Where: Enterprise Center, St. Louis, MO
When: Wednesday, April 6, 2022; 5:00pm PDT
Wait, who are we playing? Landlubber’s Guide to the St. Louis Blues
Local TV: ROOT Sports NW
Local Radio: 950 AM KJR
SiriusXM: Channel 219
Last Time Out
The Kraken dueled the Blues to a 2-1 loss in their first meeting, but the second get-together eight days later was a catastrophe. The Blues opened the scoring with a short-handed tally, followed by a power play goal later in the first. Three goals at even strength put the icing on the cake of a 5-0 shutout. Youngster Joey Daccord made 26 saves in what was otherwise a thoroughly forgettable outing for Seattle.
Stats, Streaks, & Droughts
St. Louis has reverted to the mean after notching victories in their first five games and eight of their first eleven. Goaltender Jordan Binnington’s play began to slump shortly thereafter, and the repeated COVID-19 and injury-related absence of backup Ville Husso meant the club was regularly giving up four goals a game — and the losses began to mount. Husso is back and has essentially taken over starter duties (more on that later...) as the Blues try to right the ship in time for the playoffs. They are 5-3-2 in their last 10 outings and are currently sitting 3rd in the Central Division, trying to extend their lead over the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars.
As for Seattle, once again we’re in a Jekyll and Hyde situation with the hometown club. They got our hopes up with three wins in four games topped off by a 6-1 thrashing of the Los Angeles Kings; then they dropped a pair of tilts to the Golden Knights; following which they put together a complete two-way game against Dallas on Sunday and walked away with a 4-1 victory. The Kraken’s record now stands at 22 wins, 41 losses, and 6 OTL, and they are 5-4-1 in their last 10.
The one consistent bright spot for Kraken fans has been in the most unlikely of places — in net. The performance of goaltender Chris Driedger has been nothing short of astounding. His most recent three starts he has allowed just 4 goals on 96 shots, good for a combined save percentage of .958. In his previous three starts he allowed 11 goals on just 73 shots. That’s a prodigious turn-around, and much more in line with the expectation that Seattle GM Ron Francis had when he signed him.
Driedger commented in a recent press appearance that he has been working with a sports psychologist, and credits that support for his up-tick in play. With that level of results, my advice to the Kraken is: get that sports psychologist on retainer immediately.
Players To Watch
The Blues have a core of forwards from which emanates the bulk of their scoring. Each is at, or very close to, a point-per-game pace on the year. The list begins with Jordan Kyrou, who is having a breakout year with 22 goals and 40 assists:
Coming back from the dead is Vladimir Tarasenko, who everyone (including the Blues) had written off after shoulder surgery limited his production in the two seasons since hoisting the Stanley Cup. He has responded with his sixth 60-point season.
Center Robert Thomas leads the team with 44 assists, and has 59 points in 59 games:
And finally Pavel Buchnevich, who not only has broken his previous personal-best single-season records for both goals and assists, but he also recently reached the 100 career goal plateau:
Unfortunately it doesn’t stop there. The four players shown above are all above the 50-point plateau; St. Louis has five additional forwards who are past the 40-point mark for the season. They roll three scoring lines every night, and their defense has also chipped in over 30 goals.
Injuries, Illnesses, Additions, & Scratches
St. Louis comes into tonight with the bulk of their core healthy and scheduled to take the ice. Bottom-six forwards Tyler Bozak and Scott Perunovich are both on LTIR; aside from that the only injury is to defenseman Torey Krug who is unavailable tonight due to an upper-body injury suffered in late March.
The goaltender position is suddenly a sticky wicket for St. Louis. After giving three straight starts to Ville Husso, head coach Craig Berube went with erstwhile starter Jordan Binnington against Edmonton on Friday. That proved to be a big mistake: Binnington gave up 4 goals on 13 shots and got the hook at around 13:30 of the first period. So despite this being the fourth of five games in eight days, it’s likely that Husso will be asked to tend goal for tonight’s tilt with Seattle.
For the Kraken, no change in status for any of the walking wounded: winger Jaden Schwartz and defenseman Haydn Fleury are both day-to-day; Brandon Tanev will be out until training camp. The only other adjustment is that defenseman Cale Fleury — leading the Charlotte Checkers’ defensive corps with 33 points — has been recalled and is expected to see action tonight. With the stellar performance of the aforementioned Chris Driedger in the past week, expect him to get the nod against St. Louis. You can follow us on Twitter for game day lineup changes and confirmation of starting goalies.
Odds & Ends
- With the loss to the Vegas Golden Knights last Wednesday, the Kraken were mathematically eliminated from the 2021-22 Stanley Cup Playoffs. I don’t think this news comes as a surprise to anyone, but it’s official now.
- So Seattle missed the playoffs in their first year — how does that compare to other expansion teams? Well, in the history of the NHL Seattle is the 23rd true expansion team — not a merger of two teams, or a team moving from one city to another, or the league merging with another league and taking on some existing teams. So out of those 23 expansion teams, five of them made the playoffs their first season. That’s it: five. There is an important caveat to consider also, in that four of those five teams were minted in 1967. That was the year the league expanded from six teams to twelve, and adopted an eight-team playoff format. So two of those six expansion teams were guaranteed to make the playoffs no matter how lousy they were, and that season each team had a 67% chance to make the playoffs whether they were an expansion team or not.
- If you look exclusively at the so-called “modern era” expansion teams — 1990 and later — only one out of eleven teams made the playoffs their first season in existence: Vegas. So nobody should feel bad about this — not management, not the players or coaches, and not the fans. Seattle has been unfairly compared to the Golden Knights in terms of their first season success (or lack thereof). In reality they’ve simply met expectations for a first-year expansion club.
- And lastly, your Shane Wright Sweepstakes update. Not much movement in the bottom three, as Seattle’s win on Sunday put them a point ahead of both the Arizona Coyotes and the Montreal Canadiens in the overall standings. After tonight’s contest all three teams will have just 12 remaining games this season. The team that finishes dead last gets the best odds to land the #1 overall pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft.