Yesterday, we previewed the St. Louis Blues’ upcoming season. Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera look to make a difference this season while rookie goaltender Jake Allen has officially been given full access to the depths of Scottrade Center. Either way you look at it, 2014-15 is shaping up to be a fun, yet interesting, season for the Blues brass.
Shortly after the previews, we get the predictions. Player A wins the Hart Trophy, Team B wins the Stanley Cup are likely headlines that are filling your Facebook timeline or your Twitter newsfeed. Some read these for the content and appreciate the predictions. Others read simply to rip the writer and count the reasons that the article is completely worthless. Obscenities often ensue. Either way, the reader finds some type of enjoyment out of it.
Let’s hope this post won’t be any different.
With the season kicking off tonight at 7:00 CDT in downtown St. Louis with the visiting New York Rangers on the opposite end of the ice, there is no time better than now to make some bold predictions for the upcoming Blues’ season.
5. The Blues, Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars finish the season within five points of each other in the NHL standings
A lot has been said about the additions for many teams in the Central Division. The Blues won the Stastny sweepstakes; Minnesota added Thomas Vanek; Dallas acquired Jason Spezza; Chicago landed Brad Richards. The list goes on, but three teams stand out the most.
Although Minnesota is still a powerhouse up north, the question mark in goal, that has seemed to plague the Wild since Niklas Backstrom’s 37-win season in 2008-09, still lingers. Chicago, the last Stanley Cup victor from the Central Division, and Dallas, boasting a top line that consists of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, look to be the Blues’ biggest challengers for the title.
It’ll likely come down to the three games that take place between April 3-11 (the final eight days of the season); the Blues take on the Stars once (Apr. 3 in Dallas) and then they battle the Blackhawks twice (Apr. 5 in Chicago and Apr. 9 in St. Louis).
This all coincides with the next claim…
4. The Blues will win the 2014-15 Central Division title
This does not mean that the Blues will go the deepest in the postseason of the Central teams, but it does prove that they will have a strong regular season.
The Blues have been ousted from the playoffs much sooner than expected the past three seasons. Don’t put it past head coach Ken Hitchcock to stress to his team that they have something to prove during the regular season. The cast of leaders, which includes David Backes, Barret Jackman and Alex Pietrangelo, probably feel the same as their coach. The flame out at the end of last season may have contributed to the playoff debacle against Chicago; every step will be taken to ensure that doesn’t happen again. That includes finishing the season on the highest note possible.
3. Vladimir Tarasenko will score 40 goals
Entering his third NHL season, Tarasenko is one of the most intriguing players heading into the season. He was the standout Blue in the playoffs (four goals in the six-game loss), and he is being joined by his former KHL linemate, Jori Lehtera. Dare we say, breakout season?
Yes, we may. Tarasenko has been the flashiest Blues forward since his arrival at the open of the 2012-13 season, when he scorched the Detroit Red Wings for two goals in a big 6-0 victory. Add in the focus that management placed on improving the offense this summer, and Tarasenko is primed to light the lamp more than any other player wearing blue and yellow.
The key for the Russian winger is to stay healthy. He’s already faced his fair share of injuries in his young NHL career, so that will need to be curbed in order for him to reach this milestone. However, if anyone will reach the 40-mark this season, it will be Tarasenko.
[See related: Blues’ Tarasenko Poised for Breakout Year]
2. Kevin Shattenkirk will score 60 points
Thinking about the way he carries himself on the ice and his ability to find open teammates on the power play, it’s hard to believe that the 25-year-old defenseman has not already accomplished this feat. Alas, the smooth-skating blueliner hasn’t even reached 50 points in a single season, as last campaign saw his career highs in goals (10), assists (35) and points (45).
Much like Tarasenko, Shattenkirk will benefit from the improved offense this season. Threatening forwards means more points for the puck-moving defensemen. Shattenkirk will continue to join the rush and will be the benefactor of more assists, thanks to sharpshooters finding the back of the net more often. Factor in that he’ll be joined by known scoring defenseman Carl Gunnarsson on the second pairing, and the result is a memorable season for Shattenkirk.
1. Jake Allen will be the Blues’ starting goalie by the end of the 2014-15 season
Brian Elliott has deserved his chance to enter a season as the Blues’ starting goalie. He’s watched Jaroslav Halak and Ryan Miller take their attempts with the team, getting the team to the same spot he did in 2012-13 (first- or second-round playoff loss). He’s been one of the Blues’ best statistical goaltenders in franchise history and he will have a fine season, but it will be overshined by the Blues’ rookie.
We’re not talking about the next coming of Patrick Roy, here. However, we are talking about a 24-year-old netminder who has patiently waited for his shot at a starting job with the big club. Allen has appeared in at least 35 games over the past four AHL seasons, posting an 84-74-7-10 record, to go along with 16 shutouts (on some bad Peoria Rivermen teams, mind you). He was reliable enough last season to earn the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award as the league’s outstanding goaltender.
Don’t be surprised if the veteran of just 15 NHL games starts his first full season off a little shaky, either. The reason that Elliott was re-signed this summer was to carry the load when needed and serve as a mentor to Allen. It will be because of Elliott’s reliable nature that Allen will gain confidence through the season and take over the reins in March or early April.