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Better Late Than Never: Pat Maroon heats up at the right time for the Blues

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Buffalo Sabres Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes, things just take time. In the case of Pat Maroon and the St. Louis Blues, it took months for the timing to click into place.

It wasn’t long ago that Maroon was a healthy scratch for the team, failing to produce at a high or even moderate level. The goals weren’t coming, and he didn’t look comfortable on any line, and couldn’t get going.

The more worrisome factor was Maroon’s physicality wasn’t a huge factor early on in the season. Nicknamed “The Big Rig” for his ability to move players around, buy up real estate in the middle of the crease, and be a general force of nature, Maroon couldn’t find that space too often. You could see it in his eyes and his gestures on the bench: he was fighting it, but wouldn’t make an excuse.

While he scored a couple goals towards the end of December, Maroon was still trying to find his footing on the team as the New Year opened up. When you are a healthy scratch for five games before the midway point of the season, something isn’t going as planned. Maroon’s lack of speed and the transition in coaching didn’t help the progress either, and Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic put it out there on Jan. 7 that Maroon could be headed out of town. The next night against the Dallas Stars at Enterprise, Maroon played just ten minutes and didn’t register a shot on goal.

A betting man would say he was all but finished in St. Louis.

And then the next night in Dallas, Maroon scored the game-winning goal. Before you remind me that GWG are about as useful in assigning a player’s worth as the amount of hair he carries on his face, think about this. Maroon’s self-esteem and confidence must have skyrocketed that evening. All season long, he was dying to make a breakthrough, desperate to show his value in his hometown. The pressure part of Maroon’s return home is something Hockey Reference can’t help you with. The frustration probably dropped that night in Dallas.

Maroon only had four goals at that point, but the goal meant something to him and the team.

A week later, Maroon got into his first fight since Nov. 23, dropping the mitts with the giant Zdeno Chara, the Boston Bruins veteran and legend. Fighting Chara requires brass balls and a ladder, but Maroon held his own and put his grit on passion display. Once again, the confidence was increasing everywhere on the ice for Maroon. If you look at his hits-per-game, the increase towards the end of January is evident. After a string of games with one registered hit, Maroon was hitting more often, tapping into his game.

A game-winning goal and a bout with a giant later, Maroon and the Blues went on that ridiculously long winning streak that changed their entire season. In the corner of that ride, a veteran winger was quietly turning his season around.

Maroon picked up a couple assists over the next handful of games, but also decreased his penalty minutes and improved his +/- rating. Now, I don’t offer up a lot of stock for those ratings, but earlier in the season Maroon’s rating was -4 for some games, which means when he touched the ice, bad things happened. His overall game started to take shape in February.

While Maroon didn’t score a goal in February, he picked up a couple assists and his +/- rating for the month was a +1. Maroon also saw his playing time increase and achieve consistency, where he averaged nearly 15 minutes per game on the ice. He also stayed off the healthy scratch list, which ate up Robby Fabbri instead.

This month, Maroon’s scoring touch and overall effect on the ice have been completely restored. He’s got three goals in his last five games, and they aren’t the cheap kind where the player wacks away at the puck until it slides across the crease. Maroon is taking the puck and pushing hard to the net, carrying players with him, or moving right past them. He took the puck around the net yesterday in Buffalo, came out in front, and buried it.

Don’t sleep on the best part of his game: the setup. He took a puck behind the net in Pittsburgh over the weekend, found an open Jay Bouwmeester, and put the team ahead 3-0. Let’s also not forget the beatdown he gave a Coyote last week, which qualified as the best Blues fight of the year. Maroon looked possessed out there.

When it comes to Maroon and the Blues, perspective is required. He signed a one year deal worth $1.7 million last July, so it isn’t like the Blues are being robbed by the guy. He took less to be play in St. Louis, passing up more lucrative offers from at least two other teams. If Maroon finishes with 10 goals and 20 assists, the deal is far from a bad one. Just look at the money Alexander Steen is being paid and those seasons where 30-35 points from Patrik Berglund was digested. For the money, Maroon is doing just fine.

Does this mean an extension is in order? Probably not. The Blues will have to examine their plans for all four lines this summer, and that may not include the 30-year-old winger. If you have a guy like Oskar Sundqvist scoring and breaking out, maybe he assumes a different role next season. A lot is in flux, but for the time being, enjoy the Maroon revival.

If he saved his best hockey for the last 20 games of the season, I’ll take it. When right, Maroon can be a force on any line in any moment. Better late than never.

And yes, he will always be a good story no matter what. The former roller hockey skater tallied his 200th point of his career on Sunday, making him the St. Louis native with the most points in the history of the NHL. Maroon has been a million-to-one-shot since he strapped on the skates and played for Jeff Brown. Adversity comes easy to him.

This season, the adversity, coupled with resilience, has helped restore Maroon’s game. it took awhile, but he’s alive and mad as hell out there. I pity the fool who crosses Pat.

Let’s hope it continues. With ten games left and a playoff spot yet to be cemented, the Blues need all the help they can get.