The NHL is set to resume Monday following the All-Star break which means that the second half of the 2021-22 season is officially underway. As things stand for the St. Louis Blues, they sit 4th in the Central Division with games in hand on those ahead of them and more importantly, are comfortably in a playoff position. The second half of the season will dictate whether the Blues are simply a playoff team or a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
The first half of the season showcased a new-look Blues team who are all of a sudden an offensive juggernaut with one of the top power plays in the league. The emergence of All-Star Jordan Kyrou, as well as Ivan Barbashev and Robert Thomas, has given the team an element of speed we simply haven"t seen in St. Louis in recent history. Vladimir Tarasenko is looking like the comeback player of the year in the NHL, trailing only Kyrou in points for St. Louis. The offseason additions of Pavel Buchnevich and Brandon Saad have both been home run moves that have transformed the team into one of the deepest forward groups in the NHL.
Slow starts that can be attributed to injuries and bouts with COVID-19 for Ryan O"Reilly, David Perron, and Brayden Schenn were certainly notable in the first half of the season. However, the good news is all three players seemed to be heating up before the All-Star break and could all be primed for a big second half. If that does come to fruition, the offense can be taken to another level that could put the Blues over the top and make them legitimate contenders. Rounding out the lineup, veterans Tyler Bozak and Oskar Sundqvist provide stability and reliability on the fourth line and penalty kill, while rookie Klim Kostin is finding his game as the season rolls on.
Projected lines for the second half, when all healthy:
The Blues of recent years has best been known for their defense. It has been the staple of the team"s success for the past decade. This year, however, has proved to be challenging for St. Louis on the backend. Fresh off a max contract extension, Colton Parayko has struggled, boasting the worst plus/minus on the team. Marco Scandella has also notably struggled at times. Torey Krug and Justin Faulk have been the most reliable of the defensive group, providing offense from the backend as well as solid defense, though they cannot carry the load alone if the Blues are to be true contenders. Rookie Scott Perunovich has potential, though it hasn"t all come together yet for him. He could potentially be a name thrown around in trade discussions if the Blues ultimately decide to add a veteran piece to the defense before the trade deadline. It is worth noting that Robert Bortuzzo is perhaps playing the best hockey of his career and has provided stability on the third pair and on the penalty kill. Meanwhile, Niko Mikkola has emerged as a solid defenseman who can join in on the offensive rush.
Ultimately, the Blues defense as a whole needs to improve in the second half if they are to have a shot at the Stanley Cup. The team needs a bounce-back second half from Parayko and may need to add help from the outside to solidify the top six.
Projected pairs for the second half, when all healthy:
As always, goaltending is the talk of the town in St. Louis. Stop me if you"ve heard this before: the Blues have a backup goaltender who has fans clamoring to take over the starting job. Ville Husso has been lights-out all season and will be one of the biggest storylines in the second half for the Blues if he continues his current form. Jordan Binnington was off to a great start to the year, even if the numbers didn"t always show that as the Blues early in the season would often go up big and let in a couple of garbage time goals. However, Binnington"s play has dropped in the last month to the point where a goaltending controversy is starting to brew. The Blues won the Stanley Cup in 2019 on the back of Binnington, so we know he can play at an elite level. If he is able to recapture that form in the second half, it could go a long way in the Blues winning their second championship in four years.
The second half of the 2021-22 season looks to be exciting for Blues fans as the team appears to be gearing up for another Stanley Cup run. With an offense that is pleasing to the eyes and a defense which while volatile at times, has the potential to be great, along with two goaltenders capable of taking over games, there is no shortage of storylines for the second half.
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