The St. Louis Blues have just a week and a half left to play in the regular season, and right now, things look fairly good. The team is sitting in seventh in the Western Conference but is only three points out of the No. 4 seed.
With six games in the next 10 days, five of them at home, the Blues are primed to make a playoff push. They are going to want to get the fourth spot and leave the Red Wings and Blue Jackets behind them.
It won't be easy, but the Blues have what it takes to make the push to the No. 4 seed. These are my five keys to making the playoff push.
Playing well at home is going to be imperative to building momentum for the playoffs. Having five of the last six games at home, the Blues cannot afford to drop the majority of those games.
On the season, the Blues have not played relatively well at home. The Blues are just 10-8-1 at home, barely above .500. Compared to last season, when the Blues went 30-6-5. The Blues were dominant at home, and this season has been less than that.
If the Blues want to have success late in the season and continue that into the playoffs, they are going to have to play at home at the level they did last season. Having fans cheering you on gives the home team an edge, especially during the playoffs. The Blues have to use that to their advantage to win.
The Blues have to play well at home, no questions asked. Building momentum and carrying it into the playoffs, hopefully with a No. 4 seed, is a must.
Another aspect of the Blues' play needs to improve. This one is offensive production.
The Blues have shown flashes of brilliance this season, showcased by the Blues' statement season opener, defeating the Red Wings 6-0. The Blues have the ability to put the pucks in the net, but they are experiencing a scoring drought again.
During the Blues' six-game winning streak, they averaged 2.3 goals a game and only 1.3 goals in the last three games of that winning streak. Overall, the Blues average 2.6 goals a game, which is good for 17th in the NHL. It's not terrible, but it needs to get better.
The Blues have a lot of potential. David Backes, T.J. Oshie, David Perron, Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Tarasenko—all of them have the offensive capabilities to put the puck in the net numerous times. It's just not happening. The good news is this is a problem the Blues can fix relatively easily.
The Blues need to continue to get shots to the net, because they will eventually get the puck into the net. If the Blues stay patience and look for their chances, they will get the goals. And once they do, the Blues will be very good.
Finally, it looks like Brian Elliott is starting to return to last season's form. He's not all the way there, but he's made some vast improvements.
Elliott returned from his stint in Peoria with two wins and, more importantly, his confidence. He went into relief for Jaroslav Halak in the 4-1 victory against Minnesota on April 1 and hasn't looked back.
Since that game, Elliott has gone 7-1. His save percentage has increased to .898 and his goals-against average has dropped to 2.52. While it's still not as good as Halak's or Allen's, or anywhere near his own mark last season, Elliott has been playing extremely well.
Fixing a lack of scoring is easy, but fixing goaltending problems is a lot more difficult. The Blues are sitting in great shape with Elliott finally coming back into form. He should continue his strong play, and riding it, the Blues will see success in the last few games of the season and the playoffs.
While the Blues' special teams play has been pretty good this season, the Blues could stand to see some improvement. This is especially the case for the power play.
Right now, the Blues have a very passive power play. This has always been the case in St. Louis, and it frustrates fans to no end. In order to bolster the offense, the team needs to take shots on the power play.
The Blues like to work the puck below the net, cycle it, work it up to the point and generally look for the perfect pass for the perfect goal. This rarely happens in hockey. Let guys like Alex Pietrangelo or Kevin Shattenkirk let it rip from the point and get bodies to the front of the net. With big forwards such as Berglund or Backes, they should be screening the goaltender and crashing the net.
There are a lot more garbage goals scored in hockey than the Datsyukian. The Blues need to stop looking for the perfect pass. Let the D-men or high slot forwards pull the trigger and crash the net. If the Blues can get these garbage goals, they will win the majority of the games they play.
The Blues thrive in physical games. The roster is full of big-body guys who know how to throw big checks, with a few small, speedy guys who can make other guys look like pylons.
The last two games on the Blues' schedule have been physical, and they have been some of the team's best games of the year. Even with the loss against Chicago, the Blues came out with intensity and played well.
Against the Vancouver Canucks, the Blues fought tooth and nail, and when they went down a goal, they turned it up another notch. The Blues were able to battle back, get the goal and then get the second point in the shootout.
Whoever the Blues play in the playoffs, there will be some bad blood. If the Blues can bring intensity and physical play to the ice, they will be able to control play. They can move bodies in front of both nets and make the opponents uncomfortable to hold onto the puck.
The Blues are a team that plays a very good physical game and uses it to their advantage. They need to continue it throughout the rest of the season and the playoffs.
Pair that with the other keys to the playoff push, and the Blues could be one of the hottest and most complete teams in the playoffs.