NHL PLAYOFFS 2013: St Louis Blues – Late bloomers.

Image courtesy of stlouis.cbslocal.com.

Image courtesy of stlouis.cbslocal.com.

As we get closer to the playoffs, IceNationUK will be taking a look at each team’s roster as they clinch a spot in the postseason.

Next, the St Louis Blues.

SEASON LOWDOWN

Image courtesy of sbnation.com.

Image courtesy of sbnation.com.

After an exceptional season last year in which the Blues won their division for the first time in over 10 years and made it to the second round of the playoffs, the team could finally declare it’s long rebuild over.  An exceptionally well put together team, despite an absence of top scoring talent, they also benefited from outstanding goaltending – and the biggest question mark coming into this season was always going to be would they receive that again.  The answer?  No, they didn’t, not by a long shot.

They actually got off to a good start, going 6-1-0 in January including a 4 game winning streak.  However, the team stumbled big time in February.  They secured just 1 point in their first 5 games of the month, and although a following 3-game winning streak got them slightly back on track, they then secured only 3 points in their last 4 games of the month.  Halak and Elliott had begun to surrender a lot of goals – they surrendered about 40 goals in 12 games, or 3.33 goals per game, and that includes the period in the middle of the month when prospect goalie Jake Allen provided some good goaltending for 4 games.  Whilst the goalies’ stats from last year were considered to be unsustainable in the long-run, rather than just regress to the average they swung completely the other way this season, resulting in a difficult season.  The team had an average March, going 7-7-0, and when they lost it wasn’t in low scoring affairs.  It was looking doubtful the team would make the postseason at all, a shocking turn of events for a team many, myself included, had picked as a Cup contender.  However, April came along to save the day.  The team went 12-3-0, including a 6 game win streak to start the month, and Elliott and Allen managed to right the ship on the goaltending front.

The Blues, despite being in a precarious position even by the beginning of April, made a stunning turn-around to secure the 4th spot in the West, and guaranteed home advantage for at least the 1st round of the playoffs.

2012/13 Season Team Stats (to date):

48 Games – 29 Wins – 17 Losses – 2 OT Losses – 60 Points

Goals For = 129

Goals Against = 115

Goal Differential = +14

Home Record = 15-8-1

Away Record = 14-9-1

CURRENT LINEUP

Forwards:

JADEN SCHWARTZ – DAVID BACKES – ALEX STEEN

ANDY MCDONALD – VLADIMIR SOBOTKA – CHRIS STEWART

DAVID PERRON – PATRIK BERGLUND – VLADIMIR TARASENKO

ADAM CRACKNELL – CHRIS PORTER – RYAN REAVES

Defence:

JAY BOUWMEESTER – ALEX PIETRANGELO

JORDAN LEOPOLD – KEVIN SHATTENKIRK

KRIS RUSSELL – ROMAN POLAK

Goal:

BRIAN ELLIOTT

JAKE ALLEN

EXTRA: ANDREW MURRAY, TAYLOR CHORNEY, IAN COLE, JEFF WOYWITKA

INJURED: TJ OSHIE, JAROSLAV HALAK, SCOTT NICHOL, BARRET JACKMAN, JAMIE LANGENBRUNNER

TOP SCORERS

BLUES TOP SCORERS 2013

EVALUATION

David Backes looks to put the puck in the net.  Image courtesy of zimbio.com.

David Backes looks to put the puck in the net. Image courtesy of zimbio.com.

David Backes, widely considered to be one of the best defensive forwards in the league, hasn’t had his best campaign.  His shooting percentage has nosedived, indicating bad luck, although he was putting up assists at the best rate of his career.  He takes on the toughest competition of any forward on the team with around 41% offensive zonestarts, and although he gets outshot quite badly it is understandable.  The team’s captain is a valuable player in all aspects of the game, and the fact he takes on tough assignments is helpful to the team as it allows the other players more freedom.  Jaden Schwartz has had a so-so rookie year, not awful but not great either.  He’s chipped in on offense, but doesn’t get massive opportunities, barely playing on the powerplay and only getting 12 minutes per game at 5v5.  He’s struggled against middling competition, so it would be in the team’s interest to shelter him more.  Alex Steen has had an OK year offensively, but is more valuable as an all-round performer, playing big minutes in all situations and being particularly strong at 5v5.

Andy McDonald has struggled with injury for the past several years, but when he’s in the lineup he is still a capable scorer, his speed helping immensely on the forecheck.  He has been fairly poor at 5v5 against middling competition and with extreme offensive zonestarts, but that could be down to rust as much as anything.  Vladimir Sobotka has found himself in an elevated role this year with TJ Oshie being out, and has had a pretty nice year.  Nearly matching his point total from last year despite the shortened year, Sobotka is a capable 3rd line center who is not a liability at 5v5 – in fact he could be used against tougher competition if so desired – and has strong PK abilities.  Chris Stewart has seen a resurgence in his scoring ability, after being a disappointment for much of his time in St Louis.  He led the team in scoring, and although that was helped by a huge jump in shooting percentage it was still nice to see.  He was however a liability at 5v5 play against middling competition, and doesn’t really offer much aside from offensive skill, so it is important not to get too excited about his season.

Vladimir Tarasenko impressed in his debut.  Image courtesy of bleacherreport.com.

