How the defending champion Blues have survived losing Tarasenko

David Perron scored eight seconds in OT to lift the St. Louis Blues over the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3.

The Blues’ 2018-19 story is a league-wide folk tale at this point. The particulars are well-trodden and the impact well-established. But six months after climbing back from the league basement, St. Louis is midway through writing a new story of resilience.

With the first third of the season in the books, the Blues’ 2019-20 campaign has on the surface seemed the opposite of last season’s start, with the club currently ranking as the best in the Western Conference. But there’s one specific aspect of that dominant opening segment that underlines just how impressive that start’s really been — they’ve done it all without Vladimir Tarasenko.

The veteran sniper has been sidelined since October, when it was announced an injury suffered against the Los Angeles Kings would require shoulder surgery, leaving Tarasenko out of the mix for five months.

Two months in, the club seems no worse for wear.

Surviving without the focal point of your offence is no small feat — and make no mistake, that is Tarasenko’s role in St. Louis. While Jordan Binnington‘s made waves in the cage and the team’s blue-line stalwarts have held down the fort, No. 91 has led the team in goals for the past five seasons. The last time he didn’t, in 2013-14, he missed 18 games with a hand injury.

It’s for that reason that his $7.5 million cap hit ranks as the highest on the team, tied with Ryan O’Reilly, whose own cap number was determined by Buffalo when he signed the deal in 2015 while still with the Sabres.

So how has St. Louis made due without their star winger? It’s not as if they have the option Pittsburgh does in Sidney Crosby’s absence, with no Evgeni Malkin taking the ice in blue and yellow. A few factors have contributed:

Perron piling up points at career-best pace

At this point, it seems David Perron’s in a full-on career renaissance.

A quick recap: Following his banner year in Edmonton back in 2013-14 — a 28-goal, 47-point effort — Perron saw his play dip during stints in Pittsburgh, Anaheim and a brief second trip back to St. Louis. Then came a whirlwind season in Vegas — added to the Golden Knights via the 2017 Expansion Draft, Perron posted a career-high 66 points, playing a pivotal role during the club’s march to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season.

He returned to the Blues last year for stint No. 3 in St. Louis, posting an impressive 23 goals and 46 points through just 57 games — a pace that equates to 33 goals and 66 points over a full 82-game season.

And yet, impressive as that production has been, Perron’s hit an even higher level so far in 2019-20, scoring at a career-best pace while the Blues need it most. Through 35 games, the 31-year-old’s scored at nearly a point-per-game clip, amassing a team-leading 33 points to go along with his team-high 15 goals.

For context, that sum leaves Perron tied with Alex Ovechkin for 20th in league scoring, while his 15 tallies are good for 15th in the league.

Defence and goaltending corps continue to stifle opposition

The Blues have made their name as one of the toughest defensive teams in the league, consistently clamping down on the opposition. Over the past decade, only two clubs have allowed fewer goals-against per game than the Blues, while only one has allowed fewer shots-against per game.

They’ve been no different in 2019-20 — through 35 games the club’s among the top 10 teams in the league in terms of limiting shots-against per game, while netminders Jordan Binnington and Jake Allen have helped the club rank sixth-best league-wide in terms of limiting goals-against per game.

Binnington has shone in particular, showing he’s not falling back to earth just yet. The 26-year-old has the third-best save percentage in the league (.920) among netminders who’ve carried the most mail for their teams so far (i.e. those who have appeared in at least 25 games thus far).

Backup Allen has been no less impressive, however. While he’s only gotten into 10 games so far, the 29-year-old has a sterling .925 save percentage to his name, along with a shutout over the Blackhawks.

Blues have a deep well of resilience to pull from

There’s no question the season has been a grind for the club offensively since Tarasenko went down. But the club’s made due, calling on young guns like Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou to check in and begin building their names in St. Louis, while the team as a whole has worked to remind the league why they earned those Stanley Cup rings.

Much like their 2018-19 season as a whole, the Blues have remained kings of the comeback — of their 21 wins so far this season, a league-leading 13 of them have been comeback affairs.

While the team ranks among the middle of the pack in first- and second-period goals, they have the eighth-most third-period tallies so far, along with the second-most overtime goals. Meanwhile, they rank among the best in the league at clamping down in the third period, allowing the seventh-fewest third-period goals among all clubs so far.

That feat’s even more impressive given they don’t have their most potent offensive weapon at their disposal. But with Tarasenko sidelined, Perron’s carried the load in regards to the comeback efforts. He sits tied for the league lead with three overtime markers on the season already, and five game-winners as a whole — already a career-high.

Aside from Perron, the Blues have shared the game-winning load evenly, as O’Reilly, Jaden Schwartz, Alex Pietrangelo, and Thomas all have two apiece.

The Blues will get a stiff test to their conservative approach Wednesday when they meet Edmonton at the Enterprise Center, confronting the game’s most dominant offensive duo at the moment in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. St. Louis earned a 5-2 win over the Oilers when the clubs faced each other in early November (though with two empty-netters in the final minute, it was essentially a 3-2 victory).

Perron and Co. enter Wednesday night riding a three-game win streak, while No. 97 and the Oilers come to town with just one win in their past five.

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