The St. Louis Blues were the Cinderella of the regular season, but the slipper fell off right as the playoffs began. After posting the best record in the second half of the season, the Blues got swept out by an even hotter Vancouver team. This year will be different.
What can we say about last season for the Blues? Erik Johnson, franchise defenseman, destroys his ACL in a golfing mishap. Paul Kariya has surgery on not one but both of his hips. And Andy McDonald breaks his ankle and misses significant time.
The Blues got off to a miserable start and were staring at the basement very early on. The team also traded fan favorite Lee Stempniak for failed first round picks Carlo Colaiacovo and Alex Steen from Toronto.
But something happened through all the injuries and inconsistent goaltending. This team came together, young and old, and started winning. The Blues posted the best record in the second half and essentially stole a playoff spot earning the six seed in the West.
Everyone on the team stepped up to make this happen. Chris Mason supplanted Manny Legace as the starter after rebounding from a horrific first two months. Mason finished the season going 24-8-6 in his last 38 games.
David Backes, TJ Oshie, Patrik Berglund, and David Perron all stepped up in their roles as scoring threats to help out Brad Boyes, who only had to tally 33 goals this year.
Finally Colaiacovo and Steen finally lived up to their hype as they both played very well after the trade. Colaiacovo played in 63 games with the Blues, which was a career high. He also led Blues defensemen with 26 assists.
The Blues didn't do very much in the offseason to help or hurt their team. They were bandied about in trade rumors for Dany Heatley but GM John Davidson quickly put the lid on that. St. Louis did buy out defenseman Jay McKee after his play didn't live up to the contract he was given.
Once free agency hit the Blues quickly snared backup goalie Ty Conklin from Detroit. Conklin will be a huge upgrade from Manny Legace, who just lost it last season. The Blues also signed Derek Armstrong and Darryl Sydor to help tutor the young players on the team.
The other big news was that the Blues would open their season in Stockholm against the Detroit Red Wings. This won't be the first trip to Europe for the Blues, but it will be the first time it will mean something.
November 10th through the 23rd will be the longest homestand of the season for the Blues. This set will include the first game against Vancouver since the sweep in last season’s first round. It will also be John Tavares’s first look at St. Louis, and the first look at the Boston Bruins.
March 2nd starts a six game road trip that runs until March 14th. The Blues will play three out west before jetting cross country to New York to face the Islanders. Following that St. Louis will have back to back nights in Columbus and Minnesota.
November 30th marks the first time the Blues travel to Columbus and the Boo Birds for Oshie. Many remember the hits TJ put on old Rick Nash and the fans in Columbus plan on letting him hear it.
On February 13th the Washington Capitals come to town in what should be a great test against one of the elite teams in the East. This game will be a measuring stick as to how good this team is and how much farther they have to go. Plus, who doesn't want to see Alex Ovechkin?
Players to Watch:
Chris Mason: Mason had a slow start last year but really turned it up midway through the season. Can he duplicate that success early and often this year? Conklin should push him in a way that Legace couldn't, but expect a bit of a drop off this year.
TJ Oshie, Patrik Berglund, David Perron, and Erik Johnson: This is the core of the team, and other teams know that. Will they be able to step up to the pressure and adjust their games to fit? Berglund has a hell of a snapshot, but can he get open enough to use it? Oshie has gifted hands but will he be able to keep the motor running all year again?
Alex Pietrangelo: Alex showed promise in his eight game stint with the club last year. Will he stick this year, or will he go back to juniors again? He doesn't have much to prove in juniors, but he is still very young and will make mistakes. With the talent this team has on the blue line do they take the risk?
In a division such as the Central, it will be very tough to duplicate a run like the Blues had last year. They will have to start solid and play tough all year. Chicago and Detroit are still much better than the other teams in this division, so the top two spots are secure.
The Blues will fight with Columbus for third in the division, but ultimately I think the Blues will take third in the division and sixth in the Conference with a 42-29-11 record.
This will be a fun year in the Central and every game will matter.