 32, and then give up a good deal of draft picks–signaling the future doesn’t mean much to you–to acquire Ryan O’Reilly, indicating you expect to not only make the playoffs this year but go far, and then turn the most important aspect over to Jake Allen?

No, you’re not crazy or masochistic or have fallen down the rabbit hole into Wonderland where you’re currently chasing around the Mad Hatter with a tire iron because seriously, fuck that guy.

And yet here we are with the Blues, once again. You may not think the additions of O’Reilly and Bozak puts them over the top. It probably doesn’t unless they get unexpected contributions from a few kids in the lineup. But you don’t make them thinking you’re just going to settle for third place and a first-round exit, either. Short of somehow convincing John Tavares that St. Louis was in Ontario (and feel free to take it, Ontario), this was about as much as the Blues could do to get in the ring with the Jets and Predators.

But what does it matter if the anchor is made of cardboard? Anyone think Allen is going to be able to stonewall either the Jets or Preds in the first round, the most likely opponents? The Blues would either have to win the division to avoid either to lead off the spring, or someone engineer a wild card spot that gets flipped over to the Pacific, where only San Jose or Vegas would probably be worrying. And you don’t commit yourself to $12.5 million worth of new centers to aim for a wild card spot.

Sure, the renovations to the rest of the house look great. Do they really matter if the foundation is causing the whole thing to lean to one side?

 

Game #5 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Hi, I’m Brad. I live in St. Louis. Much of my wardrobe is blue. I’m the captain of the USS Game Time, the fan-run paper we sell outside every Blues game. It’s a lot like what the Committed Indian was when Sam was more committed. Or before he got committed. I forget. For the record, in the very last issue of your deceased Hawks paper, I responded to one of these Q&As. It was for Game 6 of the 2016 first-round playoff series between the Blues and the Hawks. In that last issue, because the Blues eliminated the Blackhawks in Game 7, I predicted it would be the last issue. However, I thought it would just be the last issue of the season, not for forever. Someday I should use my powers for good.

This is the second time the Blues and Hawks have played in a week. Sam didn’t send new questions for me to answer. He said answer last week’s. But that’s so last week. I’ve written up some amazing questions, maybe the best questions ever asked on this website. Then I wrote some answers. Next time you attend a game in St. Louis and a guy who looks like Santa or a woman you think may be homeless because she has plastic grocery bags over her shoes to keep her feet warm waves a publication that says, “Blackhawks Suck,” (we only print the truth) please consider buying one. My three kids eat a lot.

Now, entertaining answers AND incredible questions from Brad of Game Time.

Q. The Blues finally have a win and a well-balanced record of 1-1-1. You mouth-breathers down I-55 plan the parade down Market Street yet? (Obvs, I’m doing some Sam cosplay here)

A. Expectations are a bitch. Hawks fans still have them for some reason. They shouldn’t. Sure, during the offseason Blues GM Doug Armstrong added some important players. If you compare the forward lines from tonight to a year ago, it’s an incredible change — on paper. On ice, it’s been a different story. The best example I have is from the Hawks game last Saturday. The Blues tried a stretch pass after a decent outlet out of their own zone. The players were a little out of step, so the timing didn’t work. They got another chance quickly, but they turned the puck over just inside the Chicago zone. A Blues player blew a tire and the Hawks went the other way on a two-on-one. Future Supreme Court Justice nominee Patrick Kane put a shot on net, the rebound came straight out and the resurrected corpse of Marcus Kruger put home an easy opportunity (feel free to call him Zombie Kruger from this point forward). They were two examples of plays where it seemed like familiarity made a difference. Spoiler Alert: I’m going to talk about Jake Allen farther down. The biggest concern might be the defense. Let’s ask a question about that.

Q. Hey handsome Brad, your beard looks well-manicured. Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson also has a beard. He was hurt to start the season along with Carl Gunnarsson. That led to guys named Chris Butler and Niko Mikkola being on the roster on defense opening night last week. Jay Bouwmeester is still an NHL player? What the hell are they doing with the defense in St. Louis?

