WASHINGTON — Jordan Binnington learned in the past week that sometimes the wait really is worth it.
So getting the night off while Jake Allen was the starting goalie for the St. Louis Blues in a 4-1 win against the Washington Capitals on Monday was no big deal. Binnington is expected to make his fourth NHL start when the Blues visit the New York Islanders at Barclays Center on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; MSG+, FS-MW, NHL.TV).
“It’s nice,” Binnington said Monday. “At the same time, it’s what I’ve wanted. I’m happy I finally get an opportunity. I’m just looking to stay at it and keep going in the right direction.”
Binnington was reflecting on what undoubtedly was the best week of the 25-year-old’s professional career, which ended with him named NHL Second Star of the Week.
It began with Binnington becoming the 35th goalie in NHL history, the second in Blues history (Rich Parent), to get a shutout in his first NHL start, making 25 saves in a 3-0 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan 7. He followed with 28 saves in a 4-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday and 21 saves in a 3-1 win against the Dallas Stars on Saturday.
Binnington has won his past eight starts, three in the NHL and five for San Antonio in the American Hockey League, dating to a 7-3 loss to Texas on Nov. 25. In his last five games for San Antonio, he was 5-0-0 with a 1.38 GAA, .955 save percentage and one shutout.
For the Blues, Binnington has made 74 saves on 76 shots to go 3-0-0 with an 0.67 GAA and a .974 save percentage.
“The team’s been playing well, No. 1,” Binnington said. “It’s been fun. It’s a lot of fun playing up here, playing against stars and really showing your skills on the highest level you can.”
Binnington acknowledged there was a time he wondered whether he’d get this chance. A third-round pick (No. 87) by St. Louis in the 2011 NHL Draft, Binnington played four seasons in the Ontario Hockey League with Owen Sound before playing in the ECHL (40 games with Kalamazoo in 2013-14) and the AHL (164 games over seven seasons).
“That’s where your surroundings come in,” Binnington said. “There’s good people around you that can keep you going in the right direction and believe in yourself. If the opportunity came, you want to be prepared for it.”
Capitals goalie Pheonix Copley was one of those people around Binnington for two seasons with Chicago in the AHL. Copley, who was signed by Washington as an undrafted free agent in 2014, was traded to St. Louis in 2015 and reacquired by Washington in 2017, also had to wait for his NHL opportunity before playing this season as Braden Holtby‘s backup.
As AHL teammates from 2015-17, Copley and Binnington became friends while pushing each other to improve and be ready for whenever they got the call to play in the NHL.
“We’d talk about how it’s a grind and we each have to keep working,” Copley said. “We were both competing with each other in Chicago, but at the same time I think we both understood that having that competition is healthy. … With goalies, there’s only two positions on an NHL club, so you know you really have to be sharp and make sure you’re getting better every day to make sure you’re going to get the opportunity.”
Binnington’s NHL debut was a relief appearance in a 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 14, 2016 (one goal on four shots over 12:47). It took nearly two years before he made it back to the NHL for two relief appearances this season, against the Calgary Flames on Dec. 16 and against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 29, before being returned to San Antonio on Dec 30.
He was called up again by St. Louis on Jan. 5 before making his first NHL start at Philadelphia two days later.
“With a little bit of pressure comes opportunity, right?” Binnington said. “You try to do your best to feel confident and prepared for the moment, so you just work hard off the ice and on the ice in practice, and when the moment finally comes, hopefully you’re prepared.”
After backup Chad Johnson was waived by St. Louis on Dec. 10, Binnington has provided some stability while the Blues attempt to climb back into Stanley Cup Playoff contention.
“If you didn’t tell us it was his first three starts, you wouldn’t know any better,” St. Louis defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. “The first game in Philadelphia, he was just real confident. He made some good saves early and probably settled in and felt some confidence from that, but he’s just been real clean. He doesn’t leave stuff around the net. He’s made some big saves, but he’s made all the ones you’re supposed to, and he’s made them look pretty easy.”
At 20-20-4, the Blues are three points behind four teams for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference.
“I think it’s been going well so far,” Binnington said. “It’s a good group of guys up here. It really is. We’ve got some great talent, so hopefully we can put it together and just continue to be going in the right direction and make a run at the playoffs.”