One year ago, the St. Louis Blues headed toward the holiday break by plummeting to the bottom of the NHL standings.
Fast forward to Saturday’s road clash with the San Jose Sharks, and life couldn’t be any better.
The Blues, who reversed course last season to claim the first Stanley Cup title in franchise history, head to San Jose having won four straight and sitting atop the Western Conference.
Moreover, the Blues are playing the kind of defensive game preferred by coach Craig Berube, most evident in their last couple of clashes — a 5-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Monday and a 2-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers two nights later. Keeping in check Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen as well as Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl is no small feat.
“It’s a good feeling,” Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said. “Those guys are world-class players. When we play our tight checking game, it starts in the (offensive) zone, it starts with forwards tracking, tight gaps. You put (Jay Bouwmeester) and (Colton Parayko), the way they can skate and their sticks, against any high-end talent in the world, they’re going to do a job. We’ve gotten to our identity lately here and that’s a big part of it.”
The success is adding up to some eye-catching numbers.
The Edmonton win was the 60th in 99 games for Berube (60-27-12) since taking the helm. A victory over the Sharks would give him a franchise record for the most in 100 games.
Meanwhile, goaltender Jordan Binnington collected his 40th win in just 56 decisions, making him just the sixth goalie in NHL history to reach 40 wins prior to his 60th game — a list that also includes greats such as Bill Durnan, Frank Brimsek and Ken Dryden.
The Sharks are on the other side of the spectrum these days, tumbling down the standings with just one victory in their last eight games (1-6-1). Their latest defeat was a 3-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday.
“We all know the situation we’re in,” defenseman Erik Karlsson said. “We’re going to have to string a few (wins) together and get that feeling back in here. But we felt like this was a game we should have won.”
Of late, the Sharks have been a one-man show, with Tomas Hertl looking in top form with four goals in three games and points in each of his last four contests.
The list of players struggling is long, however.
There are myriad reasons why the losses have been piling up, but a big one has been an anemic power play, which is nonsensical for a team that boasts offensive threats in Hertl, Timo Meier, captain Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Brent Burns and Karlsson.
The Sharks have just one power-play goal in the last 15 games, and even failed to convert when the Coyotes were down to three skaters in the final minute. In fact, it was a six-on-three advantage with the goaltender pulled, and San Jose failed to even register a shot on goal.
“We’ve got to do a better job of at least getting a shot on net there,” Couture said. “That’s been the case for the majority of the year. There are plays to be made and we didn’t make them.”
San Jose claimed forward Stefan Noesen off waivers from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Noesen is now with his fourth NHL team.
–Field Level Media