The St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup to cap off the 2018-2019 season, so it’s a little hard to ask what went wrong.
But to put things in perspective, the Blues were in last place overall in January before they turned everything around to make the playoffs and win the ultimate prize in sports. They finished the regular season with a 45-28-9 record, good for third in the Central Division and fifth in the Western Conference.
With the Blues holding just 15 wins by the time January rolled around, most people were writing them off entirely. But the first month of 2019 kicked off with a bang and St. Louis defeated the Washington Capitals by a final score of 5-2. That January 3rd victory was their third win in five games and it defined what was to come, with the Blues going 7-4-1 that month. In February, St. Louis posted a 12-1-1 record.
Turning the season around was a matter of belief, but it was also a matter of goalie Jordan Binnington. If any single player could be granted credit for what happened in January, it was the 26-year-old.
Binnington made his first start with the Blues on January 7 and he posted a 3-0 win against the Philadelphia Flyers. He’d finish the season with 24 wins in 30 starts, a goals against average of 1.89 and a save percentage of .927 with five shutouts.
Defensively, the Blues allowed just 223 goals against in 2018-2019. Only 59 of them were allowed by Binnington, leaving Jake Allen and Chad Johnson with the rest. Allen won 19 games in 45 starts, posted a 2.83 goals against average and levelled off a .905 save percentage. Johnson won just two games.
So while the Blues under Binnington (and arguably the promoted head coach Craig Berube) were able to salvage the season and eventually win the Cup, what would’ve happened if he didn’t make his first start against the Flyers?
St. Louis was scoring at a reasonable rate, finishing the regular season with 247 goals. That put them two behind the Vegas Golden Knights and seven ahead of the Nashville Predators. Three players had over 20 goals, including David Perron, Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko.
O’Reilly led the team in overall points with 77, his best point totals to date.
As for Tarasenko, the season was a small step back. He tied his goal totals from 2017-2018 at 33, but played in four fewer games and registered 31 fewer shots on goal. A dozen of his goals in 2018-2019 came on the power play, with 22 of his 68 total points landing on the man-advantage. Tarasenko was invisible for large portions of the post-season, although he did eventually come alive with 11 goals in 26 games.
There are a few “what ifs” the Blues, but thus far Doug Armstrong’s club seems ready to go back to the well. That’s fine when it works and there’s every reason to indicate that Binnington will be back for another run at the Cup in 2019-2020.
That said, getting more out of Tarasenko won’t hurt and some more offensive consistency will help St. Louis ensure they can play “Gloria” long into the playoffs next time around.
Photo credit: KSDK