Hockey

When a GM is in a job for over 10 years, as Blues GM Doug Armstrong will pass into this summer, it’s either a sign of an organization’s inertia or incompetence, or a sign of sustained success. Or in the case of the Hawks, both. And it may be that’s the case in St. Louis as well.

Armstrong ascended to the GM chair while the Hawks were on their way to their first parade, and as things always worked with the Blues, everything they did seemed to be not to measure up to the class of the division (it was Detroit in the past), but to be in opposition to it. Of course, the Blues set some of this in motion when former GM Larry Pleau took Erik Johnson instead of Jonathan Toews.

But while the Hawks and others were getting faster and more skilled, the Blues seemed determined to plod and crush their way to success, which had predictable results. They hired Ken Hitchcock, which only made them more defensive. We know they emphasized size and GRITHEARTFAAAAART. And while they have been a consistent playoff team, there was only one conference final appearance.

It was the kind of record that usually gets GMs fired, and so would have the coaching boondoggle of installing Mike Yeo as an heir apparent to Hitchcock, and then watching all of that go to shit when the players rebelled against both of them. It culminated with the Blues missing the playoffs in 2018.

But that kicked a new direction and sense of urgency for Armstrong, something we’d love to see around here. Maybe he knew his job was on the line. But they traded for Ryan O’Reilly and signed Tyler Bozak to give them the center depth that they’d lacked and the Hawks or Sharks or Predators had picked apart in years previous.

A shift in drafting before that though were the real tracks. Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou, Vince Dunn, and an absolute theft of Brayden Schenn out of Philadelphia set the Blues on a path to be fast, dynamic, and skilled. All the things they hadn’t been before. And clearly, Armstrong was rewarded.

The final stroke, and perhaps the act of a man who was sure he was headed for printing up a bunch of CVs, was correcting the mistake of installing Yeo as coach after the players had turned on him and giving Craig Berube the job. Suddenly the Blues were playing faster and more aggressive, because with the speed Armstrong had installed in the lineup they could. We know how the rest goes.

Only Armstrong and his bosses will know how close he was to the axe, but everyone seems to think it was very much on the cards had the Blues not turned around at New Year’s last year. Armstrong deserves credit for realizing the mistakes of the past, seeing how his team had to adjust, and not being afraid to switch gears. Perhaps the Blues ownership deserves credit for letting Armstrong have the time to do it all.

Would that work here? Hard to say. Stan Bowman’s recent drafting record is already a strike against that. Recent player acquisitions would suggest they haven’t even diagnosed the problem yet. He’s made his coaching change. though Armstrong has been allowed three. And for every Armstrong who’s been allowed to dig themselves out, there’s Boston, Pittsburgh, Carolina and others who have found success changing things in the front office. There’s no set model for it.

What a state of affairs when you look down I-55 and wonder why things can’t be like that here. Life is meaningless.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 12-14-6   Blues 19-8-6

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

A HIVE OF SCUM AND VILLAINY: St. Louis Gametime

We never thought this day would come. But nothing lasts forever, especially anything good and beautiful. So for the first time, the Hawks will walk into any arena in St. Louis that houses the Blues and see a championship banner hanging above the ice. And you can be sure that any traveling Hawk fan will be made acutely aware of it repeatedly. Godspeed, you weirdos.

Things haven’t gone all that smoothly for the Notes since they swatted away the Hawks at the UC with laughable ease in the first game of the month. They’ve lost three of four, getting brained by the Penguins, Leafs, and even Sabres. They recovered somewhat by beating the Knights on Thursday, though that was more of a case of better finishing as they were on the back foot for most of the night.

Injuries have been something of a problem. Vladimir Tarasenko has been a long-term casualty, and some depth forwards like Zach Sanford, Sammy Blais (TO BLAIISSSS, WHICH WE ALL KNOW MEANS TO BLUFF), and Alex Steen have been out, though Steen will return tonight. While the Blues have useful players up and down the lineup when healthy, they don’t have a ton of depth scoring, so when Perron, O’Reilly, Schenn go cold as they have of late, the goals dry up. Thus their four goals in those three losses mentioned above.

And Jordan Binnington has dipped of late. While the Blues hold down attempts among the best in the league, the chances among those attempts flow a little more freely than they’d be comfortable with. He was better against the Knights but pilfered by the Penguins and Leafs, and the Blues need superior goaltending to get by at the moment. Sadly, Jay Gallon has picked up the slack in that vacuum, as life as a backup seems to suit him pretty well.

As for the Hawks tonight, the only change will see them swap goalies again, so Matthew Highmore will stay in over Dylan Sikura to do whatever it is he does and not do whatever it is the Hawks think he does. With the injuries around the defense sort of picks itself, and complaining about Dennis Gilbert over Slater Koekkoek is akin to two children fighting over a damp and putrid sponge. What the fuck does it matter?

