Each Monday, we’ll wrap up three of the biggest stories from the weekend and how they’ll play into the coming week.
Blues May Be the Best
The St. Louis Blues are the NHL’s hottest team, and right now you could make a good case that they are the league’s best, period. They’ve won five straight and collected 15 points over their last eight games. And as we’ve come to expect, they’re doing it with defense, giving up 2.27 goals per game, the third-best mark in the league. They give up fewer shots than any team outside of New Jersey, and they have received dependable goaltending from the Jaroslav Halak–Brian Elliott combo.
In a typical season, this would be the part of our St. Louis Blues summary when we’d point out that all that defense is compensating for a lack of scoring. After all, the Blues have only finished in the top 10 in goals per game once since the 2005 lockout (they were 10th in 2010-11). But that caveat doesn’t apply this year; the Blues are scoring 3.56 goals per game, good for second-best in the league. They lead the league in shooting percentage by a wide margin, and their power play is top five. If anything, their offense has been even better than their defense.
Add it all up, and you’ve got a team whose plus-55 goal differential leads the league by 12 over second-place Chicago, with no other team even cracking the plus-40 mark. The Blues have padded those numbers in January with a pair of blowout home wins, blanking the Kings 5-0 on Thursday and following that up with a 6-2 stomping of the Blue Jackets on Saturday. They were kind enough to spot Columbus a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes in that one, before pulling away in the second period on the way to scoring six unanswered. Patrik Berglund had a pair of goals, and Vladimir Sobotka added a goal and an assist.
Despite the hot streak, the Blues are still just tied for third overall, four points back of the Hawks and Ducks. But they have four games in hand on Chicago and three on Anaheim, and the Blues get the woeful Flames and Oilers in their next two matchups. And while leading scorer Alexander Steen remains out with a concussion, they did get David Backes and Jordan Leopold back in the lineup over the weekend.
So are the Blues the league’s best team right now? Maybe, though there’s some evidence that they’ve also benefitted from above-average luck. They lead the league in PDO by almost a full point, powered largely by that 12-plus percentage team shooting that’s likely to drop as the season continues. And while the team’s overall goaltending numbers have been decent, that’s been driven largely by Elliott; Halak’s .907 save percentage ranks him outside the NHL’s top 30.
Still, even if their luck starts to even out, the Blues are still going to be very good. And if they don’t think their goaltending is championship-caliber, well, let’s just say there are options available. It feels wrong to anoint anyone else in the West as the Stanley Cup favorite as long as the defending champs are still on top of the conference, but the Blues may not give us much choice.