In the midst of what can only be considered the worst stretch of St. Louis Blues hockey since the opening to the 2018-19 NHL season, there appears to light from the end of the tunnel.
Going into March, sitting in second in the NHL West Division, but sixth in points percentage, the Blues are very much on the outside looking in of the playoff race. Losers of their last three, and only getting one win in the last five, has put the Blues in a bad situation. MoneyPuck.com has put the Blues odds at just a 26.2% chance that they make the playoffs. A far cry from the expectation of competing for a division title.
However, with the current state of the Blues’ health, it feels impossible to accurately or adequately judge the quality of play the team has put forward. They aren’t winning games, but they are playing competitive and close hockey. Only two of their losses have been by more than one goal. A vast improvement from the performance put forward early in the season when the team gave up six to eight goals a night, despite all that ails them.
The roster, as it stands, has $27.5 million in collective salary currently sitting out due to injury. Some of that comes from players like Vladimir Tarasenko, who has yet to make his debut in the 2020-21 season. But for the most part, it has been the depth of the team that has been punished, losing centers like Tyler Bozak and Robert Thomas, with high impact skaters like Colton Parayko and Jayden Schwartz also missing significant time.
Very few teams have had injuries impact them more than the Blues, who are second only to the Chicago Blackhawks in man-games lost this season.
With only Carl Gunnarsson being ruled out for the rest of the season, the rest of those injured players will eventually return to the Blues’ ice, with some sooner than later. In a unique year, where there is increased opportunity for success in your own division, all the Blues need to do now is to tread water and wait out the storm.
Reinforcements on Their Way
It has been a good week in terms of news from within the Blues regarding rehabbing injuries. Tyler Bozak has returned to practice after having not played since Jan. 26 after being hit by Mark Stone. Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic reports that Tarasenko has been progressing significantly in practice and could make his season debut as soon as the upcoming California road trip and will likely travel with the team.
Despite scares of potential injury, Sammy Blais is back with the team after a short COVID-related pause, while Marco Scandella practiced normally despite taking a puck to the face during Wednesday’s game versus the LA Kings. Scandella is just coming off another injury himself, so the fear of losing him again was daunting. He will now play a key role in stabilizing the blue line as a veteran presence.
Every day the Blues get more good news on who they might add back to the roster. Robert Thomas is close to being reevaluated. Parayko and Schwartz have been upgraded to questionable rather than out and could return any day now, and from there, you have a significant number of players back from injury. The outlook changes drastically.
And with Nathan Walker and Sam Anas clearing waivers and being added to the roster and taxi squad, respectively, the Blues now have some fresh legs and eager hearts to add to the lineup to try and give them the mid-slump jolt they desperately need.
The Blues appear to no longer be in a position where they can feasibly make a charge at the West Division title. You can argue whether that means something or not, but it seems that others have performed and separated themselves from the pack; even just 20 games in, it’s hard to see them catching teams like the Vegas Golden Knights for first place. With that said, they very much still have a path to a very successful season, making the playoffs — and most importantly — making a Stanley Cup run. All they need to do is get healthy, get their affairs in order, and not fall too far behind in the standings.
With only intradivisional games being played this season, there are ample opportunities to make up points and games lost. Every team has control in their own destiny to a point due to the lack of outside influence. Instead of splitting games with teams in the East or really any team outside their division, they will have a chance at a three-point swing every night and will chase the teams above them.
It is now the job of the Blues’ currently healthy lineup to keep pace. Relying on some unusual and lower profile players to pick up the pace, the mangled lineup the Blues will put out in the days to come can succeed simply by keeping that playoff opportunity in striking distance. The team they are currently playing with is not close to the one they would hypothetically go into the playoffs with. If they can weather the storm and get back to the team that general manager Doug Armstrong and head coach Craig Berube envisioned, salvation is very much possible.