Mike Poepping The Hockey Writers
Why the Blues’ Current 4-Game Winning Streak is Crucial
The St. Louis Blues tied their season high winning streak (4-games) on Thursday night in an overtime thriller against the Los Angeles Kings. It was an extremely exciting end to a great game overall, and was exactly what the Blues needed to begin to focus on the playoffs that loom just over a month away.
Extending the Streak
Though the Blues have been in this very situation once already this year (October 18-20, 2015), they have been unable to string together more than 4 wins this season. However, with primary scorers and depth players beginning to work in harmony and with young guns stepping up in key situations, the Blues are in a great place to make a final playoff positioning push. The team managed to gain 8 points in their last 4 games, including a big OT win at home against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday evening.
That win built momentum for Thursday’s victory over the heavy-hitting Kings, and put the club in a prime position to extend their winning streak on Saturday against the Arizona Coyotes in Glendale. The next week could very well be the Blues best, and could allow the team to keep their winning streak going into March as they chase the Chicago Blackhawks (61GP, 81P) and Dallas Stars (59GP, 80P) for the Central Division title. The Note are certainly on the upswing and could push for another division title, and favorable playoff positioning, with a great stretch to end the regular season.
Why this Winning Streak is Huge
Looking ahead to how the Blues can keep their 4-game winning streak going into next month exposes some challenges, but more opportunities to come together and shine. The club is 6-1 in their last 7 trips to the Arizona desert, a winning streak that goes back to March 22, 2011, and have had much success in solving Mike Smith over his tenure with the Yotes club as well. The Note have experienced great depth scoring against Smith, and have managed to score 25 goals on him in just 5 games dating back to 2012. This could be the boost the club needs to right the ship heading into the final 25% of the 2015-16 regular season.
If the Blues can manage to continue their winning ways in Arizona it could very well create even more cohesion in the locker room, which should lead to increased chatter on the ice. Increased communication usually leads to more decisive decisions on the ice, which cuts down on lead time for plays and creates more offensive chances at the same time. This means more chances for different players to light the lamp, something that has been lacking form the team all year (Alex Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Kevin Shattenkirk still account for almost 33% of overall point production on the team). If the depth scorers like Robby Fabbri (who has 6-points in his last 6 games played), David Backes, Troy Brouwer, and Jori Lehtera can start netting more soon, that means opposing teams will be forced to leave Steen and Tarasneko alone more, meaning they should start to heat up at the perfect time.
The most important piece of the Blues recent winning streak is that it’s come from consistently solid goaltending and team defense that has translated into scoring chances. The team has relied heavily upon their goalies all season, but are now finally giving them the scoring support to gain wins in those tight, goaltending battles. Here’s what Note forward Jaden Schwartz had to say about Brian Elliott’s stellar effort against the Kings on Thursday,
“We were not even shocked (by the big saves) because he’s been making those all year, but that (OT glove save) was a huge save, a real game-saver. If it wasn’t for him throughout the whole game we wouldn’t have been there (in OT). He made some big saves from start to finish.”
Ells went on to give his teammates the credit they deserve, and points out why they’ve been able to win tight games and put together a nice 4-game streak as of late,
“Being allowed to see those pucks, it has a lot to do with how those guys are playing in front of me, so I can just do my job. If everybody is playing their role it just makes things a lot easier. You can track things easier and pick more things up.”
Keeping the Momentum is Paramount
Though some more losses will inevitably come before the 2015-16 season concludes, the Blues could leapfrog the teams ahead of them by keeping their momentum and energy levels high which will force teams to beat them instead of simply losing games themselves. This should cause more wins (and points) down the stretch, and could also lead to a more favorable playoff seed (meaning a potentially weaker 1st round opponent). The team can accomplish this through overall cohesion and focus on the common goal, a deep playoff run. Coach Ken Hitchcock will need to keep the room light and will need to allow for more creativity on the ice if the team wants to win the division for a 2nd straight year, and he’ll need to rely on the on-ice leadership group to keep the team focused in game.
“Down the stretch all the games are going to feel like that. Everyone’s pushing, everyone wants a good (playoff) spot and wants to get in. It’s playoff hockey and we’re just trying to match that (intensity) right now.” – Robby Fabbri
If the Blues can come together as they continue to get healthy down the stretch, they could very well be playing their best hockey of the season as the playoffs begin. That’s something area fans have hoped for since the club’s last 1st round win against the Sharks in 2011-12. Finally, a good stat for fans to remember is that the last time the Note won the Jennings Trophy (fewest total goals allowed in a season) was the very same year they got out of the 1st round. With Jake Allen and Elliott poised to grab that trophy again this season, it could finally signal a deeper playoff run for the club this spring.
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