The St. Louis Blues had every opportunity to fall back on excuses if anything went wrong at the beginning of 2017-18. Instead, they have exceeded and perhaps even raised expectations.
The St. Louis Blues had some ready-made excuses if anything went wrong to begin the year. We sometimes forget the quality of the players the Blues did not have when the first puck dropped.
Say what you will about certain guys. We all know that several names on this team have their vocal detractors.
Still, when the 2017-18 season opened, the Blues were without four of their top nine forwards. That’s 44% of your top forwards out for the first couple weeks. Three of those names are expected to miss extensive time.
The Blues also opened up the year without Jay Bouwmeester. Again, think what you will about the guy but the coaching staff expected him to at least be a top four defender, if not still on the top pair.
The Blues are not the only team that values Bouwmeester that highly either. He played against the opposition’s top lines in almost every World Cup game for Team Canada as well.
The bottom line is the Blues were without almost half the forwards they projected to be influential pieces to their squad. They were also without one of their top blue liners.
You could have expected them to struggle a little bit. Nobody would have batted an eye if they were around the .500 mark. In fact, many fans predicted that would be a good start to the season.
Instead, the Blues have given a large middle finger to all the doubters. They have come out about as strong as anyone could have hoped for, let alone expected.
St. Louis has the best record in the Western Conference after the first month of play. They have the second best record in the entire league.
Despite fan’s constant dismay over the perceived lack of scoring, the Blues are highly ranked in that category too. In the month of October, only two teams scored more goals than St. Louis in the entire NHL (Tampa Bay and Toronto).
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The encouraging thing about the Blues current performance is they have room for improvement, but also do not feel as though they are punching above their weight class. That last part might be even more important.
Take one look at the standings and you wonder how long some teams will hang on. Las Vegas, Colorado and New Jersey are all highly ranked this early in the season. Nobody would be surprised if any of those teams still missed the playoffs by the end.
The Blues just don’t feel like they belong in that bunch. Of course, anything can happen but the Blues feel like they are for real.
Nobody is going nuts that won’t continue to produce in some form or fashion, with the exception of Carl Gunnarsson‘s goal explosion. Everyone else is performing up to their own level.
Jaden Schwartz‘ 17 points might put him on a career pace, but it really is what we hoped he could do. It’s not above his capabilities.
Vladimir Tarasenko already has six goals and 14 points. We still want more and there is more in there, but he’s right on his normal pace (if not a tick above).
The defenders are scoring way more than any of us thought they might. That has more to do with the style the Blues are going with as opposed to a lucky start that might go cold. The Blues are asking their defenders to join the play, so more scoring is going to come, even if not at this torrid pace.
Top to bottom, the Blues are at least getting a little out of everyone. You have to get more consistent production out of the team’s third line, but those players are starting to find a little groove in other areas in the meantime.
None of this is meant to only be a rear-end kissing fest. The Blues have problems, like any other team.
The special teams are still several percentage points below the league average. The team average is improving, but the Blues must get better in the faceoff circle. They have to limit the turnovers in crucial areas as well.
The encouraging thing is that you can nitpick this team to death and they are still winning. They have tossed the injuries aside and gone out and performed.
Nobody scored the way we wanted, but all the prospects had their moments while they were gaining much needed NHL experience. If needed, you feel comfortable bringing up any of them later in the season.
From a standings perspective, the Blues have given themselves a great cushion. They discussed it on the postgame show on KMOX after the Kings game, but the Blues have really put themselves in an enviable position.
With a seven point lead over the Stars and nine over the bulk of the division, the Blues can afford a mediocre month. If St. Louis plays .500 hockey the next month (maybe even two months), the rest of the teams have to win 60% of their games just to be nipping the Blues’ heels again.
To put that in perspective, they have to win two of every three games they play. That’s asking a lot this early in the season. St. Louis only has to win every other game.
Of course you don’t want the Blues letting their foot off the gas. We know they can’t keep up this pace forever though and maybe we don’t want them to.
We saw the Minnesota Wild run out to a seemingly insurmountable lead last season only for them to fall apart and end up second in the division. With such a hot start, slow and steady might be the best course for awhile from the Blues.
Who knows how November will play out. Nobody expected October to go as well as it did. The Blues are making the most of every situation though and it is exciting to watch right now.