Finding a truly great goaltender isn’t easy. Just ask the St. Louis Blues.
While they have enjoyed some goaltenders with impressive runs in the past 20 years, you couldn’t say they ever found a true #1 in net.
Roman Turek has his moment, but it was extremely short. Jaroslav Halak came here via a blockbuster trade, but could never find the health required to stay in net. Brian Elliott’s stellar play came mostly in a timeshare capacity, and everybody under, around, or near The Arch knows the Jake Allen story by now.
And then came Jordan Binnington. The confident kid who walked in, seized, and conquered the NHL when given the opportunity. It was an opportunity that didn’t materialize for years, because in the big leagues, that’s how it goes down on occasion. He was drafted in 2011 at the age of 17, and then spent the majority of the next seven years in the minors.
Heck, at one point, the team lent Binnington to another team. That’s right. Another NHL team was able to take a payday loan out on the kid. Going in the 2018-19 season, few people saw him making a true dent. Allen and Chad Johnson were mining the Blues net, and Ville Husso was the prospect in waiting, sitting ahead of Binnington. In a series of events that involved injury and slight under-performance, Binnington was given the nod a little over a year ago when Allen was faltering for a sinking St. Louis team.
The rest is written forever on the side of the Stanley Cup, which Binnington hoisted in June. It wasn’t just the right time, right place for the goaltender. He could have came up, had a cup of coffee, did well, and been sent back. He refused to go back, posting a goals against average of 1.89 with a save percentage of 93%. In 30 starts, Binnington wasn’t pulled once and shut the team out out five times.
When the playoffs rolled around, a moment where the headlines can appear the brightest for a rookie, Binnington stood tall with a 91% save percentage and 2.46 GAA. While those aren’t great numbers, Binnington started all 26 games and closed the door on the other team when the pressure cooker felt like bursting. Remember Game 7 against Dallas, the double overtime affair? He was marvelous that night against Ben Bishop.
Few can forget the Game 7 work against Boston. Stanley Cup Final, inside the TD Garden with a raucous crowd waiting to explode-he made 33 saves, including a legendary sprawling stop that should be his statue outside one day. The Bruins were pressing, picking up a small sense of blood, and Binnington had to shut that down. It reminded me of when Evander Holyfield fought Mike Tyson. Sometime during the first few rounds of that fight, Tyson hit Holyfield with a shot that would have disabled or made another boxer’s legs go numb. It ended plenty of earlier fights.
Holyfield ate the punch and kept on pressing forward, knocking Tyson out the technical route and shocking the world. Binnington ate whatever Boston served him, refusing to buckle.
Going into this season, after receiving a two year extension, some thought he would regress. The Stanley Cup run complete and all, maybe it was just a fever dream. A one stop shop for the former 88th overall pick?
Wrong again. Binnington could produce a series based solely on turning other people’s doubts upside down. The Blues’ goaltender depth chart, coaches, Armstrong, and whoever stood in his way. The projection analysts, NHL commentators, and fans across the Midwest and hockey world. When was the other shoe going to drop? With Binnington, the other drop was tossed out the window back in May.
He’s not exactly a marvel this season, but the stats don’t lie and deflate the sophomore slump fears. He made his first All Star game today, which should be a wonderful homecoming-type celebration at Enterprise in February. In one less start than last season (29), Binnington’s save percentage of 92% and 2.39 GAA with one shutout show he isn’t slowing down, only getting warmed up.
In Sunday’s game against Winnipeg, he rebounded from a rough Friday performance on the road to make 26 saves and anchor the Blues’ eighth consecutive victory. Towards the end of the game, when the Jets swarmed the net, Binnington shut the door, making stops all around the net. He refused to let the game become even a small liability. The pressure simply doesn’t exist with this kid; he neutralizes it.
Think about this. How many times has Binnington had two rough starts in a row? I’m talking save percentage of 88% or less in back-to-back games? Once. Facing Dallas and Anaheim in March, he put up an .852 save percentage in those two games. That’s it. Once in 59 starts. He always finds a way to bounce back. The first of those two starts came after a shutout against Nashville.
With Binnington, the bad times make cameo appearances instead of extended stays. It’s an early checkout for these opposing teams. It doesn’t linger or send him into a long funk like it did with Allen in previous seasons. Speaking of Jake The Snake, since Binnington took over, Allen has never looked better. The two have formed the best goaltending tandem in the NHL, which has allowed the Blues to overcome a scoring problem at times and put up 26 wins before the New Year.
How does he do it? Binnington’s form in net is solid. He doesn’t have that statue-like presence of Halak or the red bull kinetic energy of Elliott, but he can square up to just about any shot. He doesn’t come out and challenge a whole lot like some, but will do when necessary. Binnington can close off a post entry, smother a rebound, and snag an incoming missile headed for the top of the net. At 6’ 1’’, he’s not a giant in net, but gains proximity with his ability to react quickly to a versatile array of shots. It takes a beautiful setup to make him look helpless, and again, you’ll rarely fool him twice.
He’s the real deal. Backups come and go, but “Binny” will go nowhere. He’s the guy who served as the backbone to the team’s first Cup, and he’s backed up the legend with solid play this season. He gives the team a chance every night and feeds the lines’ hunger to crash the other net. Alex Pietrangelo and company know they can pinch and take aggressive chances due to Binnington waiting at the other end with his NO WAY stick. It’s comforting to know soft goals aren’t going to be a frequent occurrence.
After a long wait and exhausted search, Jordan Binnington is the guy for St. Louis. The one they’ve been waiting for.
And no, he’s not nervous.