There’s a big card of NHL hockey for Thursday and we’ll look at a Western Conference game between the St. Louis Blues and Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes are playing reasonably well this season and are just four points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. It’s hard to remember the last time that statement was true this late in the season. They’ve got a tough road ahead since there’s not a lot of ‘pretenders’ ahead of them in the standings.
One team that’s ahead of them is the St. Louis Blues who all of a sudden are the hottest team in the NHL. In early December, St. Louis was 10-14-4 and looked to be going nowhere. Jake Allen wasn’t playing particularly well in net but since the Blues had no other good options they were wearing him out. Allen has always been a ‘workhorse’ goalie but at one point he started 14 straight games and 16 of 17. Now Allen might very well be out of the starting job for good.
The reason for that–and a major reason for the Blues’ recent reversal in form–is the play of rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington who has taken over the starting job from veteran Jake Allen. The way Binnington is playing there’s a good chance that Allen will be playing hockey in another city next year. Binnington enters this game with a record of 10-1-1, a 1.82 goals against average and a 0.927 save percentage. He got his second career shutout one week ago to the day–a very impressive 1-0 victory over Tampa Bay. Often young goaltenders hit a ‘wall’ as they’re not used to the workload of playing in the NHL. Not Binnington–at least not so far. Binnington has started eight of the Blues last nine games and 12 of the Blues’ last sixteen games.
St. Louis’ recent performance largely mirror’s Binnington’s. Since they found themselves at 10-14-4 on December 9 they’ve gone 18-8-1. They’ll enter this game on a seven game winning streak and winners of 14 of their last 19 games. St. Louis’ statistical profile doesn’t accurately convey how well they’ve been playing. Even with their first half struggles, the Blues have been solid on the road all season (14-9-3) while Arizona has actually been better on the road than at the Gila River Arena where they’re 10-13-3.
Arizona is on a two game winning streak having broken a five game losing streak they incurred primarily on a brutal road trip. The Coyotes lost games at Montreal, San Jose, Dallas and Nashville and then at home to Columbus. They’ve since beaten Dallas and won at Vegas. The Blues have a big game coming up on Sunday at Minnesota but with a game on Saturday at flatlining Colorado (losers of 8 straight) there’s not a strong ‘lookahead’ scenario. Oddly enough, Arizona has dominated the Blues in recent meetings winning three straight head to head by a combined margin of 17-3. That should change tonight–injuries are starting to take their toll on the Coyotes lineup and it’s tough to see them doing anything to slow down the St. Louis Blues freight train.