You don’t really understand the true makeup of a team, especially its depth, until a star player goes down and the rest of the club has to rally around everyone else.
That also counts if you’re the defending Stanley Cup champions. The St. Louis Blues continue to hum along despite losing Vladimir Tarasenko for the next five months after undergoing shoulder surgery on Oct. 24.
What the NHL world is finding out at this juncture is that the Blues, still rallying to the tune of “Gloria” even this far in, are still deep even without one of, if not arguably, their best scorer on the club.
Tarasenko was going at a point-per-game pace before he was ruled out for the rest of the regular season (three goals, seven assists). This is a guy who has been a top point guy for St. Louis for the past five seasons; three 70-plus-point seasons included.
As of Tuesday, the Blues are atop the Central Division with 21 points (9-3-3) and have been able to get by without their franchise centerpiece.
Ryan O’Reilly has picked up where he left off last season, winning the Selke Award and the Conn Smythe, with 16 points (four goals, 12 assists). If he’s already not a top marksman for that award already, he’ll be looking to repeat as a Selke finalist, at least.
Before St. Louis traded for O’Reilly two offseasons ago, the collection of talent was good, but there wasn’t a game changer. For as great as Tarasenko is, the Blues didn’t have 200-foot players that could impact the game. When there’s someone like O’Reilly who can make a difference at both ends of the ice, that can resonate.
Turning defense into offense has what made the Blues equally as dangerous, and that’s why they’re getting career seasons (still early, I know) from the likes of David Perron (seven goals, eight assists), Brayden Schenn (10 goals) and Jaden Schwartz (10 assists).
And we can’t forget Jordan Binnington, who is off to a very good start in his second season (7-2-3, .917 save percentage, 2.56 goals-against average).
It’s not like the Blues were going to completely fall out of the playoff picture without Tarasenko in the lineup. They’re still good enough to at least get back and defend their title. It becomes a scary situation for the rest of the Western Conference if Tarasenko comes back in late March, just in time for the playoffs, and the Blues are atop the Central.
By this point, we tend to find out what teams are prepared to stand out from the rest of the pack. In the Western Conference, it’s one giant bowl of confusing soup. Every team, with the exception of San Jose, Los Angeles and Minnesota, is off to a solid start. The Blues aren’t even the best team in the West right now; the Edmonton Oilers are still the top point-getters at 22 points as of Tuesday.
The Blues could go from being potential sellers at the trade deadline if they fall out of this race, to being the best team in the West come February with probably the best addition they could ask for when Tarasenko even comes back.
Don’t sleep on the Blues, or you might be playing the blues because of it.
Canadiens at Flyers: Just when you think Philadelphia has turned a corner after winning three in a row, the Flyers proceed to fool us all by losing three of their next four. Montreal continues to play at a steady pace, winning three of four heading into Tuesday, and in a goaltending battle, should win this one with Carey Price. CANADIENS
Canucks at Jets: Winnipeg has to feel really good after stealing two road wins at San Jose (allowing 53 shots) and Vegas (rallying from down 3-1 to win in OT). They began a four-game homestand Tuesday, and I could see a letdown from the red-hot Canucks at Winnipeg. JETS
Wild at Coyotes: The ‘Yotes have won eight of their last 10 entering Tuesday, and still, no one seems to be talking enough about them. We should, though. They’re good in the net, and Phil Kessel has made a tremendous difference up and down the lineup. COYOTES
Last week: 1-2