Craig Berube’s greatest test.
Since being named the interim head coach On November 25, 2018, the “Chief” Craig Berube has never really been under fire. When he took over, the team was in a tailspin. The trajectory of the Blues would take two months to turn around.
Turn around might be a complete understatement. Berube was able to take a team that had gotten themselves in the last place in points on January 2. Rattle off a franchise-record 11 straight wins. Position themselves in the third spot in the central division playoffs. Then on June 12, he lifted Lord Stanley’s cup.
Last season his first full season as head coach. Berube did not have to deal with many of the problems that teams that win the cup deal with. They essentially returned the exact same team that won the cup to the ice. While expectations were high this team was in respect mode. Berube sold the team on nobody thinks you could do it again. The Blues responded.
The 2019-2020 season was shut down on March 12 2020 due to Covid-19. The Blues were the second-best overall team in the league, first in the Western Division, and obviously first in the Central. Going into the bubble playoffs expectations were extremely high.
During the round-robin games, it was apparent something was going on and the Blues just did not show up. A last-second loss to division rival and up-and-coming Colorado Avalanche was followed by disappointing losses to the Vegas Golden Knights and an overtime loss to the Dallas Stars.
This left the Blues in fourth place. Setting up a date with the upcoming Vancouver Canucks. Needless to say, this did not go the way anyone except the Canucks had hoped for.
New Season New Blues
Months later, the NHL 2020-2021 season has finally gotten underway.
This time Berube has a major challenge in front of him. This is not anywhere close to the team that won the cup in 2019. Gone are backup goalie Jake Allen, defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, long time forward Alex Steen, and Captain Alex Pietrangelo.
On the coaching front assistant coach Mark Savard left the organization and was replaced by former Dallas Stars Jim Montgomery. Savard was responsible for the number three overall power play in the league. His guidance on special teams has been a large reason why the Blues have become one of the best teams in the NHL.
Gen. manager Doug Armstrong quickly went about filling all those holes. When talks with Pietrangelo broke down Armstrong pulled a (Torey) Krug out of Boston. He also was able to sign Kyle Clifford on the opening day of free agency. He was able to strike a deal with free-agent Mike Hoffman that went right down to the start of training camp. Armstrong knowing the team was cash-strapped by the salary-cap used every little trick he could put a contending team on the ice.
Berube starts the 2020-2021 campaign with a different makeup, and the same lofty expectations. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this is a Cup contending team. While not “Cup or bust”, most expect the Blues to be one of the final four teams left standing come semifinal time.
A slight caveat to that, the Colorado Avalanche. Many pundits see the Avalanche winning the cup and standing in the way of the Blues. This will be Berube’s test.
After the first four games of the season, the Blues stand at 2-1-1, with upcoming contests against both the Vegas Volden Knights and the Colorado Avalanche The Blues split the first two games against the Avalanche. The Avalanche embarrassed the Blues, in the second game scoring eight goals and not allowing the Note to find the back of the net.
The Blues power play is 0 for the season. The Penalty Kill at 61.9% is currently 29th of the 30 teams that are playing. New assistant coach Montgomery oversees special teams. While the Blues subtracted Pietrangelo and Steen. The additions of power-play specialists Krug and Hoffman have yet to create the success that is expected.
Due to Covid-19, the season has been shortened to 56 games. This means if you come out of the gate slow you may never catch up. This is a quarter race, not a mile and a half. Berube is slightly under the gun.
He does not have the normal 10 to 15 games that coaches use to figure out the perfect recipe. He must throw the entire concoction into the microwave and push start. In the last two seasons, the odds were in his favor.
This season Berube will have to face all the lofty expectations, changing roles, changing faces, and a fanbase that is hungry for a 2nd Cup.
I think that this is going to be an incredibly fun ride. I just hope it does not turn into a train wreck.
Till next time Hockey FANS.
Guy “Hawaii Blues Fan” Bensing