This is the year.
If you are a Blues fan, this is what’ve you’ve continually been chanting for the past few decades. The team has had no shortage of skilled teams that should’ve gone all the way, and yet they’ve failed to close in on Lord Stanley’s Cup. So, here it is again. This is the year.
It’s hard not to be optimistic after a win like last night against the Chicago Blackhawks, where Alexander Steen rifled one past goaltender Corey Crawford in the waning moments of the game. Add on top of that a 7-0 thrashing of Florida Panthers, and a solid 4-2 win over their division rivals, the Nashville Predators, and you can see why the continued chant of “This is the year”, goes on.
It takes an eternal optimist to be a Blues fan, and this year will be no exception. The team has their first 3-0 start since the 1993-94 season, a season which contained the likes of Brett Hull and Brenden Shannahan. It’s important to not read into the start too much though. 2 of the 3 wins came from teams who are likely to struggle this season, and a lot can happen over the remaining 79 games in the season. Let’s go over the good, the bad, and the ugly of the start of the Blues’ stellar season.
The GoodThe Offense – The Blues currently rank 2nd in goals per game in the NHL, trailing only the San Jose Sharks who have also had a tremendous start to their season. Pretty great start for a team that’s biggest question mark was their offensive prowess. So far the scoring has largely been by comittee, with 10 players contributing goals so far this season. All in all the Blues look much more dangerous this season with the additions of Derek Roy and Brenden Morrow. The addition of these two players easily make up for the losses of David Perron and Andy McDonald in the off season.
Jaden Schwartz – The first round draft pick is quickly proving his worth. Schwartz has three points in three games, and is a difference maker every time he is on the ice. Schwartz displays a very high hockey IQ, and has created a lot of dangerous efforts with his hard nosed play. He isn’t the biggest guy on the ice, but he sure plays like it. Look for him to be one of the biggest difference makers in the Blues offense this year.
Alex Pietrangelo – After recieving the largest contract in Blues history, Pietrangelo has a lot to prove. The blue liner has come strong out of the gate notching 5 assists. Many regarded Pietrangelo’s performances last year as unispired, and believed that he regressed as a player. This year bolstered by his new contract, Pietrangelo appears to be the defenseman we saw in the 2011-12 season which garnered a lot of talk of him as a Norris contender. The poise he’s displayed in all zones through the current year should have him back in the running for the Norris, if he keeps up the play.
Alexander Steen – A recent ESPN poll of 30 NHL players ranked Steen as the most underrated player in the league. With a contract just under $3.4 million a year, its hard not to agree with that. Steen when healthy is one of the best two-way forwards in the league. In the final year of his 4 year contract with the Blues, Steen looks ready to work for a new contract with the Blues. Steen embodies many of the positives in the team with gritty play that is enhanced by flourishes of skill. Not only did Steen notch the winner in last, but he currently leads the team in goals. Expect the Blues to possibly make a new contract offer midseason if this type of play continues.
Slow Starts – In all three games this season the Blues have come limping out of the gate. Luckily for them no team has yet to capitilize on it, but that trend won’t continue. Early in the first period last night the Blues were being outshot 6-1, and the Blues scrambled to get the puck out of their own zone. To give the Blues credit, they did battle back to end the period with an even strength goal and outshooting the Hawks 13-12. It’s one of the many things that Ken Hitchcock says his team needs to continue to improve to be real contenders this season.
Kevin Shattenkirk & Barret Jackman – Okay, maybe bad is a bit of an over-exaggeration, but the two defensemen seem to be taking a bit more time to get up to speed comapred to the rest of the defensive corps. Jackman has always drawn a fair amount of ire from some Blues fans, and he’s made enough mistakes early on in the season to give them fuel for the fire. Shattenkirk doesn’t look terrible, but he isn’t standing out like he has in previous seasons. Most likely as the season goes on both players will see their play improve. Jackman had one of his best years since his rookie year last season, and he’s still young enough there isn’t any reason he can’t repeat.
Blackhawks Fans – The Blues have had a problem of Hawks fans dominating their arena since they hoisted the cup in 09-10. It’s an embarrassing site to see how many opposing team fans there are when Chicago comes to town. The Blues tried to battle it this year by making tickets for the first few games of the season only available by purchasing tickets to multiple games. Unfortunately, the tactic was largely ineffective. Blues fans, while not selling out the arena, did a good job of negating the energy of the opposing teams fans.
Next up for the Blues are the New York Rangers who have had a rough start to their season. Expect the Rangers to try and make a statement with the Blues. Until next time, Let’s Go Blues!