The St. Louis Blues put themselves in a big hole to start 2022-23. Their inconsistent play meant that even at their best, they were a .500 team.
Now, when we thought their backs were up against the wall already, in terms of making the playoffs, it just got worse. The Blues just lost two top-six forwards, and leaders, for at least a month.
Just two days into 2023, the team announced that Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko were placed on injured reserve. Tarasenko will be re-evaluated in four weeks and O’Reilly in six weeks.
The Tarasenko news was somewhat suspected since he never returned out of the first intermission after blocking a shot with his hand against the Minnesota Wild. The O’Reilly injury was surprising since he completed the full game against the divisional foe, but sustained a broken foot when blocking a shot in the same game.
While neither player has had the kind of season they had hoped for, with both in a contract year, it is still a gigantic blow for the Blues. For a team struggling with consistency already, they just lost two of their top four goal scorers.
Tarasenko and O’Reilly had 10 goals apiece. That’s 20 goals combined now gone from a lineup that 114 team goals heading into the new calendar year.
Nobody will be crying for the Blues, especially the team looking at them in the rearview mirror. The Colorado Avalanche have been decimated with injuries, including their own captain Nathan MacKinnon.
The Avalanche have soldiered through, going 19-13-3 in 35 games with their problems. The Blues will have to do even better than that to keep pace and they’re already four points behind the Avs. Both teams would miss the playoffs if the postseason started right now.
Doug Armstrong had a press conference to discuss the injuries. While the general manager is normally reserved and keeps things generalized, he said the team will need more from players like Brayden Schenn, Brandon Saad, Colton Parayko and Justin Faulk.
St. Louis definitely needs more from their forwards. Calle Rosen currently has as many goals as Ivan Barbashev and more than Josh Leivo. Those two forwards are top-nine consistently and have played top-six minutes in some games.
There may be a vocal few on social media that think this will be good, but the Blues just lost two of their best players for a month or longer. There’s really no way that’s a good thing unless you’re one of those that foolishly thinks the team should tank.
The one, and only, way this could be good for the Blues is if it forces them to simplify things. For whatever reason, St. Louis has tended to play with more skill than they actually have.
They’ve tried way too many pretty plays for a team that is behind both in games and in the standings. Perhaps, having to rely on lesser known talents, the Blues will get back to basics.
If nothing else, perhaps the time away will be a reset for O’Reilly. The Blues captain has looked off for the entire season to this point.
He is not to blame for every goal, but we’ve reached the point where the leader of your team being minus-28 on the season cannot be ignored. Someone else will have to step up and guard the opponent’s best players, but again, hopefully it forces guys out of their comfort zones and makes them play harder in all aspects of the game.
Given the way 2022-23 has gone, that might be wishful thinking. It’s what the Blues have to do though.
Other teams have hung in there with injuries. St. Louis will have to try to do the same if they want to make the playoffs a fifth-straight year and 11 out of 12 years.