Midway through the month of January, the St. Louis Blues appeared on the brink of their season being over. They were several points away from a playoff spot and behind multiple teams.
They swept their west coast road trip, gaining six points out of six and came home with a chance to face another team directly above them in the standings - the Los Angeles Kings. They did not disappoint.
It was an odd start to the game. The Blues took a penalty in the first 27 seconds, but the penalty kill looked great and they alomst had another shorthanded goal if not for a puck that rolled over the blade of Pavel Buchnevich.
Sadly, that penalty kill effort was for naught. Though the defense shut down the Kings a man down, they gave the puck away at their own blue line while five-on-five and LA connected on a one-timer from the slot.
St. Louis would answer just short of the 13-minute mark. Jordan Kyrou drew the defense to him as he went behind the goal, which left Nick Leddy open in the high slot for a slap shot and it was 1-1.
The defenses and goaltending held up in the first period, but not as much in the second. Both teams snagged two goals within the middle frame.
The Blues got a taste of their own medicine, allowing a shorthanded goal for the 2-1 deficit. It came off a rebound from what was essentially a three-on-two.
With that same power play dwindling, the Blues would tie it. Scott Perunovich drove to the circle from the blue line and found Buchnevich in the slot.
The slot was the name of the game apparently. After a good cycle, on the rush, the Blues found Jordan Kyrou for the snapshot from the slot and a 3-2 lead.
With the second period under 90 seconds, the Blues gave up the lead. The Kings came in the zone, won a puck battle on the near-side boards and a laser beam beat Joel Hofer over the blocker for a 3-3 game.
The third period went by without a goal, but it was not for lack of trying. Both teams created some good looks, but missed by fizzing the puck through the crease.
Then, the Blues did what they have done recently. They won in overtime.
For the second game out of three, it was the captain that ended it. Schenn took a great outlet feed, came up the left wing with speed and, instead of waiting on a pass, wired the shot to the glove side and the Blues won 4-3.
Pro: The Captain
Brayden Schenn likely would tell you he still isn't playing up to his potential. However, the last few games we have seen a much more complete version of the Blues captain.
Schenn is scoring again, getting two game winners. His physicality is picking back up too, though that was usually still pretty dependable.
Beyond the stats, he just looks more confident right now. When he and the team were struggling, he looked like a player that had lost something. Now, he looks much more like what he knows he can be and what the team needs him to be.
Con: Power play
This one is kind of a pro/con deal, but more so on the negative. The Blues did score another power play goal, which was timely and essential.
Without that goal, perhaps it doesn't end with an overtime game. The Kings may very well have won in regulation. We can't say for sure.
However, the power play also gave up a shorthanded goal. So, those two wash the other out really.
So, taking those out of the equation, the Blues were 0-5 on their other power play chances. The Kings have the best penalty kill in the league, so it's understandable, but if a team is undisciplined like that, you have to make them pay.
This guy has been put through the ringer with the fan base. Some is of his own making, like the poor choice of words after the coaching change.
Some is part of a noisy online fan base that judges players far too harshly just because they deem the contract as overvalued. It's what the market demands. Get over it.
That said, he had a game against the Kings. A goal and two assists led him to be the number one star of the night.
Kyrou's goal was what you expect from the guy you hope will be your leading goal scorer for years to come. It was the assist to Leddy that impressed me.
Whether intentional or not, Kyrou drove around the zone and sucked the defense in tight to the net. That allowed the Blues defenders to come in tighter and a much more manageable shooting opportunity for Leddy.
It may seem like a small thing, but those extra feet gained inside the zone can be critical.
I try to keep most overviews about the specific game, but it's hard to ignore the sudden turnaround for the Blues over this last stretch of games. I'm one of the more optimistic fans around, but even I had started figuring the playoffs were just about out of reach.
Now, the Blues are tied for a wild card spot and also have more regulation wins than the Kings do. What's been just as impressive is that the Blues have had to persevere for these wins. None have been easy.
With the win streak now at five, the Blues beat the Capitals on January 20 3-0. Since then, every single game has been won by a score of 4-3 and the last three were won in overtime.
The team's captain has scored or set up the game winner in all three of those overtime wins. Your stars are playing good hockey, picking up goals or assists in bunches during this win streak too.
The Blues did have to rely on timely goaltending from Hofer, but at least he didn't have to stand on his head like he did against Vancouver. It wasn't an easy night, but he came up with several key saves, including one in the third period that seemed destined for a Kings goal.
There's still a lot of season left, so all it takes is a losing streak combined with other teams doing well and the Blues are back in the hole. However, it's just nice to see them right in the thick of things.
That's what the majority of fans want. Deep down, we all know this team isn't a championship team, so we aren't delusional.
But, how they've played the last five games is much more of what we expected than the up and down nature of much of 2023. At least keep yourself alive to the final whistle of regulation.
Give us hope until late in the season and we will see how it all shakes out.