Blues Ready to Take Next Step in 2013-2014
Welcome back to Puck Drop: NHL Preview 2013-14, where our hockey department gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season. Check back often as new teams are added to our Puck Drop page. Today we take a look at the 2013-14 St. Louis Blues.
The St. Louis Blues started off the 48-game season rather slowly. Starting goaltender Jaroslav Halak battled injury problems the whole year while backup Brian Elliott was underperforming.
Coach Ken Hitchcock decided to seek help from their American Hockey League affiliate the Peoria Rivermen. 23-year-old Jake Allen helped solidify the Blues in net and showed the NHL what he was capable of by going 9-4 with a .904 save percentage.
Elliott later bounced back from his conditioning stint to lead the blues to their second straight playoff appearance while Halak was now the number two in goal.
The Blues failed to defend their Central Division title but managed to finish fourth in the Western Conference. It was there were they were matched up against the team that had swept them in the 2012 playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings.
Although the Kings had beaten the Blues in nine straight contests, St. Louis took the first two games of the series at home. St. Louis was in control. In a quick turn of events that Blues fans are all too familiar with, L.A. was victorious in four consecutive games. Once again, the Blues had suffered a quick playoff exit, which led General Manager Doug Armstrong to re-evaluate his roster in the offseason.
In the start of the offseason, St. Louis was surprised when forward Andy McDonald announced his retirement. The 35-year-old had battled concussions problems throughout his career, suffering five. Scott Nichol, 38, also retired and joined the Nashville Predators as the team’s director of player development.
With plenty of forwards on the wing, the Blues looked for help up the middle through free agency. Centers Keith Aucoin, Alexandre Bolduc, and Maxim Lapierre were signed. While Bolduc and Aucoin provide depth, Lapierre adds to an element St. Louis is already well-known for: grit and aggression. During his stints with Montreal, Anaheim, and Vancouver, “Lappy” was a constant agitator that loved to terrorize his opponents. He will fit right in with Ken Hitchcock’s style of play.
Arguably the biggest move the Blues made this offseason was dealing David Perron to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Magnus Paajarvi and a second round pick in the 2014 draft. Perron was drafted by St. Louis in 2007 in the first round (26th overall). Coming off of a 42 point season (in only 57 games), many expected Perron to blossom into the point-per-game player he has the potential to become. However, he only managed to put up 25 points this season and was not particularly happy with the way Hitchcock ran the offense.
In return the Blues acquire Paajarvi, a young winger who has also disappointed during his young NHL career. At 22 years old, Paajarvi still has room to grow. St. Louis is confident that if he is surrounded by the right group of players, he will succeed in this league.
Due to Perron’s hefty contract, the Blues cleared up a good amount cap space and were on the prowl for a top center to help fix their offensive inconsistency.
While they missed out on Stephen Weiss and Mikhail Grabovski, the Blues signed Derek Roy to a one year, $4 million deal.
Roy is a playmaker who has great finesse and skill, something St. Louis needs desperately in their lineup. They have plenty of scoring wingers but not anyone to set them up in the offensive zone. Now they do. The Blues are hoping that the 30-year-old is able to return to his top form like he was during the 2007-2008 season with the Buffalo Sabres. In that year, Roy elevated his game and racked up a career-high 81 points in 78 games.
Splitting last year on Dallas and Vancouver, Roy had 28 points in 42 games. Hitchcock will most likely put Roy on a line with Chris Stewart and Alexander Steen and get some time on the power play as well.
The Blues have the possibility of possessing a deadly offense.
Story to Watch
Will the offense produce?
The Blues have one area they need to improve on in their game: goal scoring. Under Hitchcock’s system, they head to the front of the net and work hard for their chances while funneling pucks towards the opposing netminder.
As we saw the Chicago Blackhawks lift the Stanley Cup in 2013, we witnessed how their offense ran. A track meet style that involved goals coming off of the rush.
St. Louis has the defense and the goaltending needed for a deep playoff run, but their offense will be their biggest question come October. Last season, the Blues only had three players that scored more than 10 goals. It didn’t hurt them too much in the regular season, but their goal scoring struggles cost them in the playoffs against the Kings when they only manage to score eight goals in six games.
In the National Hockey League, goals are very hard to come by, especially if you don’t have a successful offensive. While defensemen Alex Pietrangelo (who is still un-signed), Kevin Shattenkirk, and Jay Bouwmeester provided plenty of scoring on the back-end, the core forwards are going to have to be the ones to break out of their shells.
Experienced forwards like Patrik Berglund and T.J. Oshie need to produce more in order for the Blues to succeed. Second year players Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko have to keep up with pack and showcase their scoring touches like they did before they were drafted.
The Blues need consistency on the score sheet, and only time will tell if their offense gets the job done.
Player to Watch: Derek Roy
Derek Roy is going to make an immediate impact on this young St. Louis Blues team. He not only brings experience, but great hockey sense to the lineup.
Ken Hitchcock has already coached Roy in the 2008 World Championships and knows exactly what type of player he is getting.
“He can really play feisty and nasty at times for a small guy,” said Hitchcock about Roy. “That’s where he’s really effective. That’s what we want to see. For a playmaking guy, he has some real grit to him.”
Sounds like a Blue to me. Roy uses his size to easily pick the puck up and out of the corners quickly due to his swift hands. Once he has the rubber on his stick, the possibilities are endless.
The seasons when Roy has enjoyed the greatest success are those when he uses his vision to his advantage. He is the type of playmaker that can pull off a cross-crease pass without telegraphing it. His speed along the boards creates openings in the slot, which will help the Blues’ forwards get more scoring opportunities.
The skills he possesses are very crucial to the Blues because they haven’t had a star like this in quite some time. If there is one player I can’t wait to see on the Blues lineup when they face the Nashville Predators on opening night, it is Derek Roy.
St. Louis just might have the additional scoring they need to capture their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
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