As we anxiously await a new season of St. Louis Blues hockey, we thought it would be fun to recap last season. Let’s take one last look back at some of the things that happened during the 2017-18 season.
Blues Get No Respect –
The pundits weren’t talking about the Blues being contenders before the season started, so when they reeled off a 7-2-1 record in their first 10 games, it caught most of the hockey world by surprise.
The season started in Pittsburgh against the 2-time defending Stanley Cup champions where the Blues won in overtime on an Alex Pietrangelo goal. Three goals by defensemen would be a sign of things to come as the St. Louis D-men were big contributors to the offense, especially in the early part of the season. Blues captain, Alex Pietrangelo was mentioned in the Norris Trophy discussion early in the season and a rookie defenseman by the name of Vince Dunn caught everyone’s eye with his composure and solid defensive play.
The Blues climbed to 4-0 for only the 2nd time in team history. After losing the next two, they won 3 of the next 4, lost in overtime to Vegas and found themselves not only atop the division but leading the Western Conference to the surprise of almost everyone.
Early on, I often commented on Brayden Schenn and the difference he was making. He came over in the trade with Philadelphia for Jori Lehtera and I don’t think we expected everything we got with him. He quickly made his presence felt and grew into a leadership role early on.
By the end of October, everyone was excited and the bandwagon was getting crowded. In 13 games, the Blues were 10-2-1. The defensemen had 14 goals. Schwartz had a hat trick against the Blackhawks. They were undefeated at home. Goalie Jake Allen had played some outstanding hockey. He stopped both shootout attempts against the Islanders, stopped 36 of 37 shots against Colorado and was 7-2-1. Carter Hutton was 3-0-0 and was on his way to a stellar season. Could it get any better?
Offense From the Defense, But Power Play Sputters –
The record in the month of November wasn’t quite as good (7-5-0), but the Blues kept putting together wins thanks to more production from the defense and adequate goaltending. The D contributed 3 goals in a win over Toronto, 2 goals in a victory over Arizona and 2 more goals and 3 assists in a win over Vancouver. The most memorable of those being Pietrangelo’s first of 2 goals against the Maple Leafs. Rather than for me to try and describe it, just watch it here.
Jake Allen had 3 games in the month where he only allowed 1 goal but he also won games thanks to good goal support from the offense. He allowed 3 goals three times and gave up 4 goals in another, and yet the Blues still won those games. Hutton went 1-2 in the month but only allowed 1 goal in each of his losses, boosting his goals against average and save percentage to tops in the league.
Some other positives at this point of the season were Sammy Blais getting his first NHL goal in a 6-3 win over Minnesota. There was a shootout win over Arizona where Hutton stopped both attempts by the Coyotes and a game-winning goal in overtime by Schenn over the Canucks. Jaden Schwartz led the team with 13 goals and 19 assists at this point of the season. One of the hottest lines in the NHL, Schenn, Schwartz, and Tarasenko combined for 12 points in an 8-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers.
On the flipside of things was the power play. In the first 2 months of the season, the Blues lost 3 games by 1 goal and 2 others were 2-0 shutouts. A big reason they were losing close games was their failure to score on the power play. Other than one game against Minnesota where they were 3 for 8 with a man-advantage, they were 5 for 36 the rest of the month for a 13.8% success rate. To put that in perspective, the worst team in the league on the power play in the 17-18 season was the Edmonton Oilers, who were 14.8% on the season.
On a somber note, the little girl who captured the hearts of fans and players alike, Arianna Dougan lost her battle with cancer in November. She inspired everyone to fight, but her loss was a tough one for the St. Louis community.
Injuries Too many to Count –
Although they started off with 2 losses in December, the Blues bounced back with 4 wins in a row. At that point, they were still 2nd in the West. Schenn was leading the league in +/- with a +24. Schwartz was close behind at +23. Jake had the 3rd most wins of any goalie in the league. Petro was 2nd in goals for a defenseman with 7. But, not all was well in Bluesland. They went on to lose 7 of the last 10 in the month for a 7-8-1 record to close out 2017. As we flipped the calendar to a new year the Blues had dropped to 3rd in the Central behind Nashville and Winnipeg.
Injuries had been a problem before the season even started. Alex Steen suffered a broken bone in his hand in preseason and missed 6 games. Patrik Berglund separated his shoulder in the offseason and missed the first 24 games. Jay Bouwmeester missed nearly as much as Berglund. In December, Petro was added to the list. He missed a week. Hutton missed a week. Sammy Blais got hurt. But the one that the Blues felt the most had to be Jaden Schwartz’ broken ankle suffered in a Saturday afternoon game in Detroit on Dec. 9th. When he went down the offense went with him.
Highlights included a Schenn hat trick in Montreal, Jake’s 3-0 shutout in Dallas, Berglund with his 300th point, ranking him 21st all-time amongst Blues, Jake Allen tied Grant Fuhr for 3rd among Blues goalies with win #108. When he came back, Carter Hutton stopped 48 shots against the Winnipeg Jets and recorded his 9th career shutout. The penalty kill kept us in some games. Near the end of December, the Blues were tied for 9th in the league in that category.
The lowest point might have been the game in Dallas on Dec. 29th. The Blues were up 2-1 but gave up 3 unanswered goals to lose 4-2. In the game, they were 0 for 4 on the power play including failing to score with a 5 on 3 advantage. In a 6 game stretch, which included this game the Blues were 1 for 17 on the power play (5.9%).
