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It’s All Downhill from Here

Binnington plays the puck, but also falls off a cliff. And Jordan Kyrou is scratched, for some reason.

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Winnipeg Jets James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

This story first appeared on Page 5 (The Five Hole) of the Feb. 4, 2020 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

The term “It’s all downhill from here” has long bugged me because, much like the verb “to peruse,” and the adverb “literally,” it has two directly contradictory meanings. On one hand, the trip down the hill is the easier part of the journey. You can go faster, see everything that’s in front of you, and (if you’re talking about a Mount Everest-sized hill) the oxygen levels improve the further down you travel. If you think critically about the metaphor, it only makes sense when used in that way.

However, “It’s all downhill from here” is often used to convey just the opposite: that things can only get worse from now on, that our quality of life will only go down. It is this second meaning that I have in mind when I say about the St. Louis Blues that it’s all downhill from here. When you’re at the top of the hill, the very peak, you literally (in the classic, true sense of that word) can do nothing except to descend.

We — the Blues organization and the fans — reached the top of the world last weekend. But when you’re the defending Stanley Cup Champions, are hosting the All-Star Game, your coach is behind the bench, and the starting lineup consists entirely of Blues, you can only go down. That’s where they’re heading, more likely than not, in the NHL standings. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

Five thoughts, as the blue moon sinks from the weight of the load.

1. It’s not a surprise that the Blues have hit a rough patch. They were bound to, eventually, because all teams do. But the Blues in particular haven’t controlled play at 5-on-5 at a level commensurate with their win-loss results. In terms of puck possession and shot quality, they’re as high, right now, in the league tables as they’ve been all year. It’s just that the shooting percentage, always bound to regress, has regressed. And the goaltending — which was also always bound to regress — has, too.

2. All of a sudden, Jordan Binnington is down to 91.1. A thought experiment for you: Would you rather have seen him hovering around that number all year — say, between 91.5 and 90.5 — or would you rather have his performance this season, where he’s been above 92.0 for most of the way, before falling off the cliff, starting with the drubbing he took against Toronto on December 7?

Either way, he would’ve wound up here, on February 4, at 91.1. Do you take the steady, predictable, but never outstanding performance, or the sometimes-great but sometimes-dreadful one? I’m not sure if one is objectively better in a hockey sense, and I don’t have a clear answer myself. But I think your choice could reveal a lot about you.

3. Binnington playing the puck at center ice in Winnipeg was not just fun to see — it was also a heads-up play.

A goalie is allowed to play the puck as long as he’s on his own side of center ice. Props to Binner for knowing the rule there. Between that play, the Mike Smith-Cam Talbot goalie fight in Calgary, Pekka Rinne’s goalie goal last month and Ben Bishop’s recent (failed) attempt to score, netminders are having having some fun lately.

4. The Blues were first in the Central Division on November 30, 2017. The next day, they lost 4-1 at home to LA, while the Winnipeg Jets beat the Golden Knights to take over first place. The Blues went on to plummet out of a playoff spot altogether, sort of the reverse-2019. Rest assured: Nothing of the kind will happen this year. The Blues banked so many points, and are deep enough into the season, that they’ve practically clinched a playoff spot. All those extra points earned during the seven-game winning streak — the OT wins in Detroit, Minnesota, Vancouver, and Calgary, for example — are gonna start coming in real handy. It’s still crazy, though, that 2017-18 happened the way it did — and that 2018-19 did, too

5. Jordan Kyrou getting scratched for Troy Brouwer is either dark comedy or incredible stupidity. At the same time, though, what? Are we really gonna get worked up because our — ahem — Stanley Cup-winning coach is making the same favor-the-veterans mistakes 30 other coaches make? Are we gonna get worked up that Brouwer lost his man in front of the net while fixing his visor?

And are we gonna get worked up that, as demonstrated on this road trip, Winnipeg announcers seem to be the root of this tendency to pronounce the Blues’ captain’s last name with two syllables (Petra-angelo)?

That’s for you to decide, but I’m going with: No, maybe, and yes.

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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.