posted on October 10, 2013 06:00
The Blues have put on a thrilling show thus far, winning their first three games of the season in a dominating fashion. Woah Blues, slow down, some of us are still catching up – still trying to wipe the memory of last year’s heart-breaking/lifeless playoff elimination.
If you have even fair-weather-followed the Blues over the last few seasons, you’re familiar with the defensive-minded, lack of goal-scoring Blues. Hey, even when the Blues get national attention – this fact is highlighted: TJ Oshie topped NBCSN’s “NHL: Week 1 Top 10 Plays” this week and even at #1, NBCSN’s Liam McHugh’s commentary following the clip was a little less than confident, “A lot of people were wondering if St. Louis was going to be able to score – that’s a reassuring moment right there.”
Let’s take a look at the home opener vs. the Nashville Predators: there aren’t many Predators that give the Blues trouble, but if they have one true adversary, it’s Pekka Rinne. Rinne underwent hip surgery in May, missing the entire offseason and only seeing three preseason games, two periods each. Rinne only saw two periods at Scottrade, subsequently replaced with backup, Carter Hutton after allowing three goals in the first 9:45 of the first period; as disheartening as that stat may be for Preds fans, it’s a Blues fan’s dream, as Blues fans are overwhelmed at times with three goals in a single game, let alone in one period. Another unfamiliar site – power play goals, that’s right plural, Backes scoring first on the power play, followed by Steen on the advantage. The Blues won 4-2 with the other two goals scored by Oshie and Sobotka.
The Blues made a point with their first game victory, but after dominating the unfamiliar Florida Panthers, in a gruesome 7-0 victory, they had made a statement, sending Tim Thomas to the bench scoring 1, followed by 4 goals in a 6:32 time span.
This was the Blues’ largest victory since they beat Detroit 10-3 in 2011 – speaking of Detroit, anyone remember last year’s home opener blowout? After a frustrating lockout – the Blues finally got their chance to take their shiny new toys for a lap, first-rounders, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko, 14th and 16th respectively. Vladimir Tarasenko living up to hype, recorded two highlight-worthy goals on two shots, along with two power play goals from Chris Stewart, a short-handed goal by TJ Oshie and an “insurance” power play goal by Patrik Berglund to send a clear (6-0) message to the Red Wings and the Central Division that the Blues were a force to be reckoned with.
We all know how last season actually ended up. So should we say these first two games of the season are a fluke? An anomaly? Or a legitimate basis for our 2013-2014 team projections? Can we really base our season hopes and expectations off of the first two games, having been played against Nashville and Florida?
Florida Panthers’ goalie, Tim Thomas was wrecked by the Blues. This was not the Conn Smythe, two Vezina trophy winner who broke Dominik Hasek’s save percentage record with a .938 in the 2010-2011 regular season, nor was it the playoff MVP, Tim Thomas who recorded four shutouts in 25 playoff starts before hoisting the Cup. Nope, the Blues saw the older, rusty, coming off a one-year hiatus, pulled after the second period, Tim Thomas. Hey Tim, in case you missed the memo – even though "you guys" shut down the government, that doesn’t mean you are a furloughed employee… you still have to show up to work. Too soon? Maybe after the loss he went to Chick-Fil-A and ate five goals worth of feelings in chicken sandwiches? No? Cool, let’s just move on then.
As idealistic as it would be to take the first two games of this season as a microcosm of the “revamped” offensive-driven, 7 goals by 7 different players in one game 2013-2014 St. Louis Blues, let’s pump the breaks and float back down to reality… aka: the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Chicago Blackhawks.
Let’s look at the Blues team we saw last night that narrowly beat the Blackhawks 3-2. The Blues’ backbone penalty kill gave up both goals to the Blackhawks; while tallying 3 even strength goals from Tarasenko, Backes, and Steen. Halak was (almost) unstoppable at his .948 save percentage and a 1.33 GAA; having stopped 73/77 shots against this season, making him possibly fresher than Jordan Binnington’s mask.
Finding the middle ground between the first 2 games of the season and last night’s win over the Blackhawks, is not only a realistic approach, but a place with an encouraging undertone of confidence and excitement. In that middle ground, here are some quick and positive observations of the season so far:
* Newly locked-up Pietrangelo is leading the team with 5 assists.
* After a lackluster return from injury last season, Tarasenko has come back stronger and a little less shell-shocked, tallying 2 goals and 1 assist.
* Steen is scoring, and it seems he hasn’t lost that tenacious, playoff behind-the-net, dramatic fashion.
* Backes has already recorded 3 goals (33.3% of his total goals in 48 games last season), 2 being on the PP (twice his total PP goals last season).
* Let’s also note that at 6 goals last season, Backes trailed Schwartz by 1, and led Shattenkirk by 1 – so if we can project Backes to stay on this level… watch out for #9 and #22.
* And well, who can forget Schwartz’s Gordie Howe hat trick?
While this year’s Blues may not be winning in a 7-0 shutout fashion every game – it still seems safe to infer they’re a more solid, dominating team having newly-found offense and depth in their arsenal.