When these two teams last met, the Blues found it very easy to keep their hands on the Hawks’ forehead and let them swing their arms lightly. If there’s one thing the Blues can do is follow a plan when necessary, and they chose the path of just standing up at their blue line, forcing the Hawks to dump the puck in, and wait for the chances they knew the Hawks would present. It worked to a T, and will again if they stick to it tonight. At home they might be tempted to unleash the forecheck more, which can also work against the Hawks, but it does leave the Hawks the one window of finding some space in the neutral zone if they can get through the initial wave (Narrator: They can’t).

Not that games in St. Louis were ever pleasant when the Hawks were good and the Blues were not. These were something of a Super Bowl to the Blues, and the bullshit ran high on the ice and in the stands. You were happy when they were over, no matter the result. That remains the same, but this is now the entire Blues Nation to rub the Hawks’ nose in the new arrangement of things. And they can also consign the Hawks even deeper into the muck, and one wonders if the Hawks look embarrassing against in both games this weekend just how much longer Jeremy Colliton‘s stay of execution will last.

Let’s get through it together.

Hockey

vs

RECORDS: Blues 17-5-6   Hawks 10-11-5

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

GOOD GOD DON’T GO THERE: St. Louis Gametime

Like any adversarial relationship, or really any relationship that goes for a long time, there are different phases to it. The Hawks and Blues have had theirs. They were scraping for bottom of the barrel rewards in the 80s together. They were playoff rivals in the early 90s, each with hopes of breaking through the post-Oilers scene (never did). Both were hapless background pieces to the Wings, either in the mid- or late 90s. Both have been unequipped batting practice for the other at times, for instance the Pronger-era Blues were far ahead of the Hawks and obviously what came before here not so long ago. Both have been mud people at the same time.

We thought we’d permanently left them behind this decade. That’s the arrogance that comes from multiple championships. But you can never leave something like this behind. It’s always there, even if you have to squint, and it’s always a reminder of what you truly are. It feels like getting hit with a large fish in the face when you realize that, but here we are. Last spring was a reminder that some things are always like this, no matter how it might look.

And now it’s reversed. The Blues are in the sunshine, seemingly clicking everywhere, seemingly have figured out when everyone had assumed they never could. That it would always be that way. And the Hawks are the ones with their shoes tied together, valuing all the wrong things with an inability to take any step forward. Oh sure, maybe it’s only been two seasons like this, instead of the seven or eight we enjoyed laughing at the unwashed down I-55. But it’s gone now, isn’t it? Oh yes, yes it is.

So the Blues will show up for the first time this season tonight, with their unfathomable champions pedigree and their first place standing now and the added arrogance not just of having done all that, but of having done it when no one ever thought they could. These aren’t the Blues you remember, and it’s likely they will never be again. We’ve lost something. They’ve gained something, and that is truly world-shattering. They’re 15 points ahead of the Hawks.

The Hawks are 15 points behind, five points out of a playoff spot, and one point ahead of the basement of the entire damn conference. Has anything moved forward? Does it feel like it will anytime soon? Aren’t the questions all the same as they were before? The lack of answers sure are. This is supposed to be them. It was them. And we figured it would be them forever. Because it felt like it would be, when it was and we weren’t. We had all the answers before there were questions. And then in a flash it reversed, and now we’re the laughingstock in the relationship. “Look at how far behind they are,” they crow, and rightly. The gap is bordering on a gorge.  Cruel world.

Anyway, on the ground, the Blues are in first but in some ways they’re a lot like the Hawks. They’re not a great possession team. They get great goaltending and they’re getting some fine finishing from more sources than the local outfit. They’re still pretty good defensively, in that they hold down attempts, shots, chances among the better teams in the league. They don’t create much, but with the way Jordan Binnington is playing they don’t have to. The more you suppress shots and attempts the more games come down to a moment or two. And when your goalie is better most nights, you’ll win most nights. When you allow chances and attempts to flow like and Elvin-conjured river, you make it more likely that results will match what the teams are. That’s how you get the Hawks, no matter how good the goalies are.

Of course, the Blues are here without their main sniper in Vladimir Tarasenko, who might not play again in the regular season. They’re also without Alex Steen, which doesn’t mean much these days, and Oskar Sundqvist, which is somewhere in the middle. In their absence, Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, and Brayden Schenn have fucked off just like they did last spring that landed us in this mess. Alex OrangeJello seems intent on having a true free agent year, and Jayden Schwartz is actually healthy. Imagine what happens when Justin Faulk actually gets comfortable. Fuck this life.

