Each Wednesday throughout the regular season, Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the teams competing in the NBCSN "Wednesday Night Hockey" game in his Weekes on the Web blog.
The St. Louis Blues have had a remarkable turnaround going from last place in the Western Conference standings on Jan. 2 to clinching a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and two points out of the Central Division lead.
The Chicago Blackhawks will miss the playoffs for the second straight season but could have a hand in where their division rivals finish in the standings. I expect a great matchup when St. Louis (43-28-8) visits Chicago (34-33-12) at United Center on "Wednesday Night Hockey" (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVAS).
Here's my breakdown of the game:
Pluses: Jordan Binnington was named the NHL Rookie of the Month for March and it was just another accolade for the goalie, who's won the award two months in a row and had an excellent season. He's 22-5-1 with a 1.85 goals-against average, .928 save percentage and five shutouts. He's confident, patient and has been dominant since January. I'm blown away by his game right now.
Ryan O'Reilly has been the most consistent St. Louis Blues player right from the outset of the season, offensively and defensively. The veteran center leads the team with 74 points (27 goals, 47 assists) and is plus-23. O'Reilly has also won more than 57 percent of his face-offs and plays a 200-foot-game in all situations.
Craig Berube has turned this team around. He's gotten the most out of everybody in the group since taking over as coach for Mike Yeo on Nov. 19. The Blues have gone 36-19-5 since he took over and I think he needs to be a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year.
Minuses: They didn't start the season on time. St. Louis, who was a popular pick to win the Stanley Cup after acquiring O'Reilly in the offseason, won two of its first nine games and nine of its first 26. It took them a while to find their identity and commit to defense. Once they did those things, the turned their season around. Those points lost early in the season could come back to haunt them now as far as winning the division and having home ice in the first round are concerned.
The Blues don't really have a game breaker that can take a game over like the Blackhawks have in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Vladimir Tarasenko has 31 goals, but he's gotten most of them in spurts.
Video: COL@STL: Tarasenko strikes quickly in 3rd to pad lead
Pluses: Patrick Kane has had a career year with 105 points (41 goals, 64 assists), one point from his NHL high set in 2015-16 when he won the Hart Trophy as League MVP. He should be up for the award again this season and is a big reason the Blackhawks remained in the playoff race as long as they did.
Captain Jonathan Toews set an NHL career high with 78 points this season and has tied his high with 34 goals. Toews has had a resurgent season after 52 points last season, his fewest in a full NHL season.
Young players like Alex DeBrincat (41 goals), Dylan Strome (48 points in 55 games) and Eric Gustafsson (59 points in 76 games) have shown what they can do. DeBrincat had a good season last year but Strome and Gustafsson have shown they belong in the Blackhawks' future plans.
Minuses: The injury to Corey Crawford derailed their season. He has always been a huge part of their success and when the goalie missed two months because of a concussion, Chicago really struggled, even though Cam Ward and Collin Delia filled in admirably.
They had two eight-game losing streaks before the calendar turned to 2019 including one in which they lost eight straight in regulation. Getting zero points over a span of eight games makes it extremely difficult to make the playoffs, and they were never able to recover from that.
Video: WPG@CHI: Toews sets new personal mark with PPG
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Goalie matchup between Binnington and Crawford
2. Kane and Toews against the Blues defense
3. Young players on each team could make impact