The NHL schedule has 82 games, but it produces mini-seasons in this pattern, peaks and valleys in which teams can look like juggernauts or laughing stock. That’s what makes the 2021-22 St. Louis Blues so fascinating.
Remember the wading Blues of March 2022? They opened the month with four straight losses and went 5-6-3. In 5v5 in March, they were outscored 30-27, 329-320 and 358-314. Goalkeepers Ville Husso and Jordan Binnington delivered 27 in the leagueand-Best team savings percentage for the month.
In April? They became the gods of Saint-Louis. Since losing in overtime on April 1, they have won nine straight. In 5v5 during this period, they outclassed their opponents 37-24. Their total goals in nine April games: five, six, five, four, four, six, four, six, six, eight. Simply incredible. By the trade deadline at the end of March, they looked like a team ready to limp into the playoffs and get knocked out by a real contender. Now the Searing Blues look as dominant as any team in the league. Their winning streak includes wins over the Calgary Flames, Minnesota Wild (twice), Boston Bruins and Nashville Predators.
The Blues now own the eighth-best point percentage in the NHL at .671. They rose to the group of second-tier Stanley Cup contenders with the Calgary Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers, Wild and Tampa Bay Lightning. But is it time to move the Blues to Tier 1 alongside the season powerhouses in the Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers?
The answer is not so simple. The Blues are doing well in the NHL in April according to standings and scorecards, but the numbers under the hood suggest they aren’t as dominant as they appear on the surface.
This team obviously has a ton going for it. The Blues now have the second-largest power play and the sixth-most shorthanded in the NHL. They possess incredible scoring depth, armed with seven 20-goal scorers and could finish with nine if Robert Thomas and Ryan O’Reilly get two and three more goals respectively. Eleven Blues have at least 40 points and eight have 50 points or more. Stanley Cup-caliber teams roll these days on three legitimate score lines, and the Blues absolutely qualify there. Vladimir Tarasenko, his shoulder finally feeling good, had a massive rebound season. Thomas has become a truly dominant playmaker, ranking second in the NHL only to Johnny Gaudreau in key assists per 60 minutes. Pavel Buchnevich likely has Rangers wanting a recovery on the trade from last offseason. After stumbling in March, Husso is 6-0-1 with a 0.924 SV% in April.
Do we therefore consider the Blues as a predator at the top of the Western Conference? Wait. A big contributor to their massive hot streak this month is, well, luck. In 5-on-5 in April, they scored on a league-best 15.55% of their shots. In fact, they only sit at 14and in goals expected by 60. On the defensive end, with Husso and Binnington rebounding, they own all 10 goals in the leagueand-best savings percentage this month. This masks the fact that they have the second worst expected goals against 60. You read that right.
In the Blues’ incredible April 9-0-1, their opponents hold a 514-400 advantage in shot attempts. They were outplayed 299-238 and 260-233. They were outplayed in six of their nine wins during the streak and beaten in five.
The NHL Blues are 5-5 in their April 9-0-1:
They played among the worst defensive players in the NHL this month and ranked average to below average in chance generation. The main factors that contributed to their hot run: their rankings in these two 5-on-5 stats:
The Blues have plenty to do for them. Their forward lineup is as deep as any in the NHL. They also show firsthand that an above average goalkeeper can make a good team great. But they also show alarming trends under the hood. If their puck chance evaporates or their goaltenders crumble, they could turn cold, rather than hot, at the worst possible time.
Competitor? Sure. Elite competitor? Not yet. Not until they’ve cleaned up their defensive game to 5v5.