In the Western Conference, there is a grid lock of teams currently sitting between 5th place through 11th place. All the teams between 5th and 8th are in a tie for points in the standings. Sitting at the bottom of that kerfuffle are the St. Louis Blues.
This writer, and most everyone else in the press, thought the St. Louis Blues were going to be seeded higher than 8th. It seems reality had a different tale to tell, with the Blues playing not only in the shadow of the rival Blackhawks’ historic streak (now in past tense), but also in the shadow of pretty much every other team ahead of them. Still, no one should be giving up on St. Louis just yet.
After Jaroslav Halak’s 6-4 meltdown against Los Angeles, the Blues organization recalled youngster Jake Allen from the farm club in Peoria. Coach Hitchcock seems content to carry three goaltenders, while waiting for Halak and Brian Elliot to find their games. Allen was average in allowing 3 goals on 26 shots against the Phoenix Coyotes, but went 3-0 during the Blues’ road trip while Halak was injured . The important part is that the Blues won. According to the rumor mill, the Blues skaters like playing in front of Allen. With the way that Halak and Elliot have played, you can’t blame the skaters for that. The same net minders that combined for 15 shutouts and won the William Jennings trophy last season have combined for an unimpressive 24th ranked goals against average.
This squad has shown flashes of the dominant form that had everyone mulling Stanley Cup dream last season. Then they ran into the steam roller that became the eventual Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings. But the Blues, like many teams up to the midway point of this short season, have had trouble finding their consistent stride. Most squads are just now starting to right themselves. The Blues are no different. With the playoffs fast approaching, the Blues will start to get back their injured troops, dynamo rookie Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Steen, and Andy McDonald. The absence of those three players should not be over looked. Three players that fill major rolls injured plus sub par goaltending could totally deep six any team.
Coach Ken Hitchcock remains unflappable. Never making moves in panic, Hitchcock and his staff are well prepared for each game, making adjustments on the fly to their system and creating stability for their players. When the post season rolls around, those players will already be totally engaged, and will roll into the playoffs.
Remember the Kings last year? No one thought that they would get past the rolling Canucks in the first round. However, Darryl Sutter’s steady hand provided the stability the Kings needed to succeed, and they got hot at the right time. The St. Louis Blues have all the pieces to overcome adversity learned by losing to the Kings in last year’s playoffs. Would the Oilers of the 80s have learned adversity if they had not lost to the Islanders on that first trip to the Finals? Only time will tell if this Blues squad can take a lesson out of their second round loss, and the adversity they’ve seen this season. If the Blues can get momentum, they could be this year’s version of the Kings. This writer, for one, is a true believer.
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