A. In the week it took the Blues to get their first win, the chicken or the egg conversation went like this: Allen is playing crap in goal and making the defense look bad. Or, the defense looks like traffic cones on the Dan Ryan and it’s making Allen look bad. How about they all started the season sucking? Second year guy Vince Dunn was a healthy scratch Thursday. They tried playing Jakub Jerabek on the third pairing. He was a -3 in less than 8 minutes of ice time. He was a castoff Oilers defenseman they got for a late-round pick right before the season started. Playing him smells like the stench of desperation or the visiting Wrigley clubhouse after two teams poured champagne on each other in 24 hours not long ago. Here’s what you need to watch: Edmundson, who got a goal in his return to the lineup, playing not quite Duncan Keith minutes with Alex Pietrangelo, every Bouwmeester mistake creating a scoring chance for the Hawks, a hopefully resurgent Colton Parayko — who arguably has the biggest shot for St. Louis but is reticent (sorry for the big words, Hawks fans; reluctant) to let it loose, a hopefully dressed Dunn and big and slow and low hockey IQ guy Bob Bortuzzo. On paper, again, it’s a decent unit. Subtracting Bouwmeester would be nice (last year of contract, hip surgery last season). Bortuzzo controlling his stick and elbows would be a nice change of pace. Seeing Pietrangelo focus more on his end would be even better.

Q. Does Jake Allen forget to take his ADD meds before most starts?

A. Blues fans either love Allen or they hate him. There’s no in between — kind of like his level of play. Fundamentally, he does a poor job squaring to the shooter and being in a solid position. The result is lots of movement laterally and some spectacular saves. Because he doesn’t prepare properly, he has torecover and use his athleticism. Fans see amazing saves and give him credit while others see he played himself into the position of having to make the spectacular move. Watch how often opponents shoot short side or take quick shots directly off the faceoff. It’s because he has a poor setup, poor preparation. Are there nights he does a better job? Absolutely. But take Thursday for example. The Blues had a 5-1 lead. The game ended 5-3. Allen stopped 91.2 percent of the shots he faced. That’s pretty average. In fact, it’s also his career save percentage. He’s definitely better than Cam “Don’t Forget I Won That Cup Years Ago” Ward. The backup is Chad Johnson. He hasn’t played in a game yet, but probably will take the ice tonight or at home Sunday in St. Louis against the Ducks. My favorite goaltender is in San Antonio, Ville Husso. The future is always better, right? Just like the future years on that Brent Seabrook contract. Alllllllof those future years.

Q. Mike Yeo probably sucks. Do you realize this or has the Budweiser made in your town killed enough brain cells so that you don’t know it yet?

A. Mike Yeo is not an especially creative man. Mike Yeo is not what you would call an inspirational leader. Mike Yeo’s teams consistently finish fourth in the division — fifth last year. He doesn’t have a good track record with cultivating young players. His teams don’t play especially well on the power play. He’s trying something new this season by playing guys who actually have skill on the fourth line, including the center you’re going to hate in the future, Robert Thomas. He might not ruin young speedster Jordan Kyrou. Chris Thorburn hasn’t suited for a game (YET). However, if the Blues struggle to string some wins together the first half of the season, it’s important to remember that Mike Yeo has one year left on his contract after this season. Also, Craig Berube, who has experience stepping in mid-season as an NHL head coach, is behind the bench as the associate head coach. I’m not saying the coaching career of Mike Yeo in St. Louis is on life support, but I think I got a notification Yeo recently updated his LinkedIn profile. And if Yeo starts coaching to avoid getting fired, he’ll only get fired.

Q. Who is the one guy on the Blues who is most valuable to the team so one of the unskilled Hawks players (too many to mention!) can sweep the leg and send him to injured reserve?

A. Well the defense looked like an over-baked tomato casserole you Chicagoans call pizza — thick, gooey and liable to cause a heart attack — without Edmundson, but the easy answer here is Jaden Schwartz. The undersized dynamo is every hockey fan’s wet dream. He’s fearless, hard to push off the puck and maybe the smartest hockey player on the roster. His next bad decision with the puck will be the first I remember. When he broke his ankle in Detroit last December, the Blues fell from the top of the conference to out of playoff position. Hating the Red Wings, something Chicago and St. Louis fans can unite around. Anyway, don’t put your grubby paws on him.

Q. Thanks for doing this, Brad. Writing the questions and giving the answers too? I’m paying you double. Last question: I saw on Twitter that some Hawks fans bought your paper last weekend in St. Louis. I’m sure they hated it, but does that make Game Time the best fan-run paper in the NHL?

