The Olympics are done, now is the time for fun. For the St. Louis Blues first place certainly looks inviting. Atop the Central Division is where they sit with play resuming for them on Wednesday verses the Vancouver Canucks. With 25 games left on the 2013-2014 schedule the Blues are now the hunted instead of the hunter. All things appear to be on the bright side for the Note as they head down the homestretch. There is balanced scoring with 7 players with at least 10 goals, led by Alexander Steen’s 28. The roster is over ridden with players on the plus side of plus/minus ledger. The only questions that come about are the ones that rear their ugly head every year and for most every team in the hunt, goaltending. The Blues net minders have been up and down, but I would imagine most fans having a Doubting Thomas attitude towards their teams man behind the mask. From all accounts the Blues will stand pat with their goalie situation. I find no reason to have Doug Armstrong get held over the proverbial barrel to land this years big fish, Ryan Miller. With that being said, the onus for a good, long playoff run will fall on the aforementioned balance offense. Three forwards could hold the key. Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz have both laid to rest the myth of a sophomore slump. The third, Patrik Berglund, has meandered his way through the season, offensively. This triumvirate will be counted on heavily come playoff time, and here’s why.
Every year come playoff time a player emerges from the shadows. These shadows could be of other star players on the roster. They could also be the shadows of less than stellar regular season haunting a certain player. Patrik Berglund falls in that second category. While he has been touted for doing the little things to help win games it is time for him to step up and do the big thing, put the puck in the net. The top line of Backes, Steen, and Oshie will most likely draw the duty of checking the oppositions number one line. These tasks may preclude them from doing what they have done all season, spearhead the offense. That responsibility will fall to others and while Berglund does not need to lead the secondary wave of scoring he most definitely needs to assert himself more regularly to change the landscape of the game. He will need to use that big body to get to those ugly spots where playoff goals are born. That heavy wrist shot needs to find its way to the net more often. Berglund has shown that he can step up in big games as 8 goals in 9 games for Sweden in the 2010-2011 World Cup would attest. Hopefully a prosperous Sochi Olympics for Sweden will drive Berglund to a successful playoff run.
It’s was a nice experience to be part of the Winter Olympics in Sochi! Now it’s time to get back to the big fellas #LGB#beuties
— patrik berglund (@bulish21) February 24, 2014
A Rising Star
Vladimir Tarasenko appears ready to take his game to a new level. He seems to be on the cusp of joining the games elite scorers. His confidence when carrying the puck is growing every game. No longer afraid to use his immense skill to challenge NHL defensemen Tarasenko is slowly but surely making his presence felt game in and game out. The timidity brought on by post-concussion syndrome last year has been replaced by the temerity that every super star has to have. The have to possess the bravado to try things on the ice that most players would not. He looks to be playing that part. His upswing will need to continue for the Blues to make a historic playoff run. While most playoff goals are a version of trench warfare on ice, every once in a while a singular, superior effort can spin the momentum. Tarasenko is that type of player. Offense is at a premium from here on out. Vladimir Tarasenko must provide what he was drafted for, instant offense.
Jaden Schwartz has been through his share of rough times, not only as a hockey player but through life in general. By now most have heard about the death of Jaden’s sister Mandi. She passed away 3 years ago from Leukemia. A life altering event like that would make the start of any career problematic, but try doing it in the public eye. Schwartz was originally drafted by the Blues 14th overall in 2010 Draft. He would suffer a fractured ankle later on in the year at the World Junior Championship. His first season with the Note began inauspiciously as well. He would spend time jumping back and forth from the press box to the fourth line. Fast forward to 2013-2014 and it is not uncommon to find Schwartz on the first line, killing penalties and on the power play. He has found Ken Hitchcock’s trust and his resiliency is the key. He is tenacious. He is strong with the puck and maybe even stronger trying to retrieve it. I liken playing against him to getting a tattoo. The constant needling and pulling on the skin eventually gets annoying. That is how defensemen must feel when he is on the ice. To make matters worse for the opponent he knows what to do with the puck when he gets it. 19 goals, 42 points and a team leading plus 22 would attest to that. The Blues will need Schwartz to bring that power of resiliency to the playoffs. The ebbs and flows of the playoffs can be insurmountable for some. Jaden Schwartz has dealt with worse.