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Blues continue to dominate NHL despite being the hunted

www.latimes.com
6 min read
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A year after arguably the most remarkable in-season turnaround in NHL history, the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues continue to steam over opponents.
At this time last year the St. Louis Blues were nearing rock bottom. They dropped to last overall after games played on Jan. 2 and seemed hopelessly out of playoff contention, much less Stanley Cup contention, in a league where the standings tend to change little after Thanksgiving.

They weren't a bad team, but they lacked direction and defensive structure, and replacing Mike Yeo with interim coach Craig Berube in November didn't produce immediate results.

They came around gradually, as they figured out how to best balance their size and skill and as Jordan Binnington emerged as a franchise goaltender. Their unlikely worst-to-first journey ended in June with the franchise's first championship, followed by a three-year contract for Berube that erased "interim" from his title.

Winning the Stanley Cup takes such a deep physical and emotional toll that winners often suffer a Cup hangover and rarely repeat: The Pittsburgh Penguins' wins in 2016 and 2017 made them the first back-to-back champions since the Detroit Red Wings of 1997 and 1998.

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The Blues are showing signs they can repeat — and do it without having to rise from the depths again.

Despite losing top goal scorer Vladimir Tarasenko to shoulder surgery in late October, the Blues have built a seven-game winning streak and own the top spot in the Western Conference.

Minus Tarasenko, who isn't expected back before late March, several players have stepped up: Brayden Schenn (17 goals) has matched the total he scored in 72 games last season, and Jaden Schwartz (11 goals) has as many as he scored in 69 games last season. David Perron, who has four game-winners among his 16 goals and team-leading 39 points, is on pace to exceed last season's 23 goals and 46 points.

As a team, the Blues ranked fifth in power play and penalty killing and were fourth in goals-against through Friday's games.

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"It's crazy what a little bit of winning and confidence will do for a hockey team, and we're…
Helene Elliott
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