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The Blues Have Hit a Stumbling Block. #36 Is Not the Answer, But #34 Could Be

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Buffalo Sabres Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

This story first appeared on Page 5 (The Five Hole) of the Dec. 12, 2019 edition of the St. Louis Game Time paper, sold outside of every Blues home game. For more information or to subscribe, email gtbradlee@gmail.com

This was always going to happen, because it happens to all teams indiscriminately: The Blues were always going to stumble. Surely you didn’t think they were going to cruise to a 120-point season and the top seed in the Western Conference without facing some adversity, right?

Five thoughts, as mummy looks for her hand in the snow.

1. Come on, what on earth is Troy Brouwer doing here?

He’s 34 years old and wasn’t even playing hockey as recently as November 9. As the story goes, when the Blues passed through Calgary last month, Brouwer was skating informally with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL. It’s hard to overstate just how far down in the hockey world that is. Even washed-up former NHLers who know they’re washed up but still want one more shot in the NHL are able to find work in the AHL or in Europe if they can tie their skates and stand up. Brouwer’s lack of interest in playing (or his inability to play) competitively tells you all you need to know.

2. And let’s be clear: Brouwer’s numbers are dreadful. Yes, after his goal in his eighth game on Tuesday, his goal pace over 82 would be about 10. And double-digit goal scorers, available for the league minimum without giving up an asset, are hard to come by. However, Brouwer is showing little ability to score or even create scoring chances. Both Brouwer’s expected-goals-for and Corsi percentages are last on the team, despite starting a favorable percentage of shifts in the offensive zone.

It’s a shame that Jordan Kyrou, and soon, Klim Kostin have and will continue to miss out on valuable, developmental minutes because of Troy Brouwer. Two of those three have bright futures ahead of them. The other has no future, and is only here in the first place because of a past that, in reality, wasn’t as bright as people tend to think.

But hey, there’s no bad excuse to watch his Game 7 goal.

3. The Jake Allen renaissance is real … but it’s also an illusion. It’s been a pleasure to see him playing like the guy we all, once upon a time, thought he was: His save percentage for the season sits at a tidy 92.5 through 10 games, and while that number will probably regress, it’s fair to think that he’ll finish the season with much better numbers than he managed the past two seasons. On the other hand, his 90.6 two years ago and his 90.5 last year were aberrations, too; he never was that bad a goalie.

Once a goalie has faced about 3000 NHL shots, you tend to have a pretty solid indication of what he’s going to be. Allen reached that number in 2016-17, his fourth NHL season. At the end of that season, his save percentage was 91.5, slightly better than perfectly average. His career save percentage now sits at 91.2, which is perfectly average. He is what he is, and while he’s playing well, Craig Berube should play him at every reasonable opportunity. Remember: Jordan Binnington has never played more than 62 games in a season at any level. With 50 regular season games, and hopefully 20 or more in the playoffs remaining for the Blues, Binnington is already at 23.

4. That said, I’ve never seen the Blues pump the tires on a player the way they have with Allen recently. After his brilliant, 38-save shutout in Chicago, a real article on the real Blues website ran with this headline: “Postgame interview offers good example of Allen being great teammate.” That’s all I have to say about that.

Then, on Hockey Night in Canada’s pregame show last Saturday, Armstrong went out of his way to put Allen over, without mentioning his Stanley Cup-winning starting goaltender who’s the biggest reason the Blues are succeeding this season. Sure seems like Armstrong is trying to drum up trade interest in Jake the Snake.

5. The Blues have been way on the “dull” end of the spectrum all season long. That is, their style of play under Berube yields so few shot attempts, both for and against, that the Blues are practically in a category of their own (at least, according to Sean Tierney’s excellent charts).

His graphic showing that the Vince Dunn-Alex Pietrangelo pairing was leading to a ton of shots, both for and against, caught my eye, though.

That pairing did not last long, and I’m conflicted about it. I want the Blues to play high-flying, exciting hockey. But if I hadn’t looked at the charts and the numbers, I’d never have known that they don’t. And I’m curious if you would have, and whether you care how they play — as long as they’re winning.

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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.