St. Louis Blues: Positives and Negatives from 1st Week of Play
The Blues start the season boasting a 5-1-0 record, their only loss coming to the 6-0-0 Chicago Blackhawks on the road. Ken Hitchcock has made sure the week of camp to start the season actually meant something, and the entire team was ready to play when the puck dropped last week.
In the six games so far, the Blues picked up right where they left off last season, and may even be better than the team last year or the President's Trophy-winning club of 1999-2000. They play complete offense and defense, and the goaltending is solid once again.
I may be nitpicking, but every aspect of the game is under the microscope when it comes to the shortened season. So looking into the future, here are positives and negatives to take from the first week of the season. Look for them throughout the rest of the 2013 campaign.
Positive: Vladimir Tarasenko
Vladimir Tarasenko has looked like the real deal in this first week of NHL play.
Blues fans knew that he could be the answer to the team's goal-scoring problem, but no one could have predicted how immediate his impact could be. Tarasenko is already looking like a Calder finalist, posting eight points in six games. The only game in which Tarasenko hasn't gotten a point was in Chicago.
While Tarasenko is a threat on the score sheet, he also has been able to open the ice for other players. Opponents already are showing him the respect of a veteran, and because of it, Tarasenko is able to set up other guys on the ice. His last goal was against Nashville.
By the way the fans have received him, Tarasenko looks to be the next-best thing. He's already getting comparisons to Pavel Datsyuk or Alex Ovechkin (the old one). Tarasenko has taken the NHL by storm and has been a huge bright spot for the club in its opening game.
Negative: Slow Starts
While a 5-1 record through six games is impressive, it hasn't been without its bumps along the way. Three of the first six games saw the Blues trailing going into the third period.
While some may look at that stat as a sign of resiliency, others can point to a lack of defense in the opening frames.
The Blues did not play well in the first two periods against Chicago, and they allowed the Hawks to have a 3-0 lead. But when the team turned it on, they got two goals and nearly came back. The season opener against Detroit shows what can happen if the Blues play a complete game.
The Blues will have their fair share of games they should have won but lost, and games they should have lost but won. The goal is to come out to a hot start and then maintain the lead, rather than chasing the lead throughout the whole game.
Positive: Divisional Scheduling
Because of the lockout, teams only play teams within their conference. Within the division, the Blues are scheduled to play the Red Wings and Blackhawks five times, and they only play the Blue Jackets and Predators four times.
At first glance, the Blues' schedule looks brutal, as the extra games are played against the the better two teams of the group. But the timing is what makes it ideal.
The Blues will play the Detroit Red Wings four times before February 14. The Wings are still trying to find an identity after the loss of Nicklas Lidstrom, and the Blues can take advantage of that in the early games. Once the Wings get on a roll, they could be a dangerous team.
Contrarily, the Blues play the Blackhawks three times in April. Right now, the Hawks are arguably the best team in the NHL, and playing them on their hot streak is not ideal. But playing them in April, when they have cooled off and Corey Crawford has come back down to Earth, is much better. And if they are the best team in the NHL, then it will provide the Blues a fantastic benchmark coming into the playoffs.
You have to play with the cards that you're dealt, and the Blues may not have had the best draw. But they're playing their cards the best way possible.
Negative: Goaltending by Committee
Coming into the season, the Blues had the best goaltending tandem in the NHL. With the shortened season, fans were looking for Hitchcock to name a legitimate starter in net. But he has stuck with goaltending by committee.
So far, it has looked relatively good, but there are some definite problems. Jaroslav Halak posted two home shutouts in his first two home games, and was not named the starter against the Wild, who put up four against Elliott. Elliott had to take the place of Halak in Nashville when he gave up three goals.
The concept of goaltending by committee works better in a longer season. But when every win means that much more, the team needs a starter who is comfortable in net and is willing to play the majority of the games. Committee does not allow for those situations to exist.
Goaltending by committee may work early in the season, and it has worked at times already. The problem is when it comes to playoff time, the Blues won't have a legitimate No. 1 starter, and that could be the difference.
Probably the most important aspect of a team coming into the shortened season is depth, and there is no team in the NHL that is more deep than the Blues.
The Blues have the ability to roll four lines every night, and not have to worry about a No. 1 line facing their No. 4 line. Just as a reference, the Blues are playing Vladimir Sobotka, Jamie Langenbrunner and Ryan Reaves on their fourth line. Langenbrunner is a two-time Stanley Cup winner, and he is on the fourth line.
The Blues are obviously capable in net with Halak and Elliott. The only place the Blues were sketchy coming into the season was defense.
And then Wade Redden signed with the Blues.
Now the Blues have another veteran signed to the club, one who can teach Alex Pietrangelo. The Blues are now set on defense.
There isn't a team that can match the depth of the Blues. If someone goes down, another can step up. That's a luxury very few teams have.
Negative: Streaky Power Play
The one aspect the Blues were bad at last season was the power play. This season, Hitch appeared to have fixed the problem early, but it may be harder to get rid of than most thought.
In the first game against the Red Wings, the Blues went 4-5 on the power play. It set the tone for the season, that the Blues were going to be able to score on the power play and make it count, unlike last season. But since that game, the Blues are just 3-16.
Obviously, the Blues are not going to have an 80-percent power play every game. But the sudden falloff is a little alarming. The Blues will have to make sure the power play can score, when every goal means so much to the standings.
The Blues' biggest question mark coming into the season was scoring, and at times, the Blues have shown they can score whenever they want. If the power play can improve a little more, then the Blues should be fine.