Stop me if you have heard this before. The St. Louis Blues enter the season with plenty of hype. They roll to a fast start, hit a mid-season drop off, suffer through some injuries, finish amongst the points leaders, and head into the playoffs with a goaltending controversy. It is once again NHL playoff time for the St. Louis Blues and this season provided nothing new from the past years. Once again the Blues hit on previous seasons bullet points. The only question remaining is what will this post season bring? Will it be tears of joy or tears of frustration for the Deja Blues?
So what is in store for the Blues this postseason? Thanks to a late season push, going 5-1 in their last six games of the regular season, they tied for the Western Division points lead with Anaheim. This is in direct contrast to last year’s close to the regular season when they dropped their final six games. Yet still the Blues enter the playoffs with the much too familiar question of who to play in net.
The Blues have not had a clear cut #1 goalie at the start of the playoffs since Grant Fuhr in the 1999 playoffs. Sure Roman Turek had back to back seasons where he received the majority of starts but no one was too comfortable with him in net after posting an 88% save percentage in his first playoff run, highlighted by the center ice goal by Owen Nolan in game seven. Since that goal was allowed it seems as though the doubt has yet to leave the Blues crease. The likes of Brent Johnson, Chris Osgood, Chris Mason, Jaroslav Halak, and Ryan Miller have been the Blues last line of defense over last 15 years. None have taken control of the opportunity and this year we turn to Jake Allen (game 1 starter) and Brian Elliott. I agree with Coach Ken Hitchcock in deciding to go with Allen. In the NHL Playoffs it is often about a hot goalie and while Elliott may have better numbers, Allen has come up with the big saves as of late. A hot goalie can be all a team needs, anyone remember Jonathan Quick.
But over the recent playoff runs for the Blues it hasn’t necessarily been the goaltending play that has cost them. Yes Miller did not perform as expected last year but for the second straight year the Blues blew a 2-0 lead in the series. Even going back three years ago the common theme in the Blues exits has been lack of scoring. Three years ago the Blues scored just six goals in their four games against the Kings in their second round exit. Two years ago the Blues tallied just 10 goals in their six games against the Kings. And last year the Blues netted just six goals in their final four games, all losses, to the Blackhawks in their first round outing.
All season long we have heard talk about the Blues being a deeper team. While I feel this is true, let’s not make it out to be a drastic difference. Last year’s team had five players with 20 or more goals and six players with 44 or more points. This year’s team has just four players with 20 or more goals but also had nine players with 44 or more points. Where I think the “depth” difference comes is in the center play. The Blues depth at center, with the additions of Jori Lehtera and Paul Stastny, is a plus as they can now roll out three scoring lines. Yes Stastny has taken some heat from fans this year because he did not pile up the points they may have expected. But his signing was not to be a #1 center, but to provide center depth which few teams can match. The biggest advantage this year’s team has is health and the emergence of “game-changing” players. The Blues come into this post-season with a healthy Vladimir Tarasenko, David Backes, and Alexander Steen, and T.J. Oshie. That group of players being healthy is huge as they are the team’s core “game-changing” players. Any of those players are capable of taking over a game and leading the Blues to victory and we have seen each of them do so during the season.
For the Blues to make an extended run at the Stanley Cup this year it will come down to scoring, and scoring when needed. We have seen the Blues dominate the regular season. We have seen they have the capability to take a lead in a playoff series. But now comes the time for the Blues to finish what they have started. They have built a solid defensive team, a team full of young, talented scorers; mixed with physical veterans. So congrats to the Blues on yet another 100 point season but now is the REAL season.
We have seen all of this before, it is time for something different. I am tired of seeing Deja Blue, I want something new. I want to see the team that pounds opponents in the corner. I want to see the team that can explode for goals at any time. I want to see Tarasenko remind people why he is the best Blues sniper since Brett Hull. I want to see the Alex Pietrangelo continue to take his game to the next level as he did when Kevin Shattenkirk was out. I want to see the Blues make a run at the cup. Let’s Go Blues!!