When I last wrote about the St. Louis Blues six weeks ago, the franchise was in a much different state.
Ken Hitchcock was still the head coach, Kevin Shattenkirk was still on the team, Jake Allen was still lost and Robby Fabbri was still healthy. The Blues were 1-5 in their last six games and their chances of making the playoffs were cratering fast.
But since Hitchcock was canned Feb. 1, the Note is 12-6, staggering between a six-game winning streak, a five-game losing skid and the five-game winning streak the team is currently on. With 14 games remaining, the Blues have a five-point lead over Los Angeles for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference, and are just two points behind Nashville for third place in the Central Division with a game in hand.
I’m far from penciling the Blues into the playoffs, but with three games remaining against both Colorado and Arizona, the two worst teams in the West, I’d rather be in the Blues’ position than any other team on the outside of the playoff picture.
But if they do get into the postseason, the question will be, is this recent run fool’s gold or for real?
Almost all teams get a bump after firing their coach, but most don’t last this long. Mike Yeo has clearly made a difference for the Blues, as they’re playing mistake-free in their own zone, passing from tape to tape and getting extended possessions i
n their opponents zone. Yeo has simplified the Blues’ game, and it shows.
But the most obvious difference has been the play of the goaltenders. The combination of Jake Allen and Carter Hutton were horrid before Hitchcock was fired, but with Yeo and new goalie coaches Martin Brodeur and Ty Conklin, they have the best save percentage in the league.
Allen has posted a goals allowed average of 1.79 and a save percentage of 94 over his last 14 games, earning a 9-5 record. No one will feel completely confident in Allen until he shows he can play well for an entire playoff series, but riding a hot goalie is one of the best ways to make a deep postseason run.
It helps the goalies that the Blues’ offense is playing the best it has all season, with key veterans finally stepping up after long stretches of hibernation.
Jaden Schwartz has been one of the team’s biggest improvers, scoring five points in his last five games and playing with the same two-way ability that we haven’t seen from him since his first couple of years in the NHL.
David Perron and Paul Stastny both have 10 points since Yeo took over, and even Alex Steen, who has been mostly invisible after signing a contract extension in the offseason, has scored 12 points post-Hitchcock.
The Note have also improved on special teams since Yeo took over, bolstering their power play percentage from seventh to fifth and going from eighth on the kill to seventh.
The Blues clearly still have flaws. The goaltending probably won’t keep up its torrid pace, the offense still relies on Vladimir Tarasenko for offense at times and the third line of Magnus Paajarvi-Jori Lehtera-Dmitrij Jaskin isn’t exactly striking the fear of God into opponents.
Right now the Blues are in line to face Minnesota in the first round, which I think would be a more favorable matchup than the other options, Chicago or San Jose. The Wild play more of a methodical, heavy game closer to the Blues’ style, while Chicago and San Jose are more dynamic offensively.
Most St. Louis fans would be content if the team just got into the tournament and gave whoever they played a good fight. It has been a long, up-and-down season for the Blues, and just making the playoffs would make the season a success.
But if the Blues come into the postseason hot, they could be the team that nobody wants to face.
Who would have thought I’d be saying that six weeks ago?