What a difference a year can make; last season, twelve games into the schedule, the St. Louis Blues were 5-6-1 and
had been shutout on two occasions. They would finish the season with a 40-32-10 record and 90 points, but failed to qualify for the playoffs, finishing fourth in the Central Division and ninth in the Western Conference.
Fast forward to this year and the Blues are 9-1-2, first in their division, the Western Conference, and tied for first overall in the league. After struggling at home last year, the Blues are 6-0-0 at the Scottrade Center to start the season and they continue to ride the hot-hands of their goaltenders, Jaroslav Halak and Ty Conklin. While there is still a long road to the playoffs in April, the Blues and their new dynamic duo have the team on the right track.
While the story in St. Louis has been the addition of Halak, he is leading the league, along with three other goaltenders with eight wins, tied with Boston’s Tim Thomas with three shutouts, he is third in the league in GAA (1.46) and save percentage (.944), and he has been one of the league’s weekly three stars on several occasions. His backup, Ty Conklin, is 1-0-1 in two starts, with a 0.96 GAA, a .962 save percentage and he recorded his first shutout of the season in a 2-0 win against the New York Rangers on Sunday.
Not only was it Conklin’s first shutout of the season, it was the first time in team history that the Blues have blanked the Rangers (128 games). In their first twelve games, the Blues have allowed only 18 goals against to lead the league. The Boston Bruins are the only other team in the league to allow fewer then two goals per game.
The goaltending has propelled St. Louis to the top of the NHL and their penalty kill is clipping along at almost the same efficiency as last season (86.8% in 2009-2010 and 84.8% in 2010-2011), but they continue to search for more offensive production on the power play and at even strength. How long can they rely on their goaltending without providing some offensive help? The power play ranked 20th overall last season (16.9%), this year, they have failed to get on track, scoring on only seven of their 59 power play opportunities (11.9%), which leaves them near the bottom of the league, 25th overall.
Offensively, the Blues are led by former University of North Dakota star and first round draft pick TJ Oshie (1 goal – 9 assists), Alexander Steen (3 goals – 6 assists), Matt D’Agostini (5 goals – 2 assists), and the injured David Perron (5 goals – 2 assists). With the injury to Perron (concussion), the entire team must step up and improve things on the offensive side. While the Blues lead the league in goals against, they rank 29th in the NHL with only 30 goals for, well behind the league leading Chicago Blackhawks (48), Washington Capitals (46), and Philadelphia Flyers (45); they rank 22nd in goals per game (2.50).
The Blues have a tremendous opportunity to widen the gap in the Central, with games against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday and the Nashville Predators on Thursday. If Halak can continue to work his magic, they can improve on what has already become the best start in franchise history. However, they are facing a pair of tough teams within their division and Blue Jackets goaltender Mathieu Garon has played as well as Halak to start the season; goals may be hard to find. Everyone in the organization is pleased with the great start, but the 82-game schedule is a long and winding road.
TJ Oshie – Slidingsideways/Flickr
Andrew Rodger is an independent sports columnist and member of the Canadian Association of Journalists. Along with operating The Voice of Sport, he covers the Ottawa Senators and writes the “Ask the Alumni” series here at The Hockey Writers. He is the resident writer for the NHL Alumni Association and a contributor on CBC News Now.