The St. Louis Blues were a great road team in 2018-19 and that served them well. In 2019-20, they need to worry about getting home-ice advantage.
When the St. Louis Blues rose up the standings during the 2018-19 season, we were all incredibly excited. What a turnaround it would have been, not knowing how things would play out at the time, if the team went from the bottom of the standings to either first in the division or even conference.
However, when St. Louis finished third in the division, but still confidently in the playoff picture, everyone was ok with it. The Blues had a stellar road record of 21-13-7.
The Blues were not bad at home. In fact, they had three more wins on home ice. The main difference was two extra losses and five fewer OT or shootout losses, meaning they got points in less games on home ice overall.
The Blues continued to be road warriors throughout the playoffs, only having home ice advantage in one round of the playoffs. Three of the four Blues wins in the first round came in Winnipeg.
Two of the four wins against Dallas and San Jose came on the road. Three of the four wins in the Stanley Cup Final against Boston came at TD Garden.
Needless to say, the Blues had no problem playing on the road. In fact, they seemed almost more comfortable there.
The coaches did not have to worry about defensive matchups as much since they did not have the final line change. Players did not have to worry about that either, plus they were free of the distraction of family and friends needing tickets or whether taking the kids to school would conflict with practice time or any of the stuff of general life getting in the way.
Any of us would gladly take those problems, but just because you’re making tons of money doesn’t mean you cannot get distracted by day-to-day issues. On the road, they were free of all that and able to solely focus on the game of hockey and the bonding with teammates in a special moment of their careers.
Fast forward a year and things are slightly different. This time around, the Blues actually do need to focus on getting as many home games as they can.
Being the top team in the conference and, at times, the league, the Blues have a solid record at home and on the road again. However, at the All-Star break, St. Louis is 17-4-4 at home and 13-7-4 on the road.
Same number of points dropped/gained with four OT/shootout losses. Four more wins at home and three fewer regulation losses.
If the Blues were to make it all the way to the final again, home ice would be key as well. As of the All-Star break, the Blues are only 9-6-4 against the Eastern Conference.
St. Louis used to dominate the teams out east. With that advantage slipping away this season, St. Louis would need any kind of advantage they could get and having home ice could be one of those.
St. Louis also scores and defends better at home in 2019-20. St. Louis has 83 goals at home through the break and 53 given up. Compare that to 75 goals on the road and 74 conceded.
Adding fuel to the fire of this argument is the Blues dreadful play in Colorado. Once you begin the playoffs, you’re never quite sure of the matchups, but the Avalanche are now eyeing a lot more than just making the playoffs.
Should the Blues face the Avs in the second or third round, if both teams get that far, St. Louis needs to have home ice advantage. Through four games evenly split home vs. home, the Blues won two at home and lost two in Denver.
St. Louis outscored Colorado 8-3 at the Enterprise Center. The Blues were outscored 12-6 at the Pepsi Center, and I’m not sure it was even that close given the defensive play of St. Louis in those road games.
If the Blues score first, it doesn’t matter where they play. They are undefeated in regulation when scoring first, no matter the building. There have only been a handful of losses that went to overtime at least.
However, for comebacks, the Blues are better at home. They are 4-4-0 when the opponent scores first at the Enterprise Center, but 5-7-2 on the road. Perhaps the lack of a shootout would help St. Louis come playoff time, but I don’t like the odds when you’ve won five and dropped nine regardless of the overall situation.
Even in the overall sense, the Blues have just flipped the script from the last year or so. The Enterprise Center has truly become a home ice advantage.
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In years past, if the team was struggling a little bit, there was too much nervous energy in the building. Some nights the arena would be rocking and other nights fans were sitting on their hands unless a goal was scored.
Now, the fans seem like they are providing a lot of positive energy. The Blues never feel like they are out of a game and instead of feeling like they owed something to the patrons, the Blues actually want to play well for those in attendance because there is a real connection beyond your normal fan/player relationship.
Fans are different too. With 50-plus years of anguish and torment erased in one fantastic run to a Stanley Cup, fans can now enjoy a game instead of wringing their hands, ripping their hair and screaming at the goalie for every puck that got by them. That sounds trivial, but it does make a difference. Players don’t play in a vacuum and whether they should or not, they feel that nervous vibe at times and it can affect them.
With that gone, home ice has become a weapon the Blues will need to utilize. Maybe they don’t HAVE to finish in first in the conference, but they do need to finish first in the division.
The rest of the division is down as of right now, but they are laying in the weeds. A little slip up by the Blues is all they need to pounce on the defending champions.
If St. Louis can hold on to home ice advantage, they can have a mental edge knowing the other teams could not do enough to surpass them. Then, in the playoffs, they get to play in a building that suddenly has a certain edge to it and might even be to the point of intimidation for opponents.
It did not matter in the past and the Blues have the talent to win on the road again. Home ice is actually needed and wanted this time around, though.