Ponder This is a semi-regular segment that focuses on the St. Louis Blues. You can read more ramblings about the Blues by following Jeff Ponder on Twitter @jponder94.
A dose of medicine from Jaskin
Although the Scottrade Center was full of Chicago Blackhawks supporters, the arena was abuzz after Dmitrij Jaskin’s late second-period goal.
With the hometown St. Louis Blues already holding a 2-1 lead, the puck cycled through the Blackhawks’ defensive zone for the better part of the final minute of the second period. In the midst of a line change, Patrik Berglund, T.J. Oshie and Jaden Schwartz were on the ice for the Blues. When Schwartz found a chance, he skated to the bench to complete the change and Jaskin popped on. He did what every hockey coach tells his forwards to do: skate directly to the net. After goaltender Antti Raanta made the initial save on defenseman Alex Pietrangelo’s shot, Jaskin was waiting in the slot for the rebound and made no mistake in burying it.
His reaction was priceless. After all, what would any sane 21-year old do when scoring the second goal of his career against a divisional foe?
If you answered skate full steam into the boards and jump onto the glass, you’re correct.
When asked about his teammate’s celebration after the game, Pietrangelo referenced a professional sports league known for its excessive celebrations.
“He was happy he scored that one,” Pietrangelo said with a smile. “If that was the NFL, he might have gotten a flag there.”
The goal and the celebration were more than just another moment for the Blues. It was thrilling, compelling and captivating for the Blues roster, coaching staff and fan base. It helped the blue-collar St. Louis team breathe a sigh of relief in a stressful game after a two-game losing streak. More importantly, it allowed some players to share a laugh and enjoy a moment in a tense start of the season.
Off the ice struggles have ensued, as well. Many Blues players have suffered flu-like symptoms and other physical ailments, keeping them off the ice for games and practices. The late Robin Williams probably said it best in his 1998 movie, Patch Adams:
“Laughter boosts the immune system and helps the body fight off disease, cancer cells as well as viral, bacterial and other infections. Being happy is the best cure of all diseases!”
The Blues pulled up their sleeves, winced for just a moment and took their injection of happiness like champs. No band-aid needed.
It was a fresh moment for the team, whose core has faced the stress of being Cup contenders since the franchise’s return to the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2011-12. The addition of inexperienced youth into a somewhat youthful lineup helps the team remember that, although this is each player’s job, hockey is a passionate sport that is beloved across the world. Each one of these players are where they are right now because of a love for the game. Those early morning practices, bag skates and struggles with tiredness in school are all worth it when the puck hits the back of the net early in your career.
It may be too early in the 2014-15 season to call this goal a rallying point. However, it’s definitely a moment that the team can look back on as a reason to keep pushing in the strenuous regular season.
Was the Blues off-season revamp done to battle rising Stars?
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong did his best to make his team more mobile and dynamic over the summer.
Last season’s Blues were fierce competitors because players like David Backes, Vladimir Sobotka and Brenden Morrow would be ravaging puck-moving defensemen all game long in the offensive zone. Exiting the defensive zone wasn’t going to come without some bruises.
Although the forecheck is still a major component of head coach Ken Hitchcock’s system, the team’s makeup in 2014-15 focuses on speed and offensive creativity more now than ever. Although Backes, Steve Ott and Ryan Reaves are everyday players who still crash and bang, the Blues have added quick skaters who can get back in plays at every turn. Paul Stastny, Joakim Lindstrom and Jori Lehtera are all offensively gifted, but persevere in neutral-zone play with quick feet and swift sticks.
It may not be apparent in the early going as the Blues have sputtered out of the gate, but, on paper, this seems to be the direction of the roster.
The philosophy hasn’t changed per se, but has been tweaked. The easy answer is to say that it was to counter the Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings, who both have kept the Blues from winning a game in the second round during the past three postseasons. However, a Central Division team from Texas could be the reason for this, as well.
The Dallas Stars were remodeled to open the 2013-14 season in every sense of the word. Management brought in a new head coach (Lindy Ruff) and a new first-line center (Tyler Seguin). Heck, the team even changed it’s jersey and called the base color victory green.
The result was a 40-31-11 finish (91 points), a trip to the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08, captain Jamie Benn posting a career-high 34 goals and 79 points and newcomer Seguin finishing with his career bests in goals (37), assists (47) and points (84).
As if the offense wasn’t enough, GM Jim Nill added center Jason Spezza to the mix over the summer.
Facing the Blues last season, the Stars began their inner-division games by losing the first two games by a combined score of 9-3. The final three games, however, saw the pendulum swing. Dallas won all three games, outscoring the Blues 10-4, including a 3-0 shutout in the Blues’ second-to-last game of the season.
Call it a psychic presence, dumb luck or a just a hunch, but this had to be something that Armstrong, the former GM of the Stars, saw coming. Dallas is a team on the rise and it’s not long before the franchise is battling for the top spot in the Central. Blues management had to react. Otherwise, the Stars’ unpredictable offense could strike the Blues down at any given time.
The first test against Dallas begins tonight. St. Louis and Dallas will battle four more times this season, including two in St. Louis (Dec. 27, Feb. 17) and two more in Dallas (March 15, April 3).