A. Yes. But it’s important to mention that it’s the only one.

 

Game #5 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Chris Gift usually dances for nickels on the side of I-55, after a successful career as cod piece cleaner for various hair-metal bands in the 80’s. He also contributes to St. Louis Gametime. Or he used to We’re not sure and we’re definitely sure we don’t care. He’s at Twitter @ChrisGift.

Signing Tyler Bozak and trading for Ryan O’Reilly. What got up Doug Armstrong’s ass?

We’ve learned to have disdain for ownership groups, regardless of sport. Look at your group of owners in Chicago without the last name of Ricketts. Reinsdorf, Wirtz (ok, Rocky is much better than Bill was), McCaskey, and whoever owns the Fire probably aren’t the most popular folks in town, and with the ton of cash that each team makes, the amount of frugality that owners have is shocking at times.

Blues Chairman Tom Stillman isn’t like that. Since he took over for Dave Checketts in 2012, Stillman has been in on, or attempted to be as active as possible in making the team Cup contenders. His first acquisition was rolling the dice on pending UFA Jay Bouwmeester from Calgary and getting him to sign a deal before he hit the open market. Tthen there was acquiring Ryan Miller from Buffalo, and also getting Paul Stastny from Enos Kroenke’s Denver  Avlanches  – speaking of disdain for ownership groups.  The key sticking point of the O’Reilly deal was the $7.5 million roster bonus ROR was due on July 1st. To paraphrase Armstrong, he called Stillman, said he needed $7.5 million and before Armstrong could even get to the first word of the next sentence explaining it was for ROR, Stillman told him “no problem.” Stillman has deep pockets, and his minority  owners have deeper pockets.

Last year’s pfffft of a season, and the undefeated Father Time approaching on some of the core may have been the kick in the ass that did it for Armstrong and ownership. What really got us was the decision to finally cut bait with Patrik Berglund. More accurately, I think the surprise is that Army found a way for a team to take two God awful contracts (Vlad Sobotka’s contract blew as well as Berglund’s) and get more in return than the bag of pucks that we all anticipated.

Slowly but surely the team’s core has both aged and turned over. Berglund, TJ Oshie, David  Backes, Jerry Halak and Brian Elliott are all gone. Bouwmeester is 35. Alexander Steen is 34. Even some of the “younger” player are starting to get a tad longer in the tooth. Alex Pietrangelo is 28 already. Jaden Schwartz and Vlad Tarasenko are 26. There’s a window for winning with this team, not gaping because of the strength of Winnipeg and Nashville, but there’s definitely a window.

The O’Reilly rumors flew around all season last year, but not just in St. Louis. When the draft came and went, and there was no movement on the ROR front, we thought it was on life support at best. When Bozak and David Perron signed on July 1, and the sun set that night, we thought that was it. Then the “holy shit,” moment happened to see ROR coming to St. Louis. It went from a  plain “holy shit” comment to being capitalized, underscored, boldfaced and whatever the fuck else you do to show exhilaration and joy and when the news of Buffalo’s return on the trade included taking Berglund and Sobotka. It had to be a total Andy Dufresne celebrating freedom in raw sewage and a thunderstorm by escaping Shawshank for Armstrong. Tage Thompson is an above average prospect that needs to mature mentally and physically and eat a TON of wings from the Anchor Bar. The Blues were touting Thompson, Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas, and Klim Kostin as the organization’s four best prospects. To acquire talent, two shitty contracts and two draft picks wasn’t going to do it. One of the four had to go. Thompson was the only one with NHL experience. With first round pick Dominik Bokk, and Erick Foley (acquired for Stastny) being added to the prospect reservoir, it was adios Tage.

 

Why is Jake Allen still here and still starting?

Wait, you don’t call him Jay Gallon anymore?

If this was the olden days, and twitter was limited to 140 characters, the answer would be something like “Carter Hutton was too expensive. Ville Husso isn’t ready yet. Jordan Binnington isn’t good enough to play in the NHL, and warts and all, Jake isn’t awful.”

Allen has his flashes of total consciousness, but there are also times when he looks absolutely lost. Ken Hitchcock damn near ruined him with his mental games a few years ago and Marty Brodeur worked with him to get his shit straight.  Both of those guys are gone now, so Hitch can’t fuck him up any more and Brodeur can’t pull the insta-fix anymore (something tells me that in the goaltending brotherhood, that an off the record text message or tip from MB30 is never going to happen).