New Year, New Hope? –
Maybe the new year would bring some new luck. January started with the Blues hosting the New Jersey Devils in the middle game of a 3-game homestand. The Blues won all 3 games. Scotty Upshall’s 6th goal was the game-winner in the last game of December. Stastny got the game-winner in the final game of the stand. But it was Carter Hutton who truly stole the show in the middle game. Not only did he stop both shootout attempts by the Devils, including Hart Trophy winner, Tyler Hall. His stop on Marcus Johansson was the #1 play of the week on NHL network. Check it out here.
The team’s record was 7-3-1 in January but some troubling trends were beginning to show. In Philly, on a Saturday afternoon, the Blues failed to show up and lost 6-3. They gave up way too many odd-man rushes and Jake couldn’t stop the onslaught. Another loss followed the next day in overtime to the Capitals and two days later they were drummed at Scottrade by the Panthers 7-4.
A resilient squad bounced back and won 5 of the next 6 games and pulled into a tie for 2nd in the division with Nashville, but the Predators held 4 games in hand on the Blues.
Highlights of the month included Carl Gunnarsson tying his career high in goals with his 4th of the season. Carter Hutton made 6 straight starts and notched another shutout. Vince Dunn scored a game-winning goal in overtime in front of his family and friends to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs. The power play was finding success, going 5 for 12 in a 4 game stretch for a 41.7% success rate.
The biggest highlight was the return of Jaden Schwartz near the end of January. With him, the Blues had been 19-8-2, scoring 3.2 goals per game and the power play was succeeding at a 17.8% clip. Without him, they were 9-9-1, scored 2.31 goals per game and were a dismal 7.8% on the power play.
Schwartz’ return meant that someone had to go and the odd-man out was Magnus Paarjavi who was placed on waivers and consequently picked up by the Ottawa Senators.
No Goals = No Wins –
The return of Jaden Schwartz didn’t turn out to be the miracle cure for what ailed the Blues in February. The team went 4-8-1 scoring just 26 goals in 13 games. Teams don’t win many hockey games 2-1 or 2-0 anymore. The lack of goal scoring magnified all of the other things that weren’t up to par. They were shut out twice and held to just 1 goal 4 times in the month. The lack of offense was a big problem.
Neither goaltender could catch a break. Although Carter Hutton got a 1-0 shutout over Buffalo, he was pulled after 1 period in his next start when the Blues lost 6-2 to the Wild. They were up 3-0 over Nashville after 2 periods but lost 4-3 in overtime and went on to lose 7 straight games before Coach Mike Yeo called out players by name in a post-game presser after an embarrassing 8-3 loss to Minnesota.
There were some positives, despite the team’s shortcomings. The most memorable being Brayden Schenn’s fight immediately after the puck drop against Colorado. The rare move seemed to inspire the team as they went on to win 6-1 that night. Vince Dunn had 3 assists in the game. Schenn scored 2 goals and earned his 300th career NHL point.
The team suffered another injury when Joel Edmundson took a puck off the forearm and left the game with a broken bone. By the end of the month, the Blues were teetering on a playoff spot.
Back to Winning Ways –
It seemed as if the wheels were coming off the wagon one early night in Dallas. The Blues were up 2-1 with just 3 minutes remaining in the game but somehow managed to lose 3-2. The power play was 0-4 in this one and were 2 for 23 in the last 6 games, good for 29th in the league at the time.
Hutton came down with a neck injury before the next game, but Jake played well in San Jose, stopping 31 of 32 shots. The Blues failed to score, though and took their 2nd loss in a row to start the month.
With Hutton out, Jake needed to step up, and thank goodness he found his game. They bounced back and won 8 of their next 9 games including 3 overtime wins in a row over the Rangers, Chicago, and Boston.
Nikita Soshnikov got his first goal as a Blue after coming over from Toronto. We had 3 goals by defensemen in a 7-2 win over the LA Kings. Petro had a 2 goal night against the Rangers in a game where Allen made a huge save in overtime before Schenn scored the game winner.
Down 2-0 early against Chicago, the Blues fought back and won 5-4 in overtime on a Patrik Berglund goal.
Vladimir Tarasenko missed a couple of games but returned and scored his 28th, 29th, 30th and 31st goals in just 3 games and led the Blues into the 1st wildcard spot with a game in hand.
Just when it looked like they had righted the ship, things took another turn for the worse. An overtime loss to Vegas, followed by a 6-0 trouncing by the Arizona Coyotes, and another loss to Washinton put the Blues in a position where they had to win 2 of their final 3 games to make the playoffs.
Nail Biter to the Finish –
As the schedule played out, the Blues would play Chicago at home on April 4th and then in Chicago two nights later. The home game was all Blues until late in the 3rd period. Up by a score of 3-1 and seeming to have the game under control, they ended up losing the game 4-3 when Chicago scored with just 8.5 seconds left on the clock.
The game in Chicago was a different outcome as Berglund had a hat trick to lead the Blues to a 4-1 victory, setting up an all-or-nothing game in Colorado for the last playoff spot.
As we all know, the game didn’t go our way and the Blues lost 5-2, dashing our hopes for a 7th straight playoff appearance.
The disappointment led to some significant moves in the offseason which have the hockey world taking note. Blues fans are excited about the new season. Let’s hope it lives up to the hype and that we have lots to cheer about in the 2018-19 season. Let’s Go Blues!