Sure, it’s still October, but the St. Louis Blues got what amounted to a “must-win” in Toronto Saturday, giving the Blues just their second victory of the season. On paper, St. Louis has looked like a pretty solid squad for years now, but has found diminishing returns. Last year, they missed the playoffs altogether by dropping a win-and-you’re-in game to Colorado in match No. 82. But the team wasn’t panicking about this season’s slow start.
“Last year I think we started 6-2, came out of the gates hot,” said defenseman Colton Parayko. “Hopefully this year’s a flip where we get the lump out of our game at the beginning and build some wins. If we build momentum and play the right way and work together, we’ll be fine and the season will take care of itself.”
The Blues made significant changes over the summer, trading for two-way center Ryan O’Reilly and bringing in veteran free agents such as Tyler Bozak, Patrick Maroon and, in his third tour of duty, David Perron. Youngsters Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas and Vince Dunn are also emerging, changing the dynamic. All that change can take time to settle down.
“We’ve gelled pretty well so far – the guys we’ve brought in are character guys and fit the group really well,” Parayko said. “But in terms of on the ice it takes time to feel each other out. We know how each other play, but you find the little things they do. We’ve started to see tendencies of each other, started to read off each other and know where we’re going to be, which helps.”
With a couple exceptions, the Blues do not look like a very fast team, which has been the trend for success in the NHL lately. What they do have is a cabal of big, strong dudes who get into passing lanes, take away the middle of the ice and limit access to goaltender Jake Allen, who has gone through some rough times the past few seasons. Well, OK – that’s what they did against the Maple Leafs, resulting in a boring but effective 4-1 victory on the road that saw Toronto get just four shots in the first period. And really: if you don’t have the horses for a speed game, you have to find another solution to get wins.
“You could see that when we were committed to doing the right things, you could feel that we came together,” said O’Reilly. “It does give us confidence: we know what we can do. It’s the style we want to play. It took us awhile to find it, but it gives a taste of what we can be.”
It may have taken a couple weeks – and it may still take a couple more – but the Blues found their level in Toronto.
“These earlier games, if we had gotten a bounce and a couple more wins, things would have seemed lighter,” O’Reilly said. “But we knew we had to come together more and find a different way of winning that some of us aren’t used to.”
Is it sustainable? That’s the million-dollar question. Coach Mike Yeo scratched veteran blueliner Jay Bouwmeester for the game, losing mobility but gaining defensive consistency. The Blues are also without speedster Robby Fabbri right now due to injury and Fabbri’s the type of player who can use his skating at both ends of the ice – undoubtedly a boon these days.
Thanks to a surprise start by Chicago and, to a lesser extent Colorado (the Avs did make the playoffs last year – I think a lot of us just thought there would be some regression), the Central Division is looking downright deadly again, with Winnipeg and Nashville up top. Dallas needs to get back into the post-season, as does Minnesota. And if the Hawks aren’t the guppy, who is? That’s a conversation the Blues do not want to be a part of.