Lately, television stations in the St. Louis area have been running thirty second commercials highlighting the history of the Blues franchise. Words like ‘traditions’ and ‘legends’ have been thrown around during the “Long Live the Note” spots. Although the lockout has had an impact, fans can expect those t.v. spots to collect more footage from this shortened season.
The biggest buzz around the Blues is the arrival of Vladimir Tarasenko, first round draft pick and Kontinental Hockey League standout who racked up 31 points in 31 games while playing overseas.
But now Tarasenko is back in St. Louis and has already participated in informal team skates. David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo, David Perron, Barret Jackman, Jamie Langenbrunner, Scott Nichol and Brian Elliott are all back in town and skating as well. Head Coach, Ken Hitchcock has said that he doesn’t care when the full roster arrives back in St. Louis, just as long as they get there and they get to work.
“The Blues, led by GM of the Year Doug Armstrong and Coach of the Year Ken Hitchcock, are coming off one of the best campaigns in franchise history and are widely viewed as one of the top teams in the NHL. The compressed season will be intensely competitive, with each game crucial in the race for the playoffs,” said Blues owner Tom Stillman in a press release. “We can’t wait to get started.”
Neither can the fans. The young core group of players is back this season and coming off a playoff run last year. The intensity and expectations are high in St. Louis and they should be. The Blues made the post-season last year for the first time in a decade however they ran into the unstoppable Los Angeles Kings. The Kings overpowered the Blues on scoring alone which lead to doubts that the Blues can put the puck in the net when the pressure is on. Tarasenko is hopefully a remedy to that ailment. But the question still lingers as to where Tarasenko will fit in the line-ups. Hitchcock will have to make a calculated decision that will no-doubtedly have an effect on the rest of the team.
The Blues also have one of the best problems to have in professional hockey. Both of their goaltenders are starter quality. Both Elliott and Jaraslav Halak have proven to be NHL starter quality netminders, which begs the issue of who to start. Only one can be the ‘go-to’ guy that picks up most of the starts, but both are qualified. Elliott got the nod a majority of the time last season and the same should be expected this season, especially with Hitchcock’s defensive mind-set.
The blue line is also a topic of discussion for the blues. Ian Cole was brought up from Peoria to replace Carlo Colaiacovo, who was sent to Detroit. Detroit is rumored to be the Blues’ first post-lockout opponent though Colaiacovo won’t be in the line-up with a shoulder injury. Bringing up Cole is the right move as Colaiacovo was known for taking bad penalties and misjudging passes on a regular basis. Cole has proven that he can play at the NHL level and he will get some valuable guidance from fellow-blueliner and veteran, Jackman.
The Blues will also be looking to lock-up Pietrangelo as this is his last year under contract with St. Louis. With the new salary cap lowered, the Blues have some wiggle-room, but not much, to make sure one of their top defensemen stays in town.
But with a few uncertain questions hanging, the Blues are expected to make a playoff run again this year with the potential of winning it all. What is still uncertain is can this group of young players, most of which do not have a ton of playoff hockey experience, find that something extra that’s necessary to bring home the Cup? This team has the talent, the coaching and the chemistry to be champions, as long as the pressure isn’t too much to handle.