Anyway, to the Hawks, who will be without Duncan Keith, Dylan Strome, and now Robin Lehner as well as Andrew Shaw tonight. Lehner has the flu, which is a strange code for telling his teammates they suck on the bench and being given a day or two to calm down, even though he’s right. Without Keith, and he really shouldn’t matter this much, the Hawks roll out an AHL defense behind Connor Murphy. And we already said Connor Murphy shouldn’t matter this much either. Oh, did we mention they’ll have to do the same against the best line in hockey Thursday? On the road? ONE GOAL.

Because of all of this, the Hawks will skate one player short due to cap constraints, with the recalling of Kevin Lankinen putting them up against it. Real tight ship, here. A cap team that’s one point above the West basement. Everything’s fine. They have a process. They know what they’re doing. Everything is on course.

It won’t take more than four minutes for Pat and Eddie to comment on the Blues “grit” and the forecheck the Hawks apparently want to emulate without realizing what they’re actually talking about. The Blues can get in your shirt because they’re actually really quick. It’s not just about dressing psychopaths, which used to be their M.O. They upgraded the speed, and with Pietrangelo, Faulk, Colton Burpo, they’re mobile enough on the blue line to not worry if their forwards occasionally get beat. They defense can just step up behind it. The Hawks d-men can’t. So you get what the Avs did to them, which is streak to an odd-man whenever they felt like it. And failing that, they could just wait for that moment when four Hawks were trying to find the Big Dipper in their own zone and tralalala their way down the slot. The Blues are no more stupid than the Avs are.

The season is almost certainly already toast, but it’s for sure going to be if the Hawks don’t ace December. They can rant and rave all they want about where the Blues were on New Year’s Day last year, but that team was built to contend and needed to fire a coach who was clearly a moron and everyone knew it to get where they were supposed to be (say there’s an idea). This might be where the Hawks are supposed to be. Starting the month off with the two Finalists isn’t exactly cherry. The rest of the slate isn’t either.

The difference between the two might not any clearer after tonight, or at the end of the month. You’ll just have to wait for the day when the relationship shifts again. It might be a long way off.

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 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.

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

It’s kind of amazing what happens when your organization shows urgency and never stops doing so. While John Cooper should win the Jack Adams Trophy for Coach Of The Year for presiding over a historically good team, Craig Berube is going to have a serious case. It was just after the new year when both the Hawks and Blues were at the bottom of the NHL. While the Blues have a better roster, one of them responded properly, One of them responded by goofing a power play for a matter of weeks. But it’s not as if the Hawks couldn’t have had Ryan O’Reilly if they so desired.

On January 5th, the Blues were 16-19-4. They’ve gone 27-9-4 since. And by every measure, they’ve greatly improved. If the argument is that it took Berube a couple months to instill his changes to Mike Yeo’s “system” (and we were never sure what it was), then this proves it. After six weeks, the Blues apparently had it down. Do the Hawks have Colliton’s? You know the answer to that one.

The Blues, before and after January 5th, are up or down as they should be in every metric category. They take more attempts, they give up less. They create more scoring chances and give up less. And perhaps most importantly, they are utterly dominant when it comes to high-danger chances, their percentage ranking best in the league and the amount they surrender ranking second. Systematically, the Blues are better across the board.

And yet…and yet…It’s hard to ignore that the Blues SV% at evens before that January 5th mark was .902, which is below league average. That’s when Jay Gallon was once again being crowbarred into the starter’s role he’s spent years trying to prove he’s not up for, like a toddler in ill-fitting clothes. Finally, they switched to Jordan Binnington, for lack of any other option. Since then, their SV% is .940. You can’t ignore that sort of thing.

And the question becomes is this just a coming-of-age from Jordan Binnington? Or a once-in-lifetime heater from a career nobody? The hunch is the latter.

Binnington had never showed anything like this at any level. He never showed much in his OHL career after being a third-round pick eight years ago. He dipped down to the ECHL for half of a season, where he put up a decent .922. But he never managed more than a .916 in the AHL until a 28-game loan to the Providence Bruins two years ago, where he put up a .926. He started the year in San Antonio just as strongly, and the Blues must have figured why not? They had nothing to lose at that point. Still, a .928 overall was just no something anyone could have seen coming.

And Binnington might already be straining a touch. After his unconscious January and February, Binnington sank down to a .912 in March. But of late he’s beaten the Lighting and Knights, so who knows what the hell is going on?

In reality, this is closer to what the Blues were supposed to be doing before the season than their bottomed-out performance for the first half of the year. This roster was engineered to make a run, and just spent the first half sputtering and wheezing. Perhaps it was just being free of Yeo and his unpredictable moods from day-to-day, or the connection he still had to Ken Hitchcock. He also allowed Vinnie Dunn to be the puck-mover the Blues simply have never had, and never even really considered having. Whatever it is, Berube has provided a structural change to the Blues, and then was in position to benefit from Binnington’s heater. Must be nice.

 

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!

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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