Can the St. Louis Blues make the playoffs? The question seemed ludicrous just last month, when the team was four games under .500 and held the worst record in the Central Division. However, the Blues have points in seven of their past eleven games and are now comfortably within the playoff race for the final seed in the division or a wild card spot (even if it is an underwhelming race that The Athletic’s Tyler Dellow coined a “turtle derby”). So, could St. Louis actually pull off the in-season turnaround?
On paper, it may seem that their chances are still slim. The Blues are currently in 13th in the Western Conference with 47 points, five points back of a playoff spot, following a disappointing loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night. However, the perception of St. Louis has suffered for much of the season due to the fact that the Blues have played fewer games than most of the league. St. Louis has played in just 48 games this season, tied for the least in the NHL, and less than each of the seven teams in the wild card mix. In terms of points percentage, St. Louis is actually tied with the Edmonton Oilers at .490 and easily within striking distance of the Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, and Vancouver Canucks. The team will need to string together a few wins to catch up with division foes in the Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche, and Minnesota Wild, but it’s well within the realm of possibility. The Athletic’s model, updated daily by Dom Luszczyszyn, currently predicts that the Blues will finish tenth in the West, but just three points back of the Ducks for the eighth and final playoff spot.
However, can the Blues maintain their recent stretch of success? While the struggles of other contenders have made their modest improvement look impressive, the fact of the matter is that St. Louis is in the bottom-third of the league in both goals for and goals against per game. The team is still looking for improvement from many of its top players and have been unable to confidently rely on goaltender Jake Allen on an everyday basis. The roster undeniably has the talent to be better than they have so far this year, but there hasn’t been any reason to believe that a drastic change in fortunes is coming.
There’s also the matter of the impending trade deadline to consider. St. Louis has been a hot name on the rumor mill this year, including allegedly being open to trading stars like Alex Pietrangelo, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Brayden Schenn. Even if their recent success has cooled off those talks, the Blues will still need to seriously consider offers for impending free agents like Jay Bouwmeester, Carl Gunnarsson, Patrick Maroon, and Jordan Nolan. At the same time, they seem unlikely to be buyers and other teams in the playoff race could outpace them if they decide to make additions while the Blues stay the course.
The fate of the Blues’ season remains a mystery. Is this the team many expected? Has their recent success been an accurate portrayal of their ability and has their games played disadvantage allowed them to lurk in the shadows as a legitimate playoff contender? Or is this simply the bad team that everyone saw at the beginning of the season, whose struggles are supported by the statistics? With a post-bye week slate of games against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Tampa Bay Lighting, and Nashville Predators twice, we’ll soon know whether St. Louis is a contender or pretender. For now, what do you think?