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Blackhawks at Blues: Has to be Husso?

The Blues have to capitalize on their easy schedule to start the second half.

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NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at St. Louis Blues Jeff Le-USA TODAY Sports

The “playoff push” has begun, but your wouldn’t know it after watching the Blues’ 7-4 mess of a loss to the New Jersey Devils. While the Blues had 12 days off and were clearly rusty - nearly every player had an awful game, especially the second line and Marco Scandella (who may miss tonight’s game with a lower-body injury sustained on Thursday).

There was some rust, clearly, but when you’re gifted a schedule like the Blues have been gifted, you have to shake that off. New Jersey, Chicago, Ottawa, Montreal, Philly, Buffalo, and the Blackhawks again - the only playoff team that they face are the Maple Leafs on February 19th. The Devils should’ve been a slam dunk, and it wasn’t. Thursday night’s game was an embarrassment for the team as a whole, but it was also an embarrassment for Jordan Binnington. Craig Berube started him to show confidence in the starter, and it backfired. While you can’t blame the goaltender for every goal on Thursday, he didn’t look much better than he has for most of the season since October.

He’s allowed 18 goals over his last three starts, and as the Post-Dispatch’s Jim Thomas points out, he’s been 3-5-0 since returning from Covid back on December 19th, with a 4.52 GAA and a .872 save percentage. He’s near the bottom of active goalies in terms of stats, while Ville Husso is at the top. A contract doesn’t make you the starter, your play makes you the starter, and right now Husso is the starter. It’s understandable that Berube wants to get Binnington back on his feet - the Blues need two functional goalies - but you can’t continue to start someone struggling that hard. This isn’t a charity, this is the NHL.

The Blues need two points tonight against the Blackhawks. Husso should start, point blank, and as Jeremy Rutherford eloquently points out over at The Athletic (subscription required) he needs to start until he falters.

Berube also spoke about emotion yesterday after practice.

“Team play. It’s all about the team right now and when you hit the ice, you have to have emotion for 60 minutes and you got to have intensity. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, playoff team, not-playoff team, if you don’t have intensity and emotion in the game, you can lose to anybody. There’s definitely got to be urgency starting (Saturday). We’ve got to be a relentless hockey team.”

They’re playing the Blackhawks tonight - emotion has to be there. The Hawks are still in 7th in the Central, but as the Blues discovered on Thursday, you can’t play down to the competition. You’re going to lose if you don’t care.

Wednesday night, the Blackhawks took out the faltering Edmonton Oilers (and helped Dave Tippett get fired), but are still 3-5-2 in the last ten games. Alex DeBrincat and Marc-Andre Fleury are a threat, and the Hawks can’t be slept on. If the Blues’ don’t wake up, they’re going to find themselves with four winnable points out of reach in a very tight Central Division playoff race.