Counting OTLs as losses, he was 27-28 with a 2.75 GAA last year. Mike Yeo  had to go to the bullpen far too often. Granted the relief was damn good in Hutton,  and Chad Johnson is nowhere the backup that Hutton was. There will be nights this year when it is 10 minutes in and the team is down 3-0, and it’ll be Jake’s game, like it or not.

The Blues look a little short on the wings as far as scoring. Tell us why we’re wrong. Only about this and not life, please.

Writing this prior to the season opener against Winnipeg, all is wonderful. Tarasenko is going to score 40 by Christmas. Pat Maroon will put up video game numbers and be the toughest power forward  player this town has seen since Brendan Shanahan.

To use coach speak, the sum is probably greater than the whole of the parts. Bozak, Perron and ROR will make the power play better (it finished 29th a year ago).Having ROR, Brayden Schenn and Bozak in the middle on the top three lines is a scoring luxury. Plus, the fourth line isn’t going to be the typical  knuckle dragging Neanderthal,  an AHL player playing over his head,  and a Kyle Brodziak type grinder. Think youth and speed on the fourth line this year. The fourth line is scheduled to be  Ivan Barbashev, Thomas, and  Sammy Blais, to start the year. Two players coming off pretty serious injuries  hope to crack the top 12 at some point this season if healthy. Acquired from Washington for Kevin Shattenkirk,  shoulder surgery kept Zach Sanford  out of everything but the first shift of the first day of training camp in the fall of 2017. And don’t forget  Robby Fabbri who managed have two ACL surgeries since just after the Winter Classic in 2017. Fabbri’s knees seem to be fine this camp, but he’s having a hard time with nagging injuries like hips and backs from getting back into hockey shape. Arrmstrong has mentioned November for Fabbri.  Both Sanford and Fabbri can play, and play really well if healthy. If healthy. If healthy .

There’s scuttlebutt that at some point this season, Steen may move to the fourth line if one of the aforementioned youngins’ makes strides to capture top-nine minutes. Steen on the PP, PK and fourth line may be just about right for this point of his career.

This is clearly a go-for-it year for the Blues. Can they really overcome the Preds or Jets?

Funny way of asking for a prediction. The offseason has been very optimistic around these parts, but the reality is that there was a ton of work to do before being able to be on par with the Preds or Jets. Have they done it? I’m not sure, but I’d like to think so. Seeing ROR for a season instead of twice a year will be nice, but he was a good player on a shitty team. Can he be a great player on a good team? Can Allen give a solid season without drama or injury or having will Yeo have to try  to make the best out of a few weeks of Chad Johnson?

The defense is awfully thin. Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko, Joel Edmundson and Robert Bortuzzo are all solid. How much does Bouwmeester have left? Can Vince Dunn have as good of a sophomore season as his freshman year? Is Carl Gunnarson going to be healthy enough to not be a liability out there, or can Jordan Schmaltz mature into a top-six D this year. Chris Butler looked overmatched out there last season, and the team is damn near capped out, so making a big acquisition to help the defense will take some salary cap magic to work.

Worst case scenario, I can’t  see the Blues finishing in anything lower than third in the division. Even if they play great and finish second, they’ll still have to go through both the Jets and  Nashville to make it to the Conference Final. That’ll require a hell of a lot of good play and good fortune to beat both  of those teams in the playoffs.

My guess is they have a hell of a first round series that they might win. That series will probably tax them to the point that there’s nothing left against the other divisional heavyweight and they bow out in the second round.

Now with all that piss and vinegar of a prediction,  this edition of the Blues  has the most talent since the ’16 team that beat Chicago and Dallas before losing to San Jose in five games.. As unpredictable as hockey in general, and this league in particular can be, I don’t think  a Conference Final run or a Western Conference title is out of the question.

 

Game #2 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups And How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Every season we hear that. And sometimes, I’m suckered into believing it. And I think this year more than most. And then I remember it’s the St. Louis Blues, and it can’t possibly be true. Maybe one day the laws of the universe will change, and we’ll all feel even more unmoored than we do now. But until that happens, the only structure we have that keeps us from unending madness is the rules we’ve always known. And one of those is that the Blues will always fuck it up. They will never get out of their own way. Until they do, we cannot reason anything else. Were we to, we would simply bend the world in a way it was not meant to go and the pillars of society and life would indeed crumble and all there would be is chaos and limitless abyss.

