The St. Louis Blues finally started their 2021-22 campaign Saturday night in Denver with a five to three win over the Colorado Avalanche. In a game that looked to be a comfortable St. Louis win with fifteen minutes to go, the Avalanche stormed back to make it a game until an empty-net goal by Ryan O’Reilly sealed the victory for the Blues. The game presented a microcosm for what the Blues project to be this season; they are a team that can contend but they are not without their fair share of issues. Here’s what I took away from the opening night win.
Jordan Binnington is out to silence his doubters
There is a sizable amount of pressure on goaltender Jordan Binnington heading into this season. He is entering the first year of a six-year contract extension after a disappointing 2020-21 campaign, particularly a poor performance in the playoffs against the Avalanche. Needless to say, Binnington has something to prove this season and he got off to a great start against the same Avalanche team, looking like the Blues’ best player for much of the game. Colorado led the game in shots on goal throughout, though Binnington made the saves he needed to keep the Blues in the game, including a highlight-reel glove save on Mikko Rantanen in the third period.
Brayden Schenn embodies the identity of this team
No stranger to dropping the gloves, particularly against the Avalanche, Brayden Schenn looked to exact revenge on Nazem Kadri for his illegal hit on Justin Faulk in last year’s playoffs on the very first shift of the game. While most would agree that these situations should typically be handled by a player lower on the depth chart, it is simply in Schenn’s DNA and the Blues’ DNA to take initiative and step up for their teammates. The Blues are a team that is built on a heavy style of play and a level of intensity up and down the lineup, and no one exemplifies that identity better than the hard-nosed center.
David Perron keeps getting better with age
While he was a game-time decision to play due to an undisclosed injury, David Perron was cleared to start and was ultimately the difference-maker in the game as he netted two goals on four shots in the Blues’ win. The winger had a career year in 2020-21 averaging over a point per game for the first time in his career. After showing flashes of greatness throughout his first two stints with the Blues, along with his other stops around the league, Perron has flourished in his third term in St. Louis.
Ryan O’Reilly appears to be the center he’s been looking to play with for his whole career and the two have formed quite the duo at the top of the Blues lineup the past three seasons. At age 33, Perron continues to get better and better at both ends of the ice and is off to a great start to the season after his two-goal performance.
The team is still searching for consistency defensively
Much of the team’s struggles last season could be attributed to the lack of intensity defensively as the team underwent its first season without defensive stalwarts Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester. The lapses in defense became apparent in the third period on Saturday as the Avalanche scored twice late, almost three times if not for a disallowed goal, in a game that the Blues seemed in control of for most of the game. Granted, the Avalanche led the league in goals last season so it’s not terrible to give up three goals against them, but it did show that the Blues still are not perfect defensively and that will be something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
The strength of this team is its depth at forward
The Blues were able to net five goals against the Avalanche with none of the goals coming from Vladimir Tarasenko, Pavel Buchnevich, or Jordan Kyrou. The team has long had a “goals by committee” approach in the Doug Armstrong era and that looks to again be the case this season. In fact, one could argue that this year’s team at least looks the deepest it has in years on paper. While the team does not have a bonafide “Rocket” Richard candidate, the lineup is filled with players with 20-30 goal potential and it is their depth that should carry them back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs again in 2021-22.
While it was only one game, Saturday night’s tilt in Denver gave us a glimpse at the good and the bad for this Blues team. This week, the team will finish its three-game road trip with matchups against the Arizona Coyotes on Monday and the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday ahead of the home opener against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.
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