We all knew it would come to this point – that this magical ride – this against all odds campaign the St. Louis Blues launched in January – would come to a crashing halt.
Well, it hasn’t happened yet, but with the Blues down 3-0 to the best team in the NHL, the Colorado Avalanche and their President’s Trophy, there is only a glimmer of hope the team can surprise everyone – even themselves – to beat the Avs four games in a row.
There is hope the Cinderella story starts on Sunday in Game 4 at Enterprise Center. On Friday night, they opened the gates to 9,000 fans – the largest home crowd of the season due to COVID, and the Blues proceeded to lay an egg. By the end of the night, the Avs had scored five goals, one by old nemesis Brandon Saad (who used to beat the Blues regularly as a member of the Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks), en route to an embarrassing loss.
The Nathan MacKinnon line, with captain Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, makes Colorado’s top line one of the most powerful lines in all of hockey.
It is a terrible matchup against the Blues, who relied on veteran defenseman Justin Faulk and Robert Bortuzzo to eat up valuable ice time while providing a steady defensive presence all season.
Well, thanks to controversial hits by Nazem Kadri on Faulk, which knocked him out of the series likely, and Tyson Jost leveling Bortuzzo with a dirty elbow, the already stymied Blues had to play down two of their most valuable defensemen. It got so bleak that Steve Santini and Mitch Reinke made their first playoff starts.
If the Blues’ woes this year sound familiar, it is because they are. Go back to 2019, when the Blues won their Stanley Cup. Along the way to the Final, they had to beat a very good Winnipeg Jets team, which they did, but then they had to get through the San Jose Sharks with Erik Karlsson, Bret Burns, Joe Pavelski, Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture, Evander Kane, and others.
The Blues went into that series with the goal to beat down the Sharks and their offense over the seven-game series. They did just that, beating down San Jose to a shell of the team that started the series seven games before.
The Blues would use the momentum they built in that series to go on to beat the Boston Bruins for the team’s first Stanley Cup.
So … rather than lament the Blues for coming up short, fans need to realize they got beat at their own game – a tactic that worked successfully two years prior. But not this season.
If and when the Blues’ season ends, there will undoubtedly be much chatter about the future of coach Craig Berube. He has been getting ripped on the fan boards all season, including this one at the BlueNote Fan Report, for his inability to make adjustments in games, and now, in this series.
Some question why he sits certain players (Mike Hoffman) but allows other, less effective players (Zach Sanford) to play game after game. He has also faced criticism for the composition of his lines and how he has shown little patience for certain combinations. His tweaking of the lineup constantly, leaving some of their best players in the press box and not on the ice, has not gained Berube many followers.
Then there’s Jordan Binnington. It’s impossible to get angry at the guy – he’s been one of the few Blues who have shown passion and fire this season and in this series. He’s made a whole highlight-reel of saves just in the first three games. But he left fans scratching their heads in Game 3 when he misplayed a puck that led to Ryan Graves’ first playoff goal. He’s had several brain-fart moments this year, and none have hurt the team more than a few of his decisions in these playoffs games. Berube has a fine understudy in Ville Husso, who has played well this year but is not playoff-tested in any way.
— SiriusXM NHL Network Radio (@SiriusXMNHL) May 22, 2021
The final disappointment comes probably with Doug Armstrong, and I have to take some time to explain this one. He is a god among hockey GMs, and he is firmly my GM for years to come.
I wonder why he didn’t grab a steady defenseman at the Trade Deadline? He had the talent to sell at the time, and he’s been known to make creative deals. But, according to his own analysis, his phone wasn’t ringing much over that week’s time.
Which makes me ask, has Armstrong and Berube overvalued the talent on this team? Or, has the team just under-performed (inexplicably)? You look at the flurry of names – all-stars, Cup-winners, soon-to-be legends of the game – in Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, Mike Hoffman, David Perron, Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas – and there is no real reason why the Blues haven’t won. And there is no damn good reason why they cannot score!
So what went wrong? Who wears the collar? Berube should shoulder some of the blame here, no matter how the season plays out. His rant against the officiating after Game 3 was sincere but ill-placed. The way the Blues got blown out in all three playoff games, his complaints came off as a losing coaches’ whine. Those who watched the games and who have watched him closely this season know he doesn’t attack officials unless it is deserved. And, in this series, the officiating has been statistically lop-sided.
So what’s Armstrong to do? My initial thought is for him to go shopping for a strong defenseman, a bruiser who will make dashers like MacKinnon and Rantanen pay every time they enter the zone (a Tom Wilson comes to mind, maybe without the baggage though). Or, does Army purge his roll of a high-priced scorer, restock with draft picks, and build for the future – which promises to rely on speed and quickness other than brute strength.
As in the past, St. Louis fans have stated, ‘In Army We Trust.”
The question now is why did we trust him? Did he deserve that trust? Do we trust him again? Has his eye for talent gotten aged and tired? Where are all the young guns fighting to get into the big show lineup? Klim Koston showed up right before the playoffs, yet he has not seen a single minute of action. Why is that? Where has Dakota Joshua gone? Why isn’t Mikko Mikola playing every night?
So, it is right to give the team credit for what they’ve overcome this season in injuries, the losses of key players, playing with nicked-up players, etc. But don’t be shy about asking questions that need to be asked about this Blues team.
Like, has our championship window closed?
Thanks for reading!
Now, back to full strength …
A St. Louis Blues blogger, NHL podcaster, and writer, and contributor for the STL Fan Report.