Having played 31 of 48 games in this abbreviated NHL season, the St. Louis Blues have shown the ability to compete with the Western Conference's top teams.
However, the Blues (17-12-2) have also shown a maddening inconsistency that was rarely visible last season after Ken Hitchcock took over as head coach.
Playing with confidence at home has been lacking as the Blues are 8-5-1 at Scottrade Center after skating to a 30-6-5 record there a year ago.
They began Monday tied for sixth place in the conference standings with defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles at 36 points.
The Blues are just two points out of fourth place, but need to continue finding victories with 12 Western Conference teams at 30 points or more.
Here are four areas where decisive moves before the April 3 trade deadline could enhance the Blues' chances:
1. The goalie dilemma: Rookie goalie Jake Allen (8-2, 2.26 goals-against average, .915 save percentage) took advantage of an injury to starter Jaroslav Halak and the ineffectiveness of backup Brian Elliott.
Allen's stats are clearly better and the team has played better of late when he's been in goal. Halak (6-4-1, 2.23 goals-against, .887 save percentage) does have three shutouts, including one Saturday night against Edmonton, the Blues' next opponent on Tuesday.
But Halak's save percentage has dropped significantly over last season and he allowed a suspect goal for Calgary's game-winner on Sunday.
The move: Give Allen more starts and hope Halak returns to form.
2. Trade possibilities: Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong works way under the radar and has never shied away from making bold moves involving top-level personnel. With the Blues' hands tied a bit because of payroll restrictions, does Armstrong have a move or two up his sleeve that could fill holes and also make this team a better playoff contender?
The Dallas Stars may be dangling star forward Loui Eriksson or veteran center Derek Roy. The Blues would like help on defense, but Phoenix defenseman Keith Yandle comes with an expensive price tag at $5.25 million per season, as does Calgary's Jay Bouwmeester ($6.8 million next season).
Coyotes defenseman Rostislav Klesla could be among several more affordable options.
The Blues also are rumored to be one of several teams pursuing 23-year-old Western Michigan University defenseman Danny DeKeyser. The Michigan native is a favorite of the Detroit Red Wings, but has been playing for former Blues coach Andy Murray at Western Michigan.
The move: A big upgrade on defense may cost a talented young forward and the Blues have several. Could this be the time to go for it? Interesting decision, but the right move could pay off.
3. Offensive and power play inconsistency: The Blues rank seventh in the NHL with an average of 2.90 goals per game, but they seem to score in bunches.
The Blues have scored four or more goals 12 times in 31 games, suggesting that keeping the puck out of their own net remains a bigger problem.
The Blues could also make better use of their offensive sources.
Captain David Backes has 19 points but only three goals. Backes has just two goals in the last 24 games and none in his previous 11, but remains a physical force and one of the team's best players.
Chris Stewart (15 goals, 29 points) and Patrik Berglund (14 goals, 19 points) are the only Blues with more than 10 goals. Rookie Vladimir Tarasenko's six goals are more than all but six other Blues, but he has only one in the last 14 games.
While balanced scoring helps win Stanley Cups, it helps to have elite playmakers, too. The Blues have just six 30-goal scorers over the past 10 seasons and only three players with more than 70 points during that span (none since 2003-04).
A far bigger concern of late has been the ineffective power play, which has registered just four goals in 49 man-advantage opportunities in 17 games since Feb. 17.
The move: Keep hoping the veterans will produce goals at past levels while working harder to find creative solutions to the power play. Adding another sniper or playmaker to the mix certainly could help, but on this team the help may have to come from within.
Final analysis: There are some tough decisions to make, but there is no question this team should be in the playoffs. More consistency and the right moves by Armstrong could go a long way toward making that happen.