St. Louis Blues Surge In Central; What Opponent Is Best?

The St. Louis Blues have clawed their way back into the top three of the Central Division. As with anything in sports, that tends to open more questions than it answers.

The St. Louis Blues find themselves in a position they had long vacated. They are back in the top three of the Central Division after a 3-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes.

Now, it should be noted that the Blues are currently tied on points with Nashville. They get the third divisional spot due to a tiebreaker of having more wins in regulation. So, the Blues divisional placement is rather tenuous.

That said, both St. Louis and Nashville have played 71 games to get to their 81 points. So, if the Blues and Predators won out, St. Louis would end up being the third team in the Central.

While everything is fluid, we can actually start thinking about who we would like the Blues to face in the playoffs. They are not completely out of the woods yet, but it would be out of the ordinary to miss the postseason at this point.

So, who do you want to face?

Chicago Blackhawks

The Blues had a great start to the season against Chicago. St. Louis won a tough game on the road in the United Center.

That was supposed to be the start of a great season. It was the start of the start to a great season and then the Blues hit a brick wall once the winter hit full force.

St. Louis got an emotional Winter Classic win, but it has not been great since then. The Blues lost a tight, overtime game in November.

Jan 2, 2017; St. Louis, MO, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (4) and St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (91) battle for the puck during the 2016 Winter Classic ice hockey game at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

They lost 6-4 in late December in a game that was not really that close. St. Louis got doubled up by the Blackhawks 4-2 on February 26 too as they were in the middle of a slide that almost saw their playoff window close.

You can argue both sides of this. St. Louis has kept most of the games tight, managed to hang with the Hawks whether it was a high scoring or tight defensive affair. The counter-argument is the Blues have lost three of the five they’ve played against Chicago.

If the playoffs started today, I don’t want to see Chicago. You can talk rivalry all you want, but the Blackhawks are better than the Blues and they’ve been hotter.

Halfway through March, Chicago is 8-2 in their last 10 and won four in a row as of the their own 71st game. When the Blackhawks are clicking, the Blues might not stand up to the test even if they are at their own best.

Minnesota

As recent as a week or two ago, almost anyone would have been insane to suggest you would want to play the Minnesota Wild. Minnesota was on fire, scoring the most goals in the conference and allowing the fewest.

Those are the kinds of things you figure to see out of championship contenders. The last ten games has really changed the picture.

Jan 26, 2017; Saint Paul, MN, USA; St Louis Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko (91) shoots in the first period against the Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter (20) at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Wild are 3-7 in their last 10. They have lost four games in a row with a game in hand (70 played) on the rest of the division.

Given their offensive and defensive prowess, they are still tops in both goals and fewest goals allowed. Their cushion is the only reason for that though as they have struggled in all facets of late.

The Blues have not looked too bad against the Wild either. While they have a similar record to the Blues vs. Chicago, 3-2 is a lot better looking than 2-3.

The main negative for playing the Wild would be the road record. St. Louis is 1-2 in Minnesota and lost by an average of 1.3 to 3. The recent goal scoring surge might be enough to mitigate that.

San Jose

This might be the match made in heaven that we’ll never see. You have all the factors going for the Blues in this one.

St. Louis swept the regular season series against the Sharks. The Blues won all three games. St. Louis scored an average of almost four goals per game and allowed an average of one goal per game.

You have the revenge factor too. With the exception of the guys brought up from the AHL, all the guys on this Blues squad remember what it was like to lose to San Jose after coming so close last year.

The Blues could gain a measure of redemption by eliminating the team that did the same to them the previous spring.

Outside of the x’s and o’s, it would be nice to not face a divisional opponent in the first round. Unless something odd happened, it would likely be San Jose in that scenario but outside of the gametimes, why not see something different?

Final Decision

The best outcome would still be for the Blues to face San Jose. The problem is two-fold.

St. Louis would have to finish outside of the top three in the division. They would also have to keep winning and overtake either Edmonton or Calgary for the top wild card spot. That, in and of itself, will be difficult since both of those teams are on point right now too.

The most likely scenario that would benefit the Blues is to face Minnesota. The way everyone is playing right now, Minnesota doesn’t seem like they’ll make up the five point gap under the Blackhawks.

So, if the current form held up, I’d much rather take my chances with a stumbling Wild squad than a hot Chicago team.

If Chicago and St. Louis are both at the top of their games, the Blues don’t have the depth they had last year. Chicago is as good or better than last season.

Minnesota is a fantastic team, but I’ll roll the dice against a team that surged to the top of the division from relative obscurity. Colorado did the same a few seasons ago and crashed out early.

Additionally, Vladimir Tarasenko has three goals against Minnesota on top of the team wins. Tarasenko does have three goals and six points against Chicago, but the results have not always come with those points.

By the time the playoffs roll around, the entire Mike Yeo thing won’t play much of a factor. The media might jump on the whole playing for the coach in his old home thing, but it won’t matter.

Even so, the Blues match up better with Minnesota.

Again, that might not have been the thought process a few weeks ago but that’s how it is right now. Bring on the Fish or the Cats, pray the Hawks stay away.