Here are the highlights from our weekly chat with Post-Dispatch readers.
Q: I marvel at the Blues’ position as one of the top-five scoring teams in the league with not one player anywhere among the league's scoring leaders. Talk about balance among the top three lines. How are they getting it done?
A: Blues scoring leader Jordan Kyrou is, at the moment, tied for 57th in the league in goals. It's impressive what the Blues have done with what may end up being nine 20-goal scorers. I'm sure Doug Armstrong or Craig Berube wouldn't mind someone being in the top 10. Their balance up top has made it hard for opponents to shut down their top line, because really the first three are all about the same.
Q: Are the Blues the best 40-minute team in the NHL?
A: No, I'd guess that a lot of teams can handle the Blues over 40 minutes. The question for the Blues would be, which 40 minutes would it be, anyway? There was a while where the Blues were one of the best second-period teams. That has been less and less the case lately, as they've had some brutal ones. And first periods haven't always been good. Same with the thirds. It's seldom the Blues put together three shining periods. Even when the Blues are at their best, I don't think they are as good as Carolina or Colorado or Florida or Calgary, over 20 or 40 or 60 minutes.
Q: I am still hearing Ben Chiarot from Montreal is a trade. I don't see Doug Armstrong trading for him unless he signs an extension. Army isn’t the type to give up a first-round pick and other assets for a two-month rental. Do you agree?
A: Giving up a No. 1 pick and other assets for Chiarot would be a mistake. Chariot is having a bad year, and I don't think it's because he's on a bad team. His isolated numbers, which factor in the play of his teammates, do not look good. Their defense is much better with him off the ice than on it, by a lot. If the Blues gave up any more than a mid-round draft pick, or they possess some special sauce that will revive Chariot's season, I don't think it's a good move.
But the other thing is, the Blues have to trade someone to make it happen. They don't have the space for someone like Chiarot. Even if they put Tyler Bozak on long-term injured reserve, that would not create the space for Chiarot's $3.5 million contract, even if the Canadiens kept half his salary. To make it work, the Blues have to trade someone who makes more than $2 million. A Marco Scandella for Chiarot makes little or no sense from the Canadiens' point of view, and not a whole lot from the Blues’ side either. And I don't think trading an asset like Ivan Barbashev or Oskar Sundqvist for a rental would make any sense either.
This is going to be the Blues' challenge at the deadline. Unless someone wants Scandella, any deal will be tough to make.
Q: Is Ken Hitchcock still affiliated with the Blues? If so, in what capacity?
A: Ken Hitchcock is retired and living in Palm Springs, but he carries the title of coaching consultant with the Blues. He is available as a sounding board for the coaching staff, though Craig Berube said he already talked to him anyway on a regular basis, so not much had changed. I haven't seen Hitchcock in St. Louis in a while, but when the Blues are playing in Southern California or Arizona, he has made an appearance.
Q: Since the Blues called up Alexei Toropchenko and Mackenzie MacEachern, the fourth line has had a noticeable impact, adding a sandpaper element missing most of the season. … Does the team need to play lower-skill guys who are more willing to hit rather than rolling four lines that are looking to score?
A: The Blues have some players who are goal-scorersand grit. David Perron is certainly a pest, and Brayden Schenn will drop the gloves when needed. Oskar Sundqvist is regarded as maybe too aggressive in some quarters of the league. So they can put an aggressive guy on just about every line. Robert Thomas and Pavel Buchnevich could be back as early as Thursday, and if not then, not long after, and that would probably kick Sundqvist down to the fourth line.
I think Craig Berube would be very happy with Sundqvist, MacEachern and Toropchenko on the fourth line (I don't know the last time I've seen Berube as excited about as player as he is about Toropchenko), but it would be a more traditional fourth line rather than like the one they had during the championship season. I tend to value goals over grit, but I think it's hard to deny that the fourth line is having an impact in recent games. I get the distinct impression that Berube would like to stick with that group going forward. … And that group has created some scoring chances by keeping the puck in the opponent's zone.
Q: Marco Scandella went from being a solid No. 4 defenseman to a defensive liability on every shift. His errors are not lack of talent or physical ability as much as they mental mistakes. … I'm not sure I have a question other than, how can a veteran player lose his hockey sense overnight?
A: I didn't see enough of Scandella when he was in Buffalo to give a definitive answer, but the numbers point to him not playing well when he was there. His play moved back up in Montreal and then was excellent when he first got to St. Louis, which led to his contract extension, which has led us to today. So it may not be overnight. This may have been building for a while, other than the short period when his play for whatever reason got better, and that coincided with his arrival with the Blues. I was mentioning to Jim Thomas the other day that Scandella is kind of in the same spot as Zach Sanford and Jake Allen were at points in their Blues' careers. It wasn't that they made a whole lot of mistakes, it's that when they made one, the puck was in the back of the net, which made them look that much worse. Scandella is 32, a point where a player's career seldom gets better.
Q: How worried should fans in Las Vegas be about the Knights’ lackluster play? Is this just another cautionary tale of what happens when a team loads up on stars at the expense of better depth?
A: We talked about this on the podcast today — about the Golden Knights' fixation with the next shiny object to come along, even if there's no cap room to put them. I suspect that there are a lot of people, both fans and front-office types, who have a bit of a smile about the Knights' struggles. Injuries are a problem, and their salary cap situation is a mess and isn't going to be better. I saw some numbers about how a lot of the difference between Vegas and Seattle (as expansion start-ups) is that Vegas got great play out of Marc-Andre Fleury in goal and Seattle hasn't gotten great play out of Philipp Grubauer in goal. Right now, Vegas isn't a playoff team, and it's going to be tough for them to turn things around. They are on the down escalator.
Q: Doug Armstrong should lock up Ville Husso with a good extension. Then either Husso or Binnington could be traded in the offseason or next season when Binnington does not have full no-trade protection. Wouldn’t that be the smart play?
A: Husso is playing well. The team has been expecting this for years. Trading Binnington is something that could happen, but right now Husso has had less than one good season in the NHL. It might be a bit early to go all-in on him.
Q: Coaches say every game matters. But some wins matter more than others. Considering the standings and their string of poor play, was Saturday's win over Nashville the Blues' biggest victory of the season?
A: As a four-point game against a division rival, the Blues’ win over the Predators does carry extra weight. But if it's the biggest win, it's the biggestso far. Over the final six weeks of the season, there will be two games against Minnesota and another with Nashville that could easily eclipse it in importance. The overtime win over Florida on Dec. 7, or the shootout win over Tampa on Nov. 30, were at the time very big wins, coming against two of the top teams in the league at a time when the Blues weren't playing well and had a bunch of players out.0 comments
Tom Timmermann is a Blues beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
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