St. Louis Blues: 5 Reasons Why They Became the Best Team in the NHL

Steven ConklinCorrespondent IIApril 9, 2012

St. Louis Blues: 5 Reasons Why They Became the Best Team in the NHL

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    The St. Louis Blues are the best team in the National Hockey League.

    Hockey fans everywhere would probably disagree because of the team's surprisingly poor play as of late or the fact that the Blues don't even hold the top seed in the Western Conference. 

    Sure, that honor goes to the Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks, but look at this season's total body of work and the adversity St. Louis has overcome in the past year, and it isn't so hard to like the mid-western franchise more. 

    A gritty style of play, two brick walls in net and finishing 49-22-11 has quickly put Ken Hitchcock's club right at the top of the NHL.

    Here's a look at the five key reasons why St. Louis became the NHL's most interesting and surprisingly dominant team this season.

Ken Hitchcock

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    After a 6-7 start, the St. Louis Blues relieved Davis Payne of his coaching duties. 

    And replacing him with the hard-nosed, seasoned Ken Hitchcock proved to be the best move in all of hockey this year. 

    With Hitchcock's arrival, the Blues were sparked and were suddenly firing on all cylinders. The new defense became hockey's best, giving up just 165 goals this season, a number no other team came too close to. Over time, the team's offensive capability boosted as well.

    A young team like St. Louis has been in need of a proven, knowledgeable coach, and it is safe to say they've found the perfect fit. 

    Ken Hitchcock is unquestionably the coach deserving of this year's Jack Adams Trophy for coach of the year. 

    He's had the Blues hitting all the right notes. 

Alex Pietrangelo

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    Ask most hockey fans who the league's best young defenseman is. The common answer would probably be Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators.

    But it is Alex Pietrangelo. 

    The 22-year-old "Petro" has had a remarkable season, anchoring the league's best defensive unit and posing as a legitimate offensive threat along the way. 

    Only three D-men lit the lamp more than Pietrangelo, who scored 12 times. His 51-point total is good for fifth among all defensemen as well. 

    No. 27 has to be considered for the Norris Memorial Trophy, which honors the league's best defensman. And if he doesn't win it this year, it will come eventually. 

    Alex Pietrangelo played a bigger role than any other skater in the Blues' successes. 

Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak

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    Any team would be lucky to have either Brian Elliott or Jaroslav Halak in net on a nightly basis. 

    The fact that the St. Louis Blues can toss out either one anytime is an advantage unseen anywhere else. 

    While Jaroslav Halak has been a part of hockey's spotlight before, Brian Elliott emerged as one of the most dominant netminders in all of hockey. 

    Elliott started just 36 of 82 contests this year, but his 1.56 goals-against average is by far the league's best. His .940 save percentage also topped the league's leaderboard of regulars. 

    Not too far behind him on those lists is The Halakness Monster. 

    Jaroslav Halak started the other 46 games for St. Louis and posted six shutouts. Along the way, the former playoff star made some of the year's flashiest (and luckiest) saves. 

    With both of these goalies focused in a seven-game series, the Blues probably wouldn't even be able to lose if they wanted to. 

Depth

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    There may not be a deeper team than the St. Louis Blues heading into the postseason. 

    Had it not been for many unfortunate injuries, the Blues would have actually had a problem on their hands with the amount of capable starters on their roster. 

    Behind the core group of guys like TJ Oshie and David Backes are young, gritty players that did everything asked of them. 

    The Blues' depth allowed for them to remain near the top of the league regardless of injuries to the team's best scorers in Andy McDonald and Alex Steen. In hockey today, that is a feat worth noting. Not many teams have the depth to feel so comfortable after losing their biggest offensive threats. 

    And with the new arrival of prospect Jaden Schwartz, the team has gotten even deeper. 

    When it is hard to find spots for legitimate NHL starters, you know you're in a great situation moving forward. 

Heart

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    No team in the NHL can match the heart and grittiness of Ken Hitchcock's St. Louis Blues. 

    In all 82 games, the Blues did not back down to opponents. Instead, they often instigated fights and let teams know that this young squad was around to stay. 

    Are there any better examples than Ryan Reaves and Vladimir Sobotka?

    Ryan Reaves is quickly becoming one of the league's most feared fighters and has taught a few enforcers lessons this season. He stands up for every one of his teammates and won't stop until his back is on the ice. 

    Vladimir Sobotka is another prized example. He is an undersized forward who is willing to put his body into the league's biggest forwards and is the kind of spark plug every NHL team would love to have. 

    The Blues have heart. And with that comes grittiness and the never-give-up attitude shown all season long. It is the driving force behind this team's success, not the scoring or the flashy saves we've seen for months. 

    It's heart. 

    And without it, the St. Louis Blues may not have become the league's best team. 

     

    Steven Conklin is a student at the University of Central Missouri and former Bleacher Report Intern. He became the Featured Columnist for the St. Louis Blues as of April 2012. Any comments, questions or suggestions are welcome.