St. Louis Blues fans have long had a love/hate relationship with the men who guarded the nets. Perhaps it was bred into our DNA when the team decided to have to of the best goaltenders ever, Jacques Plante and Glenn Hall as their duo when the team began.
Whatever the case, even following a Stanley Cup win, the fan base was not 100% behind the goaltender. Perhaps it has to do with the position itself, since it is so easy to blame one man instead of the four or five things that happened beforehand.
One of the problems fans run into is wanting to be right, regardless of what that entails. If they believe Jake Allen or Jordan Binnington or Brian Elliott or whomever is the better option, some would rather the team lose so they’d be right instead of having the person they don’t like be successful.
Thus, part of the problem the Blues have regarding their goaltending position is perception. That is exacerbated by the fact that Binnington had an almost unrepeatable rookie season.
Regardless of how you think of him, it cannot be denied that he set the world on fire in 2019. Binnington won 13 of his first 15, 15 of his first 18 and also had a shutout in his very first NHL start.
He set the record for most wins for a rookie en route to a Stanley Cup championship. While chinks in the armor showed up in the 2019 playoffs, it is still undeniable that Binnington was one of the main reasons the Blues won. Game 7 against Boston is a prime example of that.
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As mentioned, that is an almost unrepeatable string of performances. Unfortunately, when you do that as a rookie, it sets the standard where results can only go down.
Yet, even if we look at things in a vacuum, there remains visual evidence that Binnington is still somewhat of a question mark. That is not to question his talents, nor spark a non-existent goaltender controversy, but to point out that the team needs him at his best and him at his best consistently.
Consistency is the key for Binnington and the only reason anyone has to question him. Binnington, at his best, is comparable to many of the top goaltenders in the league. However, the lows in his game are worrying.
The 2019 numbers are almost unatainable. Binnington came out of the gate with a .927 save percentage and an amazing 1.89 goals against.
Even if you remove those numbers, his save percentage has gone down and his goals against have gone up each season since then. Additionally, he has barely gotten quality starts in 50% of his games in the two seasons following the championship.
Binnington has kept his Really Bad Starts – yes, that’s a statistical category – relatively low, with five per season the last two years. Still, his goals saved above average is barely two or three points above the league average. League average doesn’t win championships.
As of right now, the biggest thing Binnington has going for him is that he is a playoff goalie. When the lights shine the brightest, he can up his game, win games and thus give the Blues every chance to win another Cup.
A worrying thing that is out of Binnington’s control is that he needs to have a solid backup to keep his workload lighter in the regular season. Right now, Ville Husso has not proved he can handle that responsibility.
Ultimately, what the Blues need is 2019 Binnington. I do not mean his stats, but his confidence and body language.
When Binnington was just getting his feet wet, he had a huge chip on his shoulder. It didn’t matter if he let a goal in because he was going to prove the world wrong the rest of the game.
Suddenly, the last two years, we have seen far too much frustration and looking toward the sky after allowing a goal. Nobody is saying Binnington cannot be human and show emotion, but the more out of your game you look, the more confidence you give your opponent.
Regardless of what was going on in his head, Binnington’s cold, emotionless manner in 2019 put the Blues opponents’ off guard. They never got the sense they could rattle him, so they got rattled when he would make a big save.
It should be a small matter, but Binnington’s body language has become more of a weakness in his game than the strength it used to be.
Of course, the team’s defensive struggles post-2019 cannot be ignored. It is not as though Binnington became exposed in the years following.
But, the Blues are not the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Colorado Avalanche or the 2010’s Chicago Blackhawks. The Blues can win again, but they cannot survive many poor goaltending nights. Even the Avs have proven that goaltending can derail even the most talented of teams.
The Blues need Binnington at his best to win another Cup. He cannot do it alone for 82 games, plus however many playoff games, but he needs to regain that form where he can be the one to win it for you. Whether he does so or not will determine how far this team goes.