The St. Louis Blues have been one of the best regular season teams in the past few years. Coached by Ken Hitchcock, the Blues are a defensively strong team but in the playoffs a lack of scoring at key times has been a weakness. They have suffered early exits at the hands of recent Stanley Cup champions in the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings, but is this the year St. Louis finally gets over the hump?
It’s Time For the St. Louis Blues to Take the Next Step
In goal, the Blues ice a solid tandem of Brian Elliott and Jake Allen. After acquiring goalie Ryan Miller in a blockbuster deal last year that ultimately flopped, the team decided to go with the veteran Elliott and promote Allen, who was itching for a full time NHL job, after paying his dues in the AHL for four seasons. Elliott has the superior numbers but there is a question mark of whether either goaltender can backstop the team to a Cup.
Elliott has never been a true number one goalie carrying the bulk of the games for a team, while the inexperienced Allen has only one NHL playoff appearance in his career thus far. When comparing these two to other Western conference goalies such as L.A.’s Jonathan Quick and Nashville Predators Pekka Rinne, they don’t carry the same lustre.
On defense, the Blues ice arguably the best defense corps in the league. Anchored by two young stars in Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk and featuring the likes of Jay Bouwmeester, Carl Gunnarsson, Barret Jackman and Zbynek Michalek, the team has a nice blend of defensive stalwarts and puck movers. The Blues are a stingy defensive team and their core of blue-liners is one of the main reasons for that.
Up front, the Blues are deep and have a lot of two-way players. For years, the Blues have lacked that go-to star forward who can score at will, but that has now changed. Vladimir Tarasenko has had a breakout season putting up 70 points in 74 games and has emerged as one of the most dangerous players in the game. Tarasenko is the most talented player St. Louis has had in years and his development as a player could be the difference between an early exit and a long run for the Blues.
Aside from Tarasenko, the Blues lean on captain David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Alexander Steen, Jaden Schwartz and Paul Stastny to produce. All are solid on both sides of the puck but more could be had offensively from Stastny, while some of the others haven’t scored enough when it counts the most.
What is intriguing about the Blues is that while there is immense pressure for them to finally win the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup, their window to win isn’t even close to closing. The development of Schwartz and Tarasenko have been a boon for this team and there are top prospects in the pipeline such as Robby Fabbri, Ivan Barbashev and Dmitrij Jaskin, who has already played 46 games with the Blues so far this season. Drafting and developing has been a strong point for the Blues, who continue to find promising youngsters.
It is time for the St. Louis Blues to take the next step in this year’s playoffs. This team is too good and there are no excuses for them to turn in another lacklustre playoff performance. Despite the optimism of their young players, the veterans need to step up and lead the way or else it will be a long summer in St. Louis.