Last season, the Blues were expected to start off the season contending for the Cup. It took them a little while to figure out that’s what they were supposed to do, but I think that everything worked out all right in the end.
This season, they made it through training camp without any catastrophic injury. The regulars will be starting tomorrow night, and most of who we consider “the regulars” just won the Stanley Cup.
The question now is, can they defend it?
2018-2019 Season Record: 45-28-9, 99 points, 3rd in the Central Division
Arrivals: Justin Faulk (from Carolina)
From training camp: Mackenzie MacEachern, Jordan Kyrou (injured, non-roster)
Questions going into the season
- What will goaltending do? Jordan Binnington (24-5-0-1, .927 SV%, 2.28 GAA, 5 SO) and Jake Allen (19-17-0-8, .905 SV%, 2.83 GAA, 3 SO) are both very well paid next season. The Blues have nearly $10 million of cap space dedicated to their two goaltenders, so to call either one a back-up is inaccurate and is not the expectation of the front office going into this season. Whether or not one winds up being a back-up goalie by the end of the season is up to the player. Binnington’s main question is if he can replicate a stellar rookie campaign and 16 playoff wins. He played half of a season last year; what will happen when he’s expected to start on opening night? On the other hand, Jake Allen served up career-worst numbers in goals against average and tied his career low save percentage. He didn’t get an opportunity to go through his traditional January and February slump last season; if Binnington stumbles, can the Blues rely on Allen to pick up the slack?
- Can the special teams bounce back from playoff issues? The Blues’ regular season special teams were above average last season; both were top ten in the NHL. The power play finished 10th at 21.1%; the penalty kill finished 9th at 81.5%. These numbers more than likely would’ve been higher had the Blues not stumbled out of the gate and continued to do so for half of the season. The playoffs saw an uptick in quality of competition, and in the Stanley Cup Final the Blues squared off against the Boston Bruins, who had both of the Blues’ special teams’ numbers. Based on the Blues’ struggles against the Dallas Stars and Bruins. the team hired Mark Savard to retool the power play. The new power play units are finally able to practice together, so don’t expect what you saw during the pre-season to be what you see during the regular season. Puck movement is a key component of Savard’s philosophy, both as a coach and during his playing days. Expect to see a lot of it.
- Will Sammy Blais stay in the top six? Blais was an impressive hitting machine during the pre-season, netting five points and slamming into nearly everyone who moved. He wasn’t a big scorer last season but he’s heading into play Wednesday night with Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.
- How tough will the Central Division be? Chicago is always got the hate, Winnipeg has the hits (though sans Dustin Byfuglien for now it may not have as many), but the Blues will have to focus on the improved Avalanche, always scary Predators (now with Matt Duchene!), and the Dallas Stars with their shiny new Joe Pavelski and always excellent Ben Bishop. The Central’s a meat grinder every year; expect to see another pile-up near the top of the standings.
- Will the Blues make the playoffs? It would be shocking if they didn’t, but remember last season when everyone assumed it was a lock? Yeah, that was a roller coaster ride. Never assume.
- Can they repeat as Stanley Cup Champions? The last team to do this were the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016-2017. The Blackhawks came close, winning it in 2013 and 2015, but repeating in the salary cap era is next to impossible. The Blues are nearly intact from their Cup run, they’re healthy, and somehow the defense is even more absurd than it already was. I absolutely am not saying that they will repeat, but don’t be shocked to see them in the thick of it come April and going forward.