Dear Doug: A letter to Blues GM Doug Armstrong

Vladimir Tarasenko only needed 20 seconds to score in overtime to break a 1-1 tie and get the Blues a 2-1 win over the Maple Leafs.

Dear Doug,

Sorry to hear that you got snowed in. Boston is good for the Storm of the Century two or three times every winter. That’s the problem for a GM who wants to be everywhere. Sometimes you wind up not being able to get anywhere. Would have been good for you to be back at the ACC. Last time you were there, that would be the finals of the World Cup. They trusted you with putting together a lineup of Canada’s best and they got the gold. Good on you. No shots of you in the St. Louis exec box Thursday night.

Of course I didn’t mind checking in on your team for you. Definitely looked forward to scoping out your Blues who looked good shutting out the Flyers in Philly 2-0 on the first stop of a five-game road trip and even better thumping the Senators 6-0 in Ottawa on Tuesday night. They didn’t do quite the comprehensive job in Toronto but still got two points, a 2-1 win with Vladimir Tarasenko whipping the puck past Frederik Andersen 20 seconds into OT.

For 39 minutes, give or take, it was men vs. boys. Patrik Berglund beat Andersen four minutes in and it looked like that would be all your team would need, I tell you truly. Men vs. boys. Shots were 29-11 for your crew late in the second period.

Doug, if your guys play that way the rest of the season you won’t be worrying about getting bumped out of a wild-card slot by Calgary and L.A. There might be no catching Minnesota and Chicago in the Central but your guys can chase down Nashville for third place, which ain’t hay. And when you get in the playoffs, who knows? You’ve had so many good teams in St. Louis who have been hard done by in the spring—maybe this is the year you get some bounces.

Yeah, people asked about the coaching switch. I get why it was hard to let Ken Hitchcock go last week. It wasn’t just that your ties with him go back to the Cup winning team in Big D in ‘99, when he was behind the bench and you were Bob Gainey’s right-hand man. It was hard because of merit–since you hired him, no team has racked up more points in the regular season than his Blues teams. But that’s just math. I understand why you had to bring in Mike Yeo to take over. Hitch said that he wanted to walk away after this season and unfortunately it seemed that the players overheard him. The results with Hitch this year weren’t up there with the talent that was rolling over the boards, at least not during a mid-season swoon. Like you told me, coaches are usually better the second time ‘round and Mike Yeo learned a lot putting in time with the Wild. And he’s what, half Hitch’s age? You felt like your team was in transition, one generation of vets giving way to the Tarasenko-Pietrangelo-Schwartz axis, and they needed to hear a younger voice.

You told me that the guys who said goaltending cost Hitch his job had it wrong—or at least didn’t get the whole story. They just looked at Jake Allen’s numbers (2.74 goals-against average and .900 save percentage in 39 games going into the tilt with the Leafs) and said, bang, there you go. But you told me, “The scoring chances were supposedly even but we were giving up glorious chances and we were getting marginal chances.” You didn’t want to see guys “cheating on offence,” you said. And against the Leafs, your Blues delivered on that count. They sacrificed a bit of offence to choke down Toronto’s skilled kids—through the first couple of periods I gave up counting how many two-on-three and two-on-four rushes the Leafs had. But then late in the second, the first time the Leafs had numbers, Morgan Rielly joins the rush and it’s in the back of the net. In fairness Allen didn’t have much of a chance on Rielly’s goal late in the second. And he was pretty large in the first minute of the third period with game tied at one and the Leafs surging.

Allen made clutch saves on Auston Matthews from the dot and William Nylander standing all alone at the edge of the crease. Okay, a puck got by him in the dying seconds of regulation but the zebras said a whistle was blown and the play was dead. Maybe that’s one of the breaks you’re owed.

Doug, I’m sure you wouldn’t be altogether surprised that your team faded a bit. Bound to happen when you lose a first-line centre, Paul Stastny, to injury 10 shifts into the game. Short bench, Yeo having to pick line combos out of thin air. Outshot 14-8 in the third. Outchanced down the stretch. Your guys showed a lot of character just to get it to overtime.

And then there’s the Tarasenko kid. His 26th of the year and as soon as it was on his stick in the third you knew he was going to bury it. You can dine out on drafting him for a long time.

Your team has three wins in four games with Yeo. Your team has given up one goal in 180:20 on this road trip through the Eastern Conference. You talked about your team’s “depth of character,” the idea that if they had any they’d respond to the coaching switch and they’d help out Allen some. Maybe the emotional lift from the coaching change but that’s almost bound to wane a bit in coming weeks. Then it will be the degree to which they take Yeo’s message to heart. They seemed to last night.

Hope you were able to brave the blizzard and get some chowder.

Regards,

GJ