It's the best time of year!
Posted by Ryan Porth Labels: St. Louis Blues
Ever since their remarkable late-season push into the playoffs in 2009, pundits and fans have been waiting for the St. Louis Blues to take the proverbial next step. It looked like they were ready to do so early last season when they came flying out of the gates with a 9-1-2 record; but things unraveled from there.
With the youngsters continuing to grow together and improve, the potential is sky-high for this Blues club.
Davis Payne’s gang showed signs of greatness throughout the 2010-11 season. However, those moments were too few and far between. The unbelievable start to the Jaroslav Halak Era between the pipes had fans thinking playoffs before the calendar even flipped to November. They had a few winning streaks along the way, which were followed by streaks of the losing variety. The Blues finished the year 10 points out of eighth place in the West.
Late in the season, though, the team had a different look and feel to it. The No. 1 overall pick in 2006, Erik Johnson, was dealt to Colorado in a trade that was a major plus for St. Louis. In return, GM Doug Armstrong obtained youngsters Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk, who succeeded right away in the ‘Gateway to the West.’
In 26 games with Stewart and Shattenkirk in the lineup, the team averaged 3.38 goals per game. Stewart chipped in with 23 points in that time, which would extrapolate to 72 points over a full 82-game season. Shattenkirk had 17 points and a +7 rating on the back end. In the 56 games prior, the Blues averaged just 2.66 goals per game.
Stewart, 23, and David Backes, 27, combine for the best duo of power forwards that this league has to offer. Backes has eclipsed the 30-goal mark in two of the last three years, while Stewart has scored 28 goals in each of his first two full seasons in the NHL.
On the defensive side of the puck, between Shattenkirk, 22, and Alex Pietrangelo, 21, you can make an argument that the Blues also possess one of the better one-two punches of puck-moving defensemen.
Added on top of those four are the likes of youngsters T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, Matt D’Agostini and Alex Steen (and David Perron, if healthy), as well as veteran Andy McDonald.
The Blues lineup got a tad older this week with the free agent signings of Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner; both were signed to one-year deals on Thursday. While they are obviously past their prime, Arnott and Langenbrunner add solid depth and experience to a young lineup.
While the lineup looks good to go for a run at the playoffs, the x-factor lies in the crease. Halak had an up-and-down debut season in St. Louis (27-21-7, 2.48 GAA); but if he can play like he did at the beginning and end of the season, this will be a dangerous team. In his first eight starts, Halak went 6-1-1 with a miniscule 1.71 goals-against average; in his final 10 starts, he posted a 5-3-1 record and 2.29 goals-against. (In his other 39 starts, Halak went 11-16-5 with a 3.01 GAA.)
We all saw how he was able to put a team on his back in Montreal. He showed signs of that with the Blues, too; but again, those moments were too few and far between.
In a division and conference that has a lot of depth, the Blues can get lost in the fray, but they certainly have the talent to make a run at a postseason berth in 2011-12. After seeing a couple playoff teams, Nashville and Phoenix, seemingly take a step back, the opportunity is there for the Blues.
If they stay consistent, this will be a team to be reckoned with – a lot more than people, and perhaps opponents, are expecting.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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