It is funny how joyous moments in life can be cause for concern for sports fans. That’s what St. Louis Blues fans are going through as the team has been forced to make a lineup change.
We all knew this was coming and it’s actually a little surprising that it took as long as it did. Ivan Barbashev has left the St. Louis Blues and the quarantine bubble in Edmtonton to be present for the birth of his child.
This comes as no surprise. Barbashev knew this would be the case and so did the team.
The timing was the only thing that was up in the air. Originally, the team thought Barbashev might be available for the exhibition game against Chicago and then leave for an undetermined amount of time.
Instead, he ended up playing against the Blackhawks and also the first round-robin game against the Colorado Avalanche. Now, leaving in the middle, kind of throws everything up in the air even more.
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Of course, this is a joyous occasion that should not be spoiled. Barabashev is perfectly in the right to be there for his wife and family as they welcome a new life into the world.
However, from a purely sports perspective, it causes issues. The team’s fourth line was, again, one of the trios the Blues could count on every shift against Colorado.
They were not generating much offense, but that is never truly their purpose. If that line gets a goal, it’s sweet cream frosting on top of a rich cake, but you’d be perfectly fine with just the cake.
However, without Barbashev, the Blues are forced to put other guys in situations they are not built for.
The likeliest candidate to replace Barbashev in the starting lineup is Mackenzie MacEachern. MacEachern has no problem doling out the hits, but he’s not going to do it quite like Barbashev.
Barbashev, like Sammy Blais, has learned to basically be a human missile. They do it in a way that keeps them in the play too, which is key.
MacEachern can hit, but you can tell he’s focused on making hits to keep himself in the lineup. It does not appear to be a natural part of his game just yet the way it is for the other two.
Additionally, Barbashev offers a little more offensive jump. There is definitely more speed for Barbashev and the numbers are better.
That does not mean MacEachern is not capable of more, but we have yet to see it. Barbashev put up 14 goals in 2018-19 and 11 in 2019-20. MacEachern’s career high was seven, this past season, with three the year before, which was his rookie year.
The truth is MacEachern is not a bad player, but he’s still feeling his way into the NHL. Very few players come into the NHL as physical, fourth-line players.
Many come up through junior as skilled guys and then find out their skill does not translate as well and have to adapt. MacEachern is still in that adaptive phase.
The problem is the Blues are at a point they can’t afford to let guys get their feet wet. They have to be ready.
Vegas plays a heavy style like the Blues and they have a little more offensive pop too. Dallas is just Dallas and, like Nashville before them, are always going to have close games against St. Louis.
Radio pundits and can say the team can lose all three round-robin games and the team would be fine. Do you really want to go into any playoffs, regardless of the year or pandemic, on a three-game losing streak.
Not having Barbashev should in no way be the determining factor for the Blues winning or losing those games. Team chemistry is important though and it simply would have been nice to have a regular lineup get most of the reps.
You play the hand that you are dealt and this is what the Blues are dealing with. In a normal year, Baby Barbashev would have been born in the offseason with several weeks for Ivan to get ready for camp. Instead, we are playing actual games.
There has been no clear indication of how long Barbashev will be gone or if he will have to self-quarantine when he returns. Initial reports had his absence stretching into the first round and possibly throughout the first round.