What’s dispiriting though is that the Blues this past summer showed the urgency that we ached for the Hawks to show. They knew they were weak down the middle, so in came Ryan O’Reilly and Tyler Bozak. Those were two players we wished the Hawks would make a run at. The Blues didn’t hang on to prospects that looked like they had over-ripened. So away went Tage Thompson and a couple high draft picks, because now is the time for the Blues. We stared at Dylan Sikura’s vacant gape on its way to Rockford. They treated missing the playoffs last year like an insult and something to be eradicated immediately and thoroughly. The Hawks signed Cam Ward and Brandon Manning. You see the problem here.

Anyway, let’s get in up to the elbow, which if you do in St. Louis leaves you with tuberculosis.

2017-2018: 44-32-6 94 points  226 GF 222 GA 51.7 CF% 51.4 xGF% 7.1 SH% .928 SV%

Goalies: And yet it doesn’t matter how you redo your bedroom or living room of your house if you keep introducing various insects and rodents and sharp weapons to your foundation. So here we are again with Jay Gallon in net. The Blues are so determined to make it work with him for the 24th year in a row that it’s gone beyond Tin Cup hitting his ball from the fairway instead of taking a drop. Except this might be the time the Blues run out of balls in the bag.

Jake Allen was bad last year. .906 SV% is bad. Carter Hutton was better. And yet it’s Carter Hutton who goes, just like any other goalie that’s dared to play alongside Allen. He can’t be moved. He’s a southern congressman at this point. No amount of incompetence or bewildering actions will ever remove him.

Allen has been above-average in exactly one of his now five NHL seasons. At this point the Blues must know what he is, which is not enough. It’s not that the physical tools aren’t there. They most certainly are. He’s big, he’s athletic. But he’s always going to do just enough to kill you. Shame they put in all this work to end up where they always do. Really is.

Anyway, backing him up this time around with certainly an eye on usurping him is Chad Johnson. Johnson was woeful in Buffalo last year but serviceable or more in Calgary the year before that and Buffalo again two years ago. Maybe Johnson is just non-threatening enough to get Allen to relax while being able to take 15-20 starts without throwing up all over everyone. I don’t know. But this looks to be Problem Area #1 again for St. Louis, who just seemingly never learn. This time it will be different.

Defense: I don’t know how many different ways we can phrase this for however many years, but the Blues defensive unit just isn’t as good as “experts” will tell you. Alex Pietrangelo somehow conned the world into thinking he’s a Norris-level defender–probably by being big, a decent skater, and Canadian–but that’s utter horseshit. He’s fine. He’s there against the best competition, but he doesn’t roll them over. He never has. He’s a rhythm guitarist miscast playing solos. And paring him with Joel “Assuredly Has Had A Bug Caught In His Ear Before” Edmundson isn’t going to change that.

Colton Parayko is the only puck-mover they have, and his game in his own zone is somewhere around DEFCON Dumbass. I still don’t know what it is Carl Gunnarsson does, and neither do they. Jay Bouwmeester is dead, has been dead, will continue to be dead, and the Blues will continue to play him more minutes until even the worms peaking out from his eye sockets ask to be left alone finally. Vinnie Dun (HEY GABBAGOOL! VINNE DUNN OVA’ HERE!) could be another puck-mover they need, but Mike Yeo apparently can’t escape the stench of Ken Hitchcock and still won’t trust him with more than 13 minutes per night.

It’s probably not as bad as we make out, but it’s certainly nowhere near great. Considering the crops of forwards one sees most nights in the Central, that’s an issue. This time it will be different.

Forwards: Ok, so the center-depth is greatly improved. Brayden Schenn was a steal from Philly, and now they’ve added Bozak and O’Reilly. Bozak really flourished behind Matthews and Kadri in Toronto, and here he’ll get to be behind ROR and Schenn. It’s really a swift move.

However, looking deeply at it now and the winger situation….ooooh boy. Vladimir Tarasenko will still score a ton, whether running with Schenn or O’ Reilly. Jaden Schwartz is still their most creative player. Fabbi Robbry or Robbry Fabbi is back from injury, providing more dash. But that’s just about it. They’re brought back David Perron, and they’re going to have a quizzical look on their face in January when he’s on the bottom six with 17 points and taking the most mystifyingly dumb penalties imaginable. Alex Steen was in need of hospice care at the end of last year and that’s not going to get better now. Patrick Maroon is here, which is just so St. Louis Blues I don’t think I can stand it. It’s a less than impressive group, so the centers and Tank are going to have to have premium years.

