2010-2011 NHL Preview: St. Louis Blues
Rear View Mirror:
The St. Louis Blues could not provide an encore performance of their 2008-09 season; they fell behind early but came storming back. They finished strong, (23-15-4 under new coach, and best name for a head coach, Davis Payne) and finished only five points out of a playoff spot.
They were a very balanced team last season both scoring 2.66 goals per game (17th in the league) and giving up 2.66 goals per game (tied for 11th in the league).
Center Andy McDonald had a bounce back season leading the team in both goals (24) and points (57) after missing most of 2008-09 with a broken left ankle.
US silver medalist David Backes was second in scoring (48 points), continued to play his hard nose power forward style in having over 100+ penalty minutes for the second straight season (106 PIM).
Defensively, former first overall pick Erik Johnson did not fall into a sophomore slump. The 6'4" defender improved in all the main categories; points (+6), goals (+5) and plus minus (+10).
Injuries affected their defensive depth as they were missing captain Eric Brewer for 23 games due to a back injury and steady d-man, Barrett Jackman for 16 games due to various injuries.
Offseason Ins:G Jaroslav Halak (MTL: 26-13-5, 2.40 GAA, .924 save %), C Vladimir Sobotka (BOS: 64 GP, 4G-6A-10P), D Alex Pietrangelo (OHL: 25 GP, 9G-20A-29P)
Offseason Outs:G Chris Mason (30 Wins), LW Paul Kariya (43 Pts), LW Keith Tkachuk (13 G), D Darryl Sydor (47 GP), LW Brad Winchester (108 PIM), C DJ King (33 PIM)
What Makes Them Tick:
The Blues made a big splash this offseason, acquiring goaltender Jaroslav Halak from the Montreal Canadiens and then signing him to a four-year deal worth $15 million. The Blues are literally banking that the 25-year-old Canadiens playoff hero is entering his prime.
Halak played in a career high 45 games sporting a 26-13-5 record and was fourth in the NHL in save percentage (.940); ninth in goals-against average (2.40); and tied for fifth with five shutouts.
The Czech net minder made his money with another nine wins in the postseason over the top-seeded Capitals and defending Cup champion Penguins.
How Halak handles being the man will determine the Blues playoff fate.
What Could Make Them Go Boom:
With a shiny new goalie, the players in front of him will be under more pressure. The Blues defense does not have a defined top four like other teams ahead of them in the standings. They have a blossoming player in Erik Johnson, but after him there are a lot of question marks.
The wild cards in the equation are 2008 fourth-overall pick Alex Pietrangelo, who played in nine games last season before being sent back to juniors, and 2007 first round pick Ian Cole, who got his feet wet in the AHL at the end of last season.
They will need the health of Eric Brewer, Barett Jackman, Carlo Colaiacovo and the continued development of Erik Johnson and Roman Polak this season to solidify the defense. If none of this happens, even the acquisition of Halak cannot help this young team make the playoffs.
Player to Watch:
David Backes was so important to the Blues organization that back on July 1, 2008 they matched a three year $7.5 million offer sheet that was put out by the Canucks.
Backes went on to score 31 goals and 54 points making it seem that he was worth every penny.
Last season, the 25 year old power forward saw drastic drops in both of those numbers (17 goals and 48 points).
The US Olympian is now entered the last year in that three year deal and will have to prove he is the 2008-09 version, not last season's, to earn a big time pay check.
This team has some very good up and coming goal scorers. David Perron, with a freshly signed two year deal has made incremental progress during his first three NHL seasons, scoring 13, 15 and 20 goals.
2005 first round pick, T.J. Oshie, had 15 power play points and was second on the team in points (48 points).
25 year old Alex Steen had a breakout season last year, and was tied for the team lead with 24 goals.
Playoffs are a real possibility as the young players have seemed to thrive under the 39-year-old Davis Payne. Halak is the key and the defense is the lock to a postseason berth for the Blues next season.
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