The start of the season didn't go as planned for the St. Louis Blues. The team had high expectations coming into the season and sat in last place in the Western Conference on Jan. 1 with a record of 15-18-4 (34 points).
Since then, though, the Blues have put themselves back into the playoff race and are just three points out of a Wild Card position, and they have at least one game in hand on all six teams battling for the two Wild Card spots in the West.
While there's a lot of work still to do, the Blues have 33 remaining games to get it done, and there are a handful of reasons to be optimistic that the Blues will get into the postseason.
Here are 10 reasons to believe:
1. New year, new Blues
The Blues have improved a lot since the calendar turned to 2019. Since Jan. 1, the Blues are 7-4-1 (15 points). They rank sixth in the League in wins since the start of the year and seventh in points. If the Blues can keep that pace, they should be in good position to close that three-point gap and push themselves into a playoff spot.
2. Impressive play on the road
The Blues will play 19 of their final 33 games away from Enterprise Center. While that might seem daunting, the Blues have actually been one of the League's best road teams over the last two months, posting a record of 7-3-1 since Dec. 7. Their seven road wins are fourth-best in the NHL.
3. Vladimir Tarasenko is heating up
It seems that Vladimir Tarasenko has found his scoring touch again. In his last 10 games, Tarasenko has contributed six goals. In the 27 games before that, Tarasenko had scored just five goals.
Historically, Tarasenko gets hot down the stretch, too. In 163 career games played in February, March and April, Tarasenko has 121 points (64 goals, 57 assists) for a point-per-game average of 0.74.
Expect to see more of this in the near future:
Video: OTT@STL: Tarasenko wires wrister by Anderson
4. Perron keeps rolling
They say the third time's the charm and boy has that been true for Blues' forward David Perron. In his third stint with the team, Perron ranks second on the team in points (35), goals (17) and assists (18). Before an upper-body injury sidelined him for three games before the All-Star break, Perron had strung together a career-best 13-game point streak (six goals, 10 assists), which was the fifth longest in the NHL this season and sixth longest in Blues history.
Perron seems to be building on a career-best season in Vegas, where he posted 50 assists and 66 points with the Golden Knights. He was placed on injured reserve Thursday, but if he can get healthy soon, expect him to stay hot.
5. O'Reilly believes, and he can't be stopped
No matter how you feel about the Blues' season thus far, you can't deny that Ryan O'Reilly has been a big bright spot and has been the Blues' best addition in the offseason. O'Reilly became the first player to record his first 50 points with the Blues in 49 or fewer games since Pierre Turgeon did it in 1996-97. O'Reilly is currenlty on pace for 30 goals and 54 assists (84 points) this season, and all would be career-highs.
On Saturday in Columbus, O'Reilly will look to extend his six-game point streak (two goals, six assists). He ranks second in the NHL with 653 face-off wins and fifth in the League with a 58.5 percent face-off win percentage.
"When we play together, when we are playing for each other, you can see we are a good team," O'Reilly told NHL.com at the All-Star break. "When the forwards invest in the D and the D invest in the forwards and we play quick and we work together, we are confident out there. It is one of those things that is going to get us in the playoffs and I am confident that we will."
6. Depth scoring
While the Blues added a lot of firepower on offense, it has been the depth players that have made big differences. Numerous guys have set career-highs or are already close to doing so this season.
Oskar Sundqvist entered the season with just two career goals. This season, he has 10… Ivan Barbashev has set career highs with eight assists and 14 points… Rookie forwards Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou and Mackenzie MacEachern all recorded their first goals this season and could play bigger roles down the stretch… Carl Gunnarsson has six points (two goals, four assists) in the nine games he's played since returning from injury… Vince Dunn had five goals in 75 games last season. This year, he already has five in just 45 games… Colton Parayko has eight goals, which ranks 11th amongst defensemen in the League and is one shy of his career high from his rookie season.
7. Jaden Schwartz won't stay down for long
Jaden Schwartz has been finding ways to contribute with 18 assists in 36 games, but he's had a tough time finding the back of the net. His low shooting percentage this season isn't due to bad play or lack of shots - in fact, since Dec. 18, Schwartz has played in 18 games and has recorded three or more shots in 14 of them. Entering the season, his career shooting percentage was 13.7 percent.
Expect Schwartz's offensive contributions to come closer to his career average down the stretch.
8. The emergence of Jordan Binnington
Jordan Binnington had just one career NHL appearance before this season, and that was in relief of Brian Elliott in 2016.
Now that he's getting a shot, Binnington has posted a 5-1-1 record with a 1.57 goals-against average and a .936 save-percentage in his first seven career starts, all of which have came in the new year.
His goals-against average and save-percentage are the lowest ever for a Blues goaltender in their first seven career starts.
9. Jake Allen dominates down the stretch
While the Blues are getting great play from Binnington, they also have another guy who has a history of delivering down the stretch. Here is a breakdown of Allen's regular-season career numbers in the months of March and April:
- March: 29-7-5 with a 2.13 goals-against average, a .925 save-percentage and five shutouts
- April: 8-7-0, with a 2.33 goals-against average and a .921 save-percentage
In addition, Allen has been one of the best goalies in the NHL on the road this season. His goals-against average on the road (2.33) ranks fourth in the League, while his road save-percentage (.920) ranks eighth (min. 10 starts).
10. Alex Pietrangelo is returning to form
From Dec. 1-27, Alex Pietrangelo missed 11 games with an upper-body injury. Up to that point, Pietrangelo had just 11 points and a minus-8 rating in 24 games. Since then, he has eight points in 14 games and a plus-2 rating.
He's also generating more chances, average 2.5 shots per game since returning from injury compared to 2.1 before.
Pietrangelo has always played his best hockey down the stretch, posting 76 points (18 goals, 58 assists) in 112 career games in March - his best month in terms of scoring.
While the Blues still have a lot of work to do in the season's second half, the team is poised to get into the postseason and make a run. It won't be easy by any means, but their improved play - both individually and as a team - gives reason to believe the Blues could impress down the stretch.
In the end, it doesn't matter where the Blues sit on Feb. 1, but where they sit on April 7.
This team believes they will be in the postseason. We should, too.