Wednesday, December 31, 2014

No Singing the Blues This Season

As of now, the St. Louis Blues sit fourth in the Western Conference, but they are a pedestrian .500 team in their last ten games. David Backes is everything you want in a captain, and he can, and should, lead them to a Stanley Cup; he is Barclay Plager, Brian Sutter and Dallas Drake rolled into one. Drafted by the Blues in 2003, he inspires and motivates on and off the ice, plasters opponents to the boards and defends his teammates. Oh yeah, and he will even score on you from time to time. He gives high praise for excellence to others and is critical of poor play, especially his own. Not necessarily having to be the best player on the team, that is what a captain is supposed to do. Consisting of Backes, T.J. Oshie, Alex Steen or the occasional Paul Stastny, he forms part of what I like to call the “BOSS” line. Because this is the one against which other opponents justify their paycheck. To be honest, though, my favorite line has to be Maxim Lapierre, Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves. Talk about plastering opponents to the boards. This line in its pure form is pure beauty to watch as they lay down crushing checks and bruising hits. Switching out for Steve Ott only brings more experience in the endeavor. And oh yeah, they just might even score on you from time to time.

What can be said about Vladimir “Tank” Tarasenko that has not already been exhausted? He is a breath of fresh air, and perhaps the key element missing in years:  a ridiculously dominating goal scorer that can make defenders and goalies alike reconsider playing professional hockey. Better than Brett Hull? Go ahead, place that bet – and I love the Golden Brett! With Jori Lehtera, or Stastny, and Jaden Schwartz, alongside Tarasenko (as the “STL” line), just sit back and enjoy the combined international cooperation this line can bring that makes the United Nations envious. Then there's Patrik Berglund. Oh, Bergie, Bergie, Bergie. You are either frustrating or exciting. Talk about a nice guy deserving better, most particularly from himself. Something he readily acknowledges. A Blues draft pick in 2006 with a recently renewed three-year contract, he is playing either for an extended stay or for another team to take notice. Whichever the case, it would be nice for his cup to runneth over before reaching that bridge. Paired with the likes of Dmitirij Jaskin, Magnus Paajarvi (recently placed on waivers) and Joakim Lindstrom, it could be nothing less than Swede…with a little Russian moxie thrown in for good measure.

Despite twelve years, and a Calder Trophy win, spent solely on the Blues' blueline, Barret Jackman gets a lot of grief from disillusioned fans. What does he give in return? Consistency and toughness. Same as Jay Bouwmeester. By all measure, the majority of the defense is still young, but that is no excuse. Alex Pietrangelo has several years under his skates and plays like the veteran he is; yet, he is still learning to be the quarterback of what could be an as-yet-explosive offense and power play a la Al MacInnis or Chris Pronger, while minimizing the miscues. Kevin Shattenkirk is another in that same vein, given to pinching in for the ever-ready offensive spark. Chris Butler is the local boy, while Ian Cole and Carl Gunnarsson are the out-of-towners looking to make an impact. For the most part, they have yet to hit their stride as a potential shutdown defense that would be a relief to the young Jake Allen and the stoic Marty Brodeur. It certainly would give comfort to an ailing Brian Elliot upon his recent return to action.

So, as they approach the new year and second half of the season, is this the team poised for a run at Lord Stanley? With some minor tweaks – rather than the usual mid-season overhaul of years past – and prospects like Ty Rattie, Yannick Veilleux and Petteri Lindbohm, bet on it.

©2014 Steve Sagarra

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