Vince Dunn taps the gloves of his teammates after scoring his second goal in a 5-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins (Photo courtesy: Gene J. Puskar, AP Photo)
The term “spoiler game” is one commonly thrown about in the NHL, especially now with the regular season wrapping up in about two weeks. For those unaware, the term spoiler game refers to a game where a high-ranking team is playing against vastly inferior or low-ranking team. With the inferior team not having much to play for the way their particular season has progressed, the high-ranking team could simply relax and not play with as much energy or intensity.
Not so fast, however; some lower teams, despite the poor outcome, could still play with some fervor for any number of reasons. Maybe there’s a division rivalry with bragging rights at stake. Maybe there’s another team they’d rather see make the playoffs. Or maybe the little kid in class stands up to the school bully now and again just to say, “you’re not getting the best of me this time”.
The point behind the anecdote, then, is should this be a big concern for the St. Louis Blues?
Let’s glance back at their most recent road trip and see how they fared. The Blues went 1-1-1 on a 3-game northeastern trip to Ottawa, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo, where they wrapped up all three Eastern Conference matchups for the season. The dead-last Senators? Shut out St. Louis 2-0 by their backup goaltender. The Pittsburgh Penguins, who had won nine of their last 13 and outscored their last three opponents 14-5? Blown out 5-1 by St. Louis. Then we head to Buffalo the next day, to play against a team that sat 15 points out of a playoff spot: lose 3-4 in a shootout against a struggling Carter Hutton.
This isn’t the only evidence we have: after their historic streak in February, The Blues lost in overtime to Minnesota 2-1 (and barely got away with that point), narrowly beat 5th-last Anaheim after two last-minute goals and lost to the Coyotes on home ice, 3-1. Tally those three up with their most recent trip and that gives you what should have been six easy[er] points for the Blues to earn.
At the time of writing this, that would have put them square with the Jets for 1st in the division, but here we now are only two points ahead of the Dallas Stars. Four points and we could drop out of the playoffs entirely. This may seem like a minuscule sample size, but so is the leash the Blues now have with these dropped spoiler games, with just ten games left on the season.
Now, I will accept the Blues made the most impressive comeback in the NHL this year: a franchise-record 11-straight victories after being dead-last in the league in January. However, I can’t help but look at their record in March and start to adjust my collar with what’s ahead: Edmonton (5th Pacific), Detroit (statistically eliminated), New York Rangers (statistically eliminated), New Jersey (statistically eliminated), Colorado (6th Central), Chicago (7th Central), Philadelphia (6th Metropolitan), and Vancouver (6th Pacific – oh, and the top 3 PAC teams have already clinched playoff seeds).
Eight spoiler games. Ten games remaining on the season. Should be pretty easy, right… Right?
There’s plenty of reasons to call this an overreaction. The Blues, per moneypuck.com, currently have a 98.9% chance of making the playoffs. They also have spent the majority of March short-staffed of superstars: Brayden Schenn missed 6 games, Vladimir Tarasenko has missed 5 with no word on his return, and David Perron has returned after not playing for two months.
Finally, we look to the games against actual playoff contenders: as previously mentioned, a 5-1 win against Pittsburgh, a 3-2 OT loss against San Jose, a shutout win against the Nashville Predators, a shootout win against the red-hot Boston Bruins, and a wild 3-2 OT win against the Maple Leafs. Since the start of 2019, the Blues are 11-6-2 against teams in playoff contention.
Call me crazy, but if I’m the St. Louis Blues in March and April, I’m learning from my mistakes from the last few weeks and making sure our play is as sharp as a tack for every last game of the regular season and (hopefully) on, whether it’s the dominant Tampa Bay Lightning or crumbling Detroit Red Wings.
The Blues have a four-game homestand starting tomorrow, playing Edmonton, Detroit, Tampa Bay and Vegas. They will play seven of their remaining ten games on home ice. There has still been no word on Vladimir Tarasenko returning to the lineup.
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