Outlook: Overall, they’re just a touch short of Nashville and Winnipeg. But they’re pretty much ahead of everyone else in the division, which sets them up to get thwacked by one of the aforementioned in the first round. Same as it ever was. The wingers don’t look like they provide enough, the defense is slowish and not all that skilled, and even if those things reverse there’s always Jay Gallon walking around with his gasoline can, a book of matches, and a vacant look in his eye. They made the right moves this summer. They just didn’t make enough of them.

This time it will be different…it was ever thus.

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Everything Else

If you can believe it, and you probably can’t, Jake Allen has only been part of the Blues for four seasons. Like everything down there, they’ve been flagellating themselves so hard and so loudly about it it only feels like he’s been there a decade. Blues fans probably feel it’s been even longer, given the Homer-ific tale that Allen has been for them.

Let’s go back through it, shall we? Jay Gallon started gobbling up starts in the ’14-’15 season, and the team clearly wanted to shift him into the starter’s role over Brian Elliot. Allen never grabbed it with two hands, and yet the Blues force-fed him into the playoffs. You’ll recall he completely melted down, as the division-winning Blues were toppled, with no shortage of giggles, by the Wild, who the Hawks then plastered in the next round. Allen’s .904 in that series didn’t exactly wow the spectators.

Because of that playoff barf-belch, the Blues went into the next season with the tandem of Elliot and Allen, because they couldn’t in good conscience toss Elliot aside. Allen was pretty good that season, with a .920. But Elliot outplayed him with an out-of-nowhere .930, and then stoned the Hawks over seven games which will assuredly go down as the greatest accomplishment in franchise history.

But the Blues were still determined to turn the job over to Allen, extending him at the very first opening on July 1st before last season. They sold high on Elliot to Calgary, and turned everything over to Allen. And it looked like it might actually work. Allen was only about league-average last year, but sterling in the playoffs for the first time, as he was the only reason that the Blues were able to get by the Wild in five games. They were rolled hard in each of those, as he made 35 saves or more three times in those five games. There was not much he could do about a clearly superior Predators team.

The Blues must have thought he crossed the Rubicon and they could finally relax about their goaltending.

Ha. As if this wasn’t the Blues.

Allen couldn’t stop a blindfolded turtle in January and February, losing starts to known space Titan Carter Hutton. He’s rebounded in March as the Blues try and death-rattle their way into the last playoff spot. But overall a .907 does not suggest that Allen is going to be the long-term answer the Blues have desperately hoped him to be for four seasons now.

Which leaves them in something of a quandary. Allen is signed through the ’20-’21 season at a $4.3 hit. That’s not terrible, but if the Blues feel they need to bring in someone to split starts with Allen at least, they’re going to end up paying two goalies at least that, otherwise known as “The Jim Nill Plan.” It’s gone great for the Stars. Maybe some team out there thinks it can harvest out of Allen what the Blues have never been able to, but unlikely. Perhaps a team like the Coyotes or Sabres or Senators feels that if they’re punting another season anyway they can take the risk. No one’s trading for a $4.3 million backup, we know that.

What the Blues do will obviously determine their direction. There ain’t shit on shit in the free agent market for the Blues. They could trade for a backup who is angling for a starter’s role. A Khudobin or McElhinney type. But that carries risk.

What we can be sure of is that the Blues will likely get it wrong.

 

Game #73 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

We’ve made a career out of mocking and hurling insults at the St. Louis Blues. At this point it’s basically batting practice. Luckily for us, we’ll have our bread and butter this year. Again. Because we always will. Nothing is ever going to change in Missouri, as they attempt to roll out essentially the same roster that got domed by the Preds in Round 2 last year, and basically the same one that hasn’t really ever come close to winning anything. Same as it ever was. You can set your watch to it.

St. Louis Blues

’16-’17 Record: 46-29-7  99 points  (3rd in Central, out in Round 2 to NSH)

Team Stats 5v5: 50.1 CF% (15th)  50.4 SF% (15th)  51.0 SCF% (10th)  8.3 SH% (7th)  .923 SV% (17th)

Special Teams: 21.2 PP% (8th)  84.7 PK% (3rd)