Tuesday night’s win against the Flyers wasn’t a foregone conclusion by any stretch of the imagination. The team’s clunker of a loss to the Montreal Canadiens last week should’ve been a wakeup call, and it mostly was, as far as the Blues beat the Flyers 4-1. It was a closer game than the final score showed, though - two of the goals were empty netters, and the Blues were uncharacteristically poor in the face off circle. Winning only 33% of your faceoffs isn’t usually a recipe for success, even against one of the Eastern Conference’s non-playoff teams.
Allowing one goal on 26 shots isn’t anything earth-shattering either, but for Jordan Binnington it was a welcome return to form. By virtue of last night’s performance, he’s gotten his save percentage up to .900 for the first time in months, and many saves showed some glimmers of the last time he started in Philadelphia. That game was, of course, the game that got the Blues off on their incredible run to the Stanley Cup.
There’s no comparison between that unproven goaltender on a hot streak and where Binnington is now. You can’t deny he’s struggled this season, and, in the first post-game interview in what feels like ages, he admitted as much (via Jeremy Rutherford at The Athletic):
“It just feels good to contribute,” Binnington said. “I’m just excited to keep working one day at a time and build it back. It happens in life, stuff is not going to go your way, and you’ve got to just keep fighting. That’s the mindset, and it was fun to get a win with the boys.”
It sounds like his struggles have taken Binnington’s ego down a peg, which is never a bad thing. Over the past two seasons, he’s let his cool and calm persona slide in favor of a more hot-headed one, and it’s gotten more noticeable as his performance has slid. Compensating with an attitude can get you part of the way, but playing like you’ve got a six year, $6 million per contract coming up is a better path to success.
The team knows that a bit of Binnington’s struggles are on them, as Vladimir Tarasenko spoke to:
“We feel for (Binnington),” Tarasenko said. “It’s on us, too. Like previous games, we (didn’t) play well when he was in the net. It’s a big game for him, big game for us. We understand the responsibility — especially this town. We still have a lot of good memories from the past. He played amazing. I thought he was our best player out there. He (made) unreal saves and played well.”
So you have a team admitting their faults and working to adjust, and a goaltender who is aware that he’s struggled this season. That sounds like a wake-up call in the making.
The Blues don’t need to snooze on this wake-up call.
Their next game is Friday night, at home, against the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres, while not having as rough of a season as they’ve become known for, aren’t one of the East’s teams to beat. They’re sitting in seventh place in the Atlantic Division with a 16-27-8 record and are stuck in a three-game losing streak.
They’re not an easy mark, or at least the Blues don’t need to think of them that way, but they’re still an opportunity for Binnington to build confidence - and for a starter needing to make starts, that’s a perfect chance. The team needs to seize it.
Roll with Binnington Friday night and see where it takes you - there’s not much else for the Blues to do. The NHL isn’t a charity, but you have to know where to start your goalies - and Friday night looks like a prime chance for Binnington to get another start in, and perhaps another victory.