An early season injury to Paul Stastny, Carl Gunnarsson's late debut, the jaws of the entire team swelling up after a trip to Southern California... The excuses for the St. Louis Blues just keep piling up.
The Blues come to Dallas tonight with a nice middling 3-3-1 record, but they did just record a regulation win over the Chicago Blackhawks. So have they turned the corner? Are they once more on track to live up to pre-season hype? And more importantly, will the Stars have their number once again?
1. The Blues are fresh off a win over the Chicago Blackhawks, and also freshly recovered from SoCal's diabolical attempt to eliminate the entire team with the flu. Are things looking up in St. Louis after the up and down start to the season?
STGT: The Blues looked great in their win over the Blackhawks in which they simply played better than their opponents. This is not to say everything is righted, however. The MRSA infection (or whatever it was) from Los Angeles did not help matters, but the Chicago game was the first one since Paul Stastny (more on him later) went off with a mysterious shoulder ailment in which the team looked cohesive. Some have laid this on the coach, but others have laid this on the fact that Stastny wasn't around to stabilize things. We'll probably get clearer answers on that once this week is past.
2. Dallas and their opponents are averaging 7 goals per game thus far this season, with the Stars involved in 11 and 12 goal affairs against the Flyers and Islanders as well. How will this "fun and gun offense and to hell with the defense" playing style work against the Blues?
STGT: On Episode 57 of Beyond Checkerdome (Available on iTunes!), I noted that this game with the Stars could end in only one of two ways: 1-0 or 7-5 [Ed. note: Seeing as how the lowest cumulative goal total in any Stars game to date is 5, I'm gonna go with the second of those predictions as the more likely]. Those who picked the Stars to be a darkhorse to win Conference III forgot a couple things: first, that Kari Lehtonen is about as sturdy as a china plate being thrown at a brick wall, and second, that the Stars had very little ACTUAL blue line depth (and that was BEFORE the Nemeth injury). The Blues can skate with anyone, but their coach doesn't want them to play this way if they don't have to. They might have to against the Stars, and the forwards in particular may really love it.
3. Paul Stastny was the big add over the offseason and now he's listed as week-to-week, whatever that means. How much will this hurt the Blues?
STGT: The main thing Stastny and Jori Lehtera brought to the Blues with their additions was depth down the middle. It also meant that the Blues could use Patrik Berglund at left wing, where he's better than he is as a center. Well, with Stastny out, Berglund shifts back to center. That is a major downer on the club (or at least its forward corps) as a whole. Thankfully, though Stastny was put on IR last Thursday, he is not expected to miss too much time, so as far as how this injury affects the whole club, I would say the impact will end up being minimal when all is said and done.
4. Over the offseason it seemed that the big question mark over the team was goaltending, what with downgrading from Jaroslav Halak to Ryan Miller, and then letting Miller walk after his short-term lease expired. Seven games in, how are we feeling?
STGT: At St. Louis Game Time, we have a series called "Blues By The Numbers". The main man behind this project once said about the Blues, "If they get below-average goaltending, they will get into the postseason. If they get average goaltending, they will be a Stanley Cup contender." Thus far, the goaltending has been best described as average. Brian Elliott doesn't exactly look like a world-beater, but he's sure as heck not embarrassing himself. Jake Allen has had one great outing and one "meh" outing. I firmly believe Allen will be the starter by the end of the season, but I really have no problem with the way things have worked out thus far, including but not limited to seeing Elliott get the majority of starts thus far. And I expect Elliott to be in net against the Stars.
5. Players to watch in tonight's game? Anybody looking particularly good recently, or at least avoiding the majority of flu-like symptoms?
STGT: Saturday night's game-winner was scored by Dmitrij Jaskin, who was one of the last cuts out of training camp. Had he been on most any other NHL team, he would be a Top 6 guy without a doubt. There is an incredible amount of potential in this kid: He's only 21 years old, he is huge, he has some wheels for a guy his size and has incredible hands. I really have no clue how he fell to a second round choice in the 2011 Entry Draft. He showed flashes last year but it was clear that he was not quite ready for the show. This year, however, might be the time for him to rise and grab the ice time he may very well deserve over the likes of Magnus Paajarvi. Also, if you see a line of Jaden Schwartz, Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko, hide your wife and kids. When put together (which hasn't happened lately due to injuries and illness), they have shown to be a dynamic combo.
6. And lastly, do you love Steve Ott as much as I do yet?
STGT: Look, I'm sure Steve Ott is a great dude. I'm sure he's a great teammate (he strikes me as the kind of guy both North Americans and Europeans would get along GREAT with), a great guy to talk to off the ice, a charitable person and one that gets along well with reporters. But the dude just flat out sucks at hockey. At times already this season, Ken Hitchcock has put Ott on a line with David Backes and T.J. Oshie, under the guise that the line needs "more #Sandpaper and #Grit". Apparently, he felt the line needed a cruise ship anchor as well, and so far, Backes and Oshie's numbers have shown that the line combo didn't exactly work (particularly Oshie's). Sorry, but if you're planning on contending for a Stanley Cup, having Steve Ott on your top line is not going to help you too much. Come back to Saturday, and Ott was on the fourth line with Ryan Reaves and Maxim Lapierre. That whole line played incredibly well that game. Now, why Ott is being paid $2.6MM a year to be a fourth-liner? I have no clue, but that's basically the only role he SHOULD play on this club. If he plays any higher than this, I am going to SCREAM. But to answer your question... I THINK I like Steve Ott "The Person." I KNOW I do not like Steve Ott "The Hockey Player." [Ed. note: Who can account for taste?]