This story originally appeared on Page 5 (The Five Hole) of the Nov. 12, 2019 edition of the St. Louis Game Time paper, sold outside of every Blues home game. For more information or to subscribe, email email@example.com
It was sometime in 2012, although it might’ve been 2013 or ’14. Doesn’t matter. I was streaming a city-council meeting on my laptop. The Coyotes, once again, were in trouble. Glendale, the suburb where their arena is located, was unwilling to upgrade the arena, or was unwilling to let the team out of its lease, or the team wanted the city to divert a higher percentage of tax revenue toward this or that — again, doesn’t matter, I’ve long since lost track of the maneuverings of the league, various Coyotes owners, and the power-hungry, self-interested politicians (redundant, I know) of Glendale.
But there was a moment, possibly when I leaned in closer to hear “Yea” or “Nay,” that is suspended forever in the amber of my mind, when I realized: This is not a hockey game. This is not hockey coverage. There are no hockey players within a country mile of this building. And yet, here I am, watching because it is tangentially related to the game and the health of the league. I realized, simply, that I would never be a bigger — or geekier — hockey fan.
It proved to be true. As I left college, got jobs, moved around, I’ve grown less interested in the tangents. I don’t give a shit whether the NHL is healthy and “growing the sport,” whether the Coyotes’ franchise is doing well financially, the status of the league’s television contract — all things, once upon a time, I cared about deeply. I love the Blues, I love watching hockey, and I no longer care who else is with me or how many of them there are.
Five thoughts, while drinking a piña colada at Trader Vic’s.
1. How are they doing this?
Third-best points percentage, atop the Western Conference standings, and a nice winning streak can’t hide the truth: The Blues are third-worst in the league in 5-on-5 expected-goals-for percentage, 21st in scoring chances for, and 19th in shot attempts for. And those numbers haven’t been improving: During this seven-game streak, the Blues have only outshot their opponents once.
Usually when we see results outperform process, it’s because a team is getting great goaltending or shooting an unsustainably high percentage. In the Blues’ case, the answer is even more specific: They (and specifically, David Perron) are shooting an unsustainable percentage on the power play.
Per 60 minutes of power play time, the Blues are averaging just 48 shots — only 27th in the league. However, more than 20 percent of those shots are going in right now, which is the best rate in the league. That’s not likely to last, and with only a +6 goal differential overall, if you take away a few goals from this team, they could go from top-of-the-tables to middling pretty fast.
(Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.)
2. Here’s to Robby Fabbri.
Fair enough: He needed a change of scenery. It certainly sounds like he asked to be traded — also fair enough. Still, Doug Armstrong traded a player with a high upside for one with practically no upside at all and will likely regret it. (Fabbri has two goals and an assist in two games for Detroit, by the way.) Regardless, Fabbri will forever be part of the first Blues team to win the Cup, and he will forever be the guy who set up Troy Brouwer’s Game 7 goal to beat Chicago. (He also raised his arms before the puck was actually in the net.)
3. I do wonder, though: Did off-the-ice stuff have anything to do with it?
Both the Fabbri and Joel Edmundson trades have perfectly valid (if misguided), hockey-related rationales. But those two also happened to be at the center of the publicly-hard-partying faction of the roster. I’m not saying Craig Berube, Armstrong, or anyone else in the front office actively wanted them out. But subconsciously, if Armstrong was on the fence about the trades, it could’ve made the decisions to pull the trigger a touch easier.
4. Tyler Bozak scored his first goal of the season in Vancouver, then got another in Edmonton.
Just an excuse to remember the two grade-A scoring chances he missed on, late in Game 1 against Winnipeg, before burying the GWG. It was the kind of third-time’s-a-charm script a Hollywood writer would come up with, and one hell of a start to a magical playoff run.
5. Jake Allen played well in Edmonton, but was brutal in Minnesota. I got a kick out of this: After a sequence in the second period, Wild color commentator and former NHL goalie Mike Greenlay said, “I have never seen a goalie, in a half of a game, spend more time on his back than Jake Allen.”
If you enjoyed this story — and even if you didn’t — you should check out my book, Ticketless: How Sneaking Into The Super Bowl And Everything Else (Almost) Held My Life Together.