The St. Louis Blues are still firmly in the grace period that comes with championship afterglow.
The last time we had a full 82, the Blues won their first Stanley Cup, hanging the only skin on the wall for a franchise that’s been very good for most of its nearly 55 years in the league.
But while it has barely been a minute since the glory days of Gloria providing the soundtrack for St. Louis’s 2019 title, the Blues have absorbed some body blows the past couple seasons. And, as 32 Thoughts: The Podcast touched on last week, there was an unmistakable sense things were growing stale in Missouri.
Given that, maybe the most invigorating thing about the team’s 4-0-0 start is that young and fresh faces are in the centre of the frame. That was certainly the case on Saturday night as -- after three straight road wins to kick off the campaign -- St. Louis surged past the Los Angeles Kings in its home opener with a 7-3 victory.
Yes, the victory was keyed by a hat trick from David Perron -- the man who keeps finding his way back to St. Louis after being drafted 26th overall by the club in 2007 -- but it was also highlighted by Jake Neighbours notching his first NHL goal and Ivan Barbashev scoring a wicked shorthanded backhander to give the Blues a 2-1 lead late in the first.
Like Perron, the 19-year-old Neighbours is a 26th overall pick and he’s starting to take on the feel of a late first-round steal. Barbashev, meanwhile, has four points on the year and is part of a group of 25-and-under Blues who look like they’re taking the next step. That class is surely headed by 23-year-old Jordan Kyrou, who leads St. Louis in scoring with eight points. Also, Robert Thomas, 22, is registering a point-per-game through four contests and has seen his average ice time spike by almost three minutes per night.
Of course, mainstays like Perron, Ryan O’Reilly and Colton Parayko remain towing figures on this club. It’s those veterans -- along with goalie Jordan Binnington -- who likely felt the most pressure in the past couple of years as St. Louis made consecutive first-round playoff exits in ’20 and ’21, sandwiched around captain Alex Pietrangelo leaving town as a UFA 12 months ago for the Vegas Golden Knights.
Now, that core crew is receiving major assistance from the next generation of Blues. And while it’s a little early to break into song, there sure seems to be a new type of harmony in St. Louis.
• It’s bad enough to not have a win six games into the season, but for the Chicago Blackhawks to have never held a lead in one contest through a week-and-a-half of hockey is truly stunning. Midway through Sunday’s 6-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago was down 4-1. That represents the third time this season that the Hawks have found themselves trailing by three or four goals before a game is even half over.
Aside from the axe falling on coach Jeremy Colliton -- and, regardless of what anyone is saying, things have to change fast for that not to happen -- what’s the move here? Chicago signalled it was all in on getting back to the playoffs by dealing for Seth Jones and signing him to a monster deal, to say nothing of acquiring 36-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury and his $7-million cap hit. The only other winless squad in the league is the Arizona Coyotes, who might as well have “tanking for No. 1!” tattooed on their forehead.
With Patrick Kane on the sidelines right now due to COVID-19 protocol, this is clearly the start from hell for the Blackhawks. Do they have any shot at stopping it from becoming the season from hell?
• Frederik Andersen has a history of playing flat coming out of the gate, but the 32-year-old has wasted no time endearing himself to his new teammates in Carolina. Andersen stopped 28 shots on Saturday as the Canes cruised past the Blue Jackets 5-1 in Columbus. The big Dane has played every second for a team with a perfect 4-0-0 record this year and Andersen’s .956 five-on-five save percentage is the fifth-best mark in the league among tenders who’ve seen at least 150 minutes of action.
Assuming he gets the next start, Andersen now has a chance to add to the angst of his old team as the Toronto Maple Leafs -- who surrendered 12 goals in two weekend games — visit Raleigh on Monday night.
Let’s see how Frederik Andersen is doing in Carolina pic.twitter.com/40xVkRxQ9C
— Drew Livingstone (@ProducerDrew_) October 24, 2021
• In addition to Perron’s hat trick on Saturday, three other guys bagged three-goal games on the weekend. Six games into his Montreal Canadiens career, francophone Mathieu Perreault set the Bell Centre on fire Saturday night with his three goals; Detroit’s Lucas Raymond became the first Wings rookie in 32 years to register a hatty on Sunday as he now leads all freshmen with seven points; and Elias Lindholm -- who has found the back of the net in each of Calgary’s four outings -- is now tied for the NHL goal-scoring lead after his trio of tallies versus the Capitals on Saturday.
In 374 games with the Hurricanes, Lindholm scored at roughly a 14-goal pace. In 211 contests with the Flames, he’s scoring at a 31-goal clip.
With their first home game in the books -- yeah, a loss, but whatever -- it feels like the Seattle Kraken are officially part of the NHL family. A huge high-five to ownership, management, the players and fans -- especially those among the sell-out crowd who wore Kraken balaclavas.
Red and White Power Rankings
1. Edmonton Oilers (5-0-0): Two goals for the new guy, Zach Hyman, on Friday night, as the big free agent acquisition now has five tallies in the same number of games.
2. Vancouver Canucks (3-2-1): The Canucks opened with six straight away from home and closed out the trip with consecutive wins, including spoiling the party for their newest rivals in Seattle on Saturday. Not bad at all.
3. Winnipeg Jets (2-2-1): After a winless roadie to start the season, a Jets squad playing without Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele (COVID protocol) have scored 10 goals over two home games, including Saturday’s 6-4 victory against Nashville.
4. Calgary Flames (2-1-1): Johnny Gaudreau registered his 500th NHL point on Saturday and backup goalie Dan “Darth” Vladar picked up his first win as a Flame.
5. Ottawa Senators (2-3-0): Tough L for the Sens on Saturday, as starter Matt Murray left with an injury and his replacement, Anton Forsberg, surrendered two late goals on three shots, allowing the New York Rangers to snatch a 3-2 win.
6. Toronto Maple Leafs (2-3-1): One point (and zero goals) in six games is definitely not the way Mitch Marner wanted to kick off this critical season.
7. Montreal Canadiens (1-5-0): The Habs got off the schneid on Saturday with a 5-1 win over Detroit. Maybe the upcoming four-game road trip down the west coast is exactly what this team needs?
The Week Ahead
• 0’fer meets spotless as the winless Arizona Coyotes face the undefeated Florida Panthers on Monday. Carolina and St. Louis will also put perfect records on the line the same night, while the other team without an L on its sheet -- the Edmonton Oilers -- aren’t back in action until they host Philly on Wednesday night.
• The 1-4-0 Golden Knights visit the 2-3-0 Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday in a re-match of their second-round playoff series from last spring. Between Nathan MacKinnon being out due to COVID protocol and the Knights losing twin towers Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty to early-season injuries, it’s been a bit of a miserable start for both presumed Western Conference powers.