When the NHL gets back on the ice there will be a 24-team playoff tournament and St. Louis will be defending its Stanley Cup title. But do they have what it takes to claim the Cup again this season?
Blues Ahead of Last Year
The St. Louis Blues were the Cinderella story of last season, a team that wasn’t even on the radar until they turned into a late-season juggernaut and carried that momentum into the postseason, capturing their first Stanley Cup in 50 years. But this year they are the reigning champions and what’s even better for St. Louis fans, they are playing like it! After 71 games last season the Blues were 37-27-7 for 81 points but this season their record is 42-29-10 for a conference-leading 94 points, trailing only the Boston Bruins (100) in that category.
What’s even more impressive is that St. Louis has been without its second-leading point-getter from last season, Vladimir Tarasenko, throughout most of the year. As many of you might recall, Tarasenko got tangled up with Kings’ defenseman Sean Walker and had to leave the game in an October 24th victory over Los Angeles. It would prove to be a serious injury and one that would require shoulder surgery which has sidelined the 28-year-old winger up until this point.
However, when play does resume, Tarasenko and the rest of the Blues’ talented roster will be ready to roll, with the notable exception of defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. And while all of the other teams will have had this unusual respite to get healthy as well, few, if any, teams have gone most of the season absent one of their most talented offensive players, yet still managed to be the preeminent power in the Western Conference.
Champs Confident of a Repeat
Although we have seen championship hangovers in the past, it doesn’t appear this is the case with the 2019-2020 edition of the St. Louis Blues. They are taking nothing for granted and still savor their miraculous Stanley Cup run from last season. Even the NHL odds posted at the best online sportsbooks like BetOnline have the Blues as one of the favorites to claim the Cup at +1200. However, they do trail the Bruins (+650), Lightning (+650), Avalanche (+700), Golden Knights (+800), and Flyers (+850) to win it all again this season.
“A lot of people thought there would be a hangover or whatever they want to call it,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said Thursday. “But if you look at our group, experienced, professional, whatever you want to call it, I don’t think there’s any worry in our locker room that this thing wasn’t going to turn out the way we wanted to, especially at the start of the year. We felt like we had a group that really kind of flipped that switch to get ready for the start of the season. That’s the reason why we’ve been able to carry it as far as we have and why we’ll have success moving forward into the end of the (Stanley Cup Playoffs).”
The path to the championship will be much different this year as they are entering the postseason from a position of strength and not just “happy to be here” as they were last season when they were forced to run a gauntlet that included the Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks, and finally the Beasts of the East, the Boston Bruins. St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas, and Dallas will all play in a one-game round-robin to determine the top four seeds in the West. The remaining eight Western Conference teams, seeded by points percentage, will battle in a best-of-five series, with the winners paired against the top four seeds.
Therefore, the Blues will essentially get a first-round bye and then get to ease into the playoffs against a low-ranked team. And if they are destined to make another Stanley Cup run then they should quickly dispatch their opening-round opponent, giving them time to heal the bumps and bruises and prepare for their next opponent. The Blues are a better team than they were last season and at generous odds of +1200, they should be considered in your NHL picks before the season returns to action.