When you think of the best offensive teams in the Western Conference, one could easily look at the high-flying Chicago Blackhawks or the commanding Anaheim Ducks. However, one of the most productive units this season comes from an unlikely source in the league: the St. Louis Blues, and their top line.
The tandem consisting of Alexander Steen, T.J. Oshie, and David Backes has been especially dominant recently, racking up 15 points in their last two games. They have achieved a great amount of success in the 2013-2014 season, despite executing what some hockey fans call a “boring” offensive style.
Under head coach Ken Hitchcock, the three forwards have utilized a relentless and resilient scheme in St. Louis. With a combined 202 games played between the three, the Blues first line has amassed 173 points. Although they are not as flashy or exciting to watch as Patrick Kane or Steven Stamkos, each individual member plays a crucial role in providing the scoring for the Blues, while providing their own unique element to the game.
On left wing is the man who was voted by 13.3% of NHL players in October of 2013 as the most underrated in the league, 30-year-old Alexander Steen.
Blues fans have heavily valued Steen ever since he was acquired from Toronto in 2008, and the appreciation only grows as he continues to produce. This season, the Winnipeg native has registered a career-high 31 goals, leading the team. The reasoning behind Steen’s fandom is simple; he is a hard-working player. He seems to do everything right on the ice while making the players around him better. Teammates rave about his sometimes hectic work ethic, and the Blues braintrust has praised his compete level all year. A crucial key to his recent accomplishments has been his health. Over the past couple of seasons, the son of former Winnipeg Jet Thomas Steen has battled nagging injury issues that sidelined him for an assortment of games. Despite suffering a concussion earlier in the year, it has been a season to remember for Alexander Steen. If all goes well for his club, more memories will be created come playoff time.
The captain of a hockey team is expected to represent their organization both on and off the ice, and center David Backes is the pure definition of St. Louis Blues hockey. He plays a hard-nosed, “blue-collar” style and is extremely tough to play against. When you dish the puck off with the 6’3,” 221 pound power forward pressing you, be prepared to be taken for a rough ride. The Minneapolis native ranks 3rd in the National Hockey League in hits with 249, and is 2nd among forwards in that category. Backes uses his defensive play to force turnovers and create offensive chances, as he has put up 53 points this season. His 27 goals are four shy of his career-high set back in the 2010-2011 season. The 29-year-old center also had quite the week from an offensive standpoint. Backes completed his second career hat trick Monday night against the Maple Leafs, and has six goals in as many games. Hitchcock spoke about his captain’s complete effort once again after the Blues defeated the Minnesota 5-1 Thursday night:
“I think that’s one of the things that’s really evolved in his game,” Hitchcock said. “He’s not just a checker, he’s a guy that can play in both ends of the rink. He’s very good offensively, he’s underrated offensively. I think people are starting to see that.”
The player who is the most well-known out of the trio in St. Louis is T.J. Oshie. Dubbed “T.J. Sochi” during the Olympic Games, he blossomed into a superstar overnight after scoring four times on six attempts in the shootout to propel the United States over the Russians back in February. Before the preliminary game, Oshie had just over 80,000 followers on Twitter.
He now has over 260,000.
What was unbeknownst to the league before the shootout was just a familiar scene back in St. Louis, as Oshie became a fan favorite in the Gateway City shortly after his debut in 2008. The energy he brings to the ice is crucial to the team’s success, and his play reflects that. Oshie, like the rest of his linemates, is having a career year by compiling 60 points, leading the Blues in scoring. He scored his 19th, 20th, and 21st goals of the season on Thursday against the Wild; it was his first career hat trick. One aspect of his game that is underrated is his vision on the ice. Although he is able to dance around defenders with ease, the “shootout specialist” easily finds his teammates in open areas, attributing to his 39 assists.
The St. Louis Blues possess a first line with the potential to carry them far into the postseason, as long as they stay consistent and healthy. Teams that underestimate their talent on the ice will fall victim to their bone-crushing physical play and skilled offensive ability.
If the trio on the top line continues their fantastic play, the Blues will certainly be the team to beat in the Western Conference come playoff time.
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