No team has been more overlooked or covered less this season than the St. Louis Blues.
You know, the team with 101 points, the most wins (46) in the Western Conference and the NHL's first to clinch a playoff spot?
Yeah, those St. Louis Blues.
Maybe it's a reflection of a decade marred by relative obscurity and playoff absence. Or possibly, the national media refuses to recognize St. Louis as a legitimate hockey city.
It's a baseball town after all, right? The Blues are just a bit of a distraction until baseball season, right?
Regardless of what is causing the lack of attention, the St. Louis Blues are for real.
So, why not take a minute and get to know the best team in the West?
It Starts in Net
In what can only be classified as one of the biggest surprises all year, Brian Elliott leads the NHL in both goals-against average (1.57) and save percentage (.940). The other goaltender in the rotation, Jaroslav Halak, is third in the NHL with a goals-against average of 1.91.
Quite the one-two. Typically, there is a drop-off between starter and backup, but in 2011-12, the Blues have the most formidable goalie tandem league-wide.
How Far Can St. Louis Advance in the Playoffs?
Defend, Defend, Defend
It's no surprise that the Blues are tied for the league lead in wins when they surrender just 1.85 goals per game. That's best in the league, and it goes a long way in helping St. Louis notch two points each game. The Blues are also killing 85 percent of penalties, good for seventh league-wide.
Maybe the most shocking statistic is this: St. Louis Blues D-men are a combined plus-96 this season, anchored by Kevin Shattenkirk (plus-24), who was acquired from Colorado last season. He is joined by Barret Jackman (plus-21) and the other youngster, Alex Pietrangelo (plus-17), both of whom have sensational plus-minus ratings. "Stingy" only begins to describe St. Louis.
The Blues don't have a single forward that would be confused for an Art Ross candidate, but that doesn't stop the team from generating offense up and down the lineup.
T.J. Oshie leads the team in points with 50, while David Backes is the goals leader with 22. Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk are the team's third- and fourth-leading scorers from the blue line, with 46 and 38 points, respectively.
St. Louis averages 2.51 goals per game, and that could be seen as a major issue, but who needs a ton of goals when you allow under two each night?
When Ken Hitchcock took over for Davis Payne on Nov. 7, the Blues were 6-7 and facing the prospect of another mediocre season. Under Hitchcock, St. Louis is 40-13-9 and playing a stifling, physical brand of hockey. The NHL's Jack Adams trophy for the league's top coach will certainly be in Hitchcock's name at season's end—naming the other two finalists is just a formality at this point.
Hitchcock, Oshie, Backes, Shattenkirk, Halak, Elliott, Pietrangelo? Not exactly household names at this point, but come playoff time, they will make themselves heard.
Ryan O'Leary is a writer and researcher for Bleacher Report's Video Production Department with seven years experience in the sports industry. Ryan covered the 2010 Vancouver Olympic hockey tournament with CTV and has spent time covering the IIHF World Championships, NHL and collegiate hockey during his career.