Faulk, Injuries, Schenn, Saad, & More
The St. Louis Blues went on the road and won three of four games last week. Despite being without Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko, they weathered the storm. This team showed up when it mattered most this week to stay in the hunt, and a lot of key veterans stepped up.
They are now 20-18-3 on the season and just two points out of a playoff spot. Despite the rollercoaster season, the Blues have managed to stay afloat. I can’t say that I’m surprised that they have battled hard, but they are still a ways away from being a Stanley Cup contender. With that said, last week was good for the Blues and they have another big week ahead as the season rolls along.
Blues Go 3-1-0 on Road Trip
The Blues went into last week with lower expectations due to the injuries. However, they played well on their road trip with three wins. It started against the Toronto Maple Leafs, where the Blues won, 6-5, in a shootout. The special teams did their part in the win. They were 2-for-2 on the power play and got a shorthanded goal from Brandon Saad. The Blues also outhit the Maple Leafs, 52-19. However, they got dominated in the faceoff circle with the Maple Leafs winning 62 percent of them. After the win in Toronto, the Blues moved on to face the New Jersey Devils. The last few seasons have shown that the Devils aren’t a good matchup for the Blues. They have a lot of speed and skill, and the Blues don’t defend that well.
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After Jordan Kyrou scored to give the Blues a 1-0 lead, it looked like the Devils were set to overwhelm them. Specifically, Jack Hughes was all over the ice. It paid off for him as he scored two straight goals to give the Devils a 2-1 lead, but the Blues responded with three straight goals to grab a 4-2 lead. The Blues held on and won the game, 5-3, after a three-goal third period. Once again, the Blues were dominated in the faceoff circle, losing 64 percent of draws. The absence of O’Reilly definitely hurts the team in that phase of the game. But the Blues have been more physical and shot blocking has made a big difference.
The Blues lost to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night. They finish the season series against the Canadiens with an 0-2-0 record while surrendering a total of 12 goals in those games. They had three one-goal leads in this game, but they couldn’t keep the puck out of their own net. There was a big milestone in this game as Nikita Alexandrov scored his first career NHL goal. Outside of that, it was a tough loss to a team that they should beat. They finished the road trip with a huge 3-0 win against the Minnesota Wild. It was the first shutout of the season for Thomas Greiss and he worked for it. The Blues were outshot 23-4 in the third period. In the end, it was a 35-save shutout for Greiss and it brings his save percentage (SV%) up to .911 for the season. This was a huge win and a successful road trip for the Blues.
Saad and Schenn Stepping Up
In the absence of Tarasenko and O’Reilly, two veterans have shined the most. Both Brayden Schenn and Brandon Saad were elite last week. Head coach Craig Berube and general manager Doug Armstrong both discussed how important it was for veterans to step up with these injuries. These two answered the call and more with so many big goals throughout the four-game road trip.
Saad scored a goal in every game on the road trip. He had five goals, two assists, and seven points in the four games. To give you a reference point on how big this is, he had five goals in the 22 games before this trip. He has deceptive speed and knows angles as well as anyone on this team. He has always been able to score in a number of ways, and that was on display last week. He scored a power-play goal, a shorthanded goal, and a game-winning goal in those four games.
As for Schenn, he stepped up with three goals and six points on the trip. He had a point in every game and a couple of points on the power play, despite its struggles. The line of Saad, Schenn, and Ivan Barbashev has led this team through a tough time with injuries. They’ve been elite in almost every way; their forechecking and aggressiveness have been a huge boost.
Faulk Reaches 800 Games Played
Justin Faulk skated in his 800th career game against the Canadiens. He does so in his 12th NHL season at the age of 30. He has played 40 or more games in 11 of 12 seasons. Prior to being traded to St. Louis, he played parts of eight seasons for the Carolina Hurricanes. Faulk has been one of the few consistent defensemen for the Blues over the last four seasons. He’s slipped up a bit this season and wasn’t great in 2019-20, but other than that he’s been really solid. He played 69 of 71 games in 2019-20, all 56 games in 2020-21, 76 of 82 games in 2021-22, and all 41 games to this point in 2022-23.
He has 368 points in 801 games for his career. He’s finished within the top 20 of Norris Trophy voting once and was seventh in Calder Trophy voting as a rookie. He has five seasons with 10 or more goals, including a 17-goal season in 2016-17 with the Hurricanes. He’s been a model of consistency for most of his career, and the Blues are lucky to have a leader like him on the blue line.
Hits Keep Coming for the Defensive Unit
Torey Krug went down in late December with a lower-body injury. His timetable after being placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) is six weeks. After this, the Blues lost Nick Leddy and Robert Bortuzzo on the road trip. Their timetables are unknown, but hopefully they aren’t long-term injuries. The Blues brought up both Tyler Tucker and Steven Santini to fill in. They’ve already been without Marco Scandella and Scott Perunovich for the entire season. This defense is already inconsistent when healthy, so these injuries could produce a major problem.
The Blues’ top four in their win over the Wild consisted of Niko Mikkola, Colton Parayko, Calle Rasen, and Faulk. The pairing of Faulk and Rosen isn’t bad, but the pairing of Mikkola and Parayko has some huge inconsistencies. The third pair was Santini and Tucker. While they aren’t going to eat up a lot of minutes, they’ve been fine. I’ve been impressed with the poise and physicality of Tucker. He’s shown it in both stints up in the NHL. He’s played five games with the Blues this season, and has recorded 10 hits and blocked eight shots.
The biggest issue without Krug, Perunovich, and Leddy is the power play. The Blues don’t have a real power-play quarterback right now. The closest thing to it is Faulk or Rosen, but they can only do so much. Hopefully, the Blues can get one of them back soon to provide a boost on the power play. So, despite a battered defense, the Blues are holding up and winning games.
Blues’ Week Ahead
- Tuesday: vs. Calgary Flames (19-14-8, 46 points), 7 PM
- Thursday: vs. Calgary Flames
- Saturday: vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (24-13-1, 49 points), 7 PM
The Blues have seven home games in a row before three road games prior to the All-Star break. Only three of their six home opponents are currently in a playoff spot. If the Blues are going to take off and make a push, the next two weeks are the time to do so. It’ll be interesting to see if veterans like Saad and Schenn continue to show up this week. The Blues will also need timely goaltending from Jordan Binnington to stay afloat. Finishing this week with a 2-1-0 record would be perfectly fine for the Blues.
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Ethan Carter has been writing at The Hockey Writers for over three years now. He also co-hosts The Blue Note Podcast for the Bleav Network, which covers the Blues and the NHL multiple times per week.