Vladimir Tarasenko impressed in his debut. Image courtesy of bleacherreport.com.

David Perron is a pretty consistent offensive player, averaging about a 40+ point pace each year and this season was no different.  He also provides safe, solid 5v5 play against tough competition and the ability to step in on the PK now and then which is handy.  Patrik Berglund had a strange year, scoring a lot of goals but not assisting on many, largely thanks to a big jump in shooting percentage, and also hasn’t performed well at 5v5.  He does offer penalty killing skills though, so when he’s not scoring he does still provide other tangible benefits.  Vladimir Tarasenko, the much hyped rookie from Russia, got off to an incredible start to the season  with 5 goals and 9 points in his first 7 NHL games, and although he cooled off a bit after that he was still pretty effective.  An injury put him out for about a month, and when he came back he wasn’t as effective.  Still, he had a solid rookie season and provided a tantalising glimpse at what is to come.  A very special player, particularly for a team not loaded with offensive talent.

Adam Cracknell provided some solid play in limited minutes on the 4th line, not being a liability and chipping in some points.  Pretty much all you can ask for from a replacement player.  Chris Porter was much the same as the 4th line center, and although he was more of a 5v5 liability he did offer some PK ability to make up for it.  Ryan Reaves is a pretty good 4th liner, providing a big physical presence and the ability to chip in the occasional goal.  He was played against extremely easy competition, but was pretty dominant against them at 5v5, so he’s far from being a weak link.

TJ Oshie once again struggled with injuries this year, but when in the lineup was a fairly useful offensive player.  He played against tough competition and with difficult zonestarts, so whilst he was outshot it was pretty justified, and if he isn’t back for the playoffs St Louis will miss him.

Alex Pietrangelo skates the puck away from danger.  Image courtesy of zimbio.com.

Alex Pietrangelo skates the puck away from danger. Image courtesy of zimbio.com.

On defence is where the Blues really shine.  The acquisition of Jay Bouwmeester from Calgary at the trade deadline gave the team yet another workhorse defender who can play absolute monster minutes.  Not the offensive force he was with Florida a few years ago, he is still a very effective defensive player who can help in all situations.  He plays by far the toughest competition on the team and with the most difficult zonestarts, and as such his poor shot attempt differential is understandable – it’s historically been better than that so he should improve as he settles in to the team.  Alex Pietrangelo is really where it’s at on this team however.  From his first full season in 2010-11 he’s been brilliant in this league, and is a good bet for a Norris Trophy at least once in his career.  He’s offensively skilled and defensively adept, although along with most of the team he hasn’t had a great year 5v5.  Nonetheless, logs massive minutes in all situations and is probably the best player on the team.

Jordan Leopold was an astute pick-up for St Louis, and whilst the veteran hasn’t been much of a factor offensively, he’s strong on defence and can play big minutes in all situations, a perfect veteran presence heading into the playoffs.  Kevin Shattenkirk is the team’s most offensively gifted defender, and whilst he is placed in prime offensive situations to make the most of his abilities, he does exactly that and isn’t a problem at 5v5.  For all his offensive flair, is actually pretty proficient defensively aswell.

Kris Russell hasn’t been great for the team since coming over from Columbus a couple of years ago.  He’s moderately competent in all areas, but you wouldn’t want to move him up if injuries hit the better players.  Gets outshot routinely at 5v5 despite getting nearly 60% offensive zonestarts.  Roman Polak is a solid defensive defenceman, playing big PK minutes and a fair amount at 5v5, although he does have a tendency to get outshot.  As previously mentioned however, most of the team has gotten outshot this year, so I don’t know how much stock to put in those numbers.

Brian Elliott struggled this year, but improved towards the end.  Image courtesy of missourinet.com.

Brian Elliott struggled this year, but improved towards the end. Image courtesy of missourinet.com.

In net, as talked about in the Season Lowdown, the Blues have struggled.  After sensational years last year, both Elliott and Halak fell off the edge of the Earth this year.  Elliott did pick it up towards the end, finishing with a 2.28 GAA, a .907 SV% and 3 shutouts.  Halak didn’t get a chance to redeem himself after going down with injury halfway through the year, finishing with a 2.14 GAA and a .899 SV% and 3 shutouts.  Rookie Jake Allen was a welcome relief at times, though even he didn’t do great overall, finishing with a 2.46 GAA and .905 SV%.  This is one area that will have to be better if the Blues want any success in the postseason.

STAR PLAYOFF PERFORMER

The ever-reliable Jay Bouwmeester.  Image courtesy of usatoday.com.

The ever-reliable Jay Bouwmeester. Image courtesy of usatoday.com.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Jay Bouwmeester will play fantastically well in his first glimpse of playoff action.  Jay hasn’t seen the playoffs since playing in the AHL during the 2004/05 lockout, and has never been to the postseason in the NHL.  This is his big chance, and I think his capability to play massive minutes along with his tendency to remain unbelievably calm in any situation will be a massive boon to this team.

PREDICTION

A difficult team to suss out, they should have been so much better than this.  I’m not convinced that their goaltending is good enough to get them out of sticky situations, and combine that with little offensive punch and despite being a heavy, puck-possession team I don’t see them making it out of the first round.

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