To say that the Blues’ defense this season has been underwhelming is an understatement. Offensively, the team has been clicking. While not known as a juggernaut, the Blues’ 151 goals for are 8th in the league, just 41 behind the Panthers’ league leading 192 GF. The team’s GF/GP of 3.43 is sixth in the NHL.
Goaltending - at least half of the tandem - has also been consistently good. Ville Husso has come into his own this year, with a league leading 1.90 GAA. While Jordan Binnington’s play has slipped this season, goalies are fickle creatures. A bit of patience and he could be playing at a high level by the post-season.
Patience is something Blues fans have never been good with when it comes to goaltenders, but over the last three seasons, they’ve also been less than ideal with when the defense is concerned. Justin Faulk’s first season with St. Louis saw gaffe after gaffe until the playoff bubble, where his play strengthened and he became noticeably more familiar with the team. Last season, Faulk asserted himself as the Blues’ dominant defenseman in the eyes of fans, being the stabilizing anchor that the team needed after the loss of Jay Bouwmeester in 2020, before the season was halted due to Covid-19.
Faulk has been joined this year by Torey Krug on the second defensive pairing, and they’ve become the team’s most consistent defensemen. It’s not surprising, unless you place stock in the feelings of Blues fans - Krug’s first year with the team was welcomed with derision despite finishing with two goals and 30 assists, good for 6th on the team in scoring. The loss of Alex Pietrangelo in the off-season of 2020 fans hard, and there was cold comfort in Doug Armstrong signing the best available free agent defenseman available. Fans expected him to do one of two things: step in and pick up where Petro left off, or to be a poor fit that could never match Pietrangelo in skill.
So, despite success in eventually adjusting to a new system, Krug’s first season with the team was considered underwhelming - just like Faulk’s.
This season, it’s a different story for Krug. He already has six goals in 39 GP, and is fitting well into the team’s defense. Fans appear to have accepted that he has a different skill set than Pietrangelo, who he was never intended to directly replace. As was the case with Faulk, it took adjustment and patience, and it’s paying dividends.
Obviously, having one consistent defensive pairing while the rest of the D is not playing at a high level isn’t what a team needs, but that’s the situation in which the Blues have found themselves. The start of the season saw the disastrous pairing of Marco Scandella and Colton Parayko split up by Halloween in favor of the more stable pairing of Parayko and Niko Mikkola. Mikkola has been perfectly fine - he’s large and isn’t afraid of ruffling feathers, but both he and Parayko could be more assertive on the ice. Will patience with this duo pay off? Things have been improving, especially for Parayko, but his recovery from back problems has knocked his game down a peg. He’s a -16 for the season (compare to Faulk’s +25 and Krug’s +18), good for dead last. Mikkola is a -7 while Scandella is, impressively, a +6, rebounding after being placed with Robert Bortuzzo on the bottom pairing.
There’s quality of competition to take into consideration - Parayko (and now Mikkola) are out there against other teams’ top couple of lines. Parayko also is often used on the penalty kill. That last tidbit has actually been a boon for Parayko and the rest of the PK, as the whole system has been effective. They’re the fourth best PK in the league, clicking at 84.3%
Parayko, while having a very rough start to the year, has been improving. Maybe not leaps and bounds, but there’s promise there. As was the case with both Faulk and Krug, waiting out the problems paid off. If the Blues are able to have patience with Parayko, he could be closer to his old form by playoff time, or the start of next season.
Parayko’s continued recovery is key for the Blues’ defense. The Blues’ finding him a partner that he clicks with is key for Parayko’s continued recovery. Maybe a trade acquisition grab at the deadline or a free agent signing this off-season can be what snaps Parayko out of his funk once and for all.
On the other hand, it’s tough to guarantee that anything will happen, one way or the other. Faulk and Krug were new arrivals. Parayko, on the other hand, is recovering from an injury that severely sidelined him last season.
Patience can pay off; here’s hoping that it does in Parayko’s case.