While most of us are still practicing our Irish Yoga from St. Patrick’s day, the St. Louis Blues are focusing on a season that sees them with 45 wins, 95 points, and atop of the Central Division. With only a few weeks left in the regular season they look prized to be in the hunt for the President’s Trophy as the top team in the league. Is this finally the season where they give us more?
A quick flashback at the last three playoff runs:
2011-2012: They finished second in the West with 109 points, but were swept by the Kings after winning a first round match-up against the Sharks in five games.
2012-2013: In the shortened 48-game season, they finished with 60 points, good for fourth in the West. They started out hot in their first round match-up against the same Kings team that beat them a year before only to lose 4 in a row to them again.
2013-2014: Finished third in the Wild West with a cool 111 points, but they were shown the door by the Chicago Blackhawks in an early first round exit.
Despite their track record in the playoffs, the Blues are in stride at the perfect time with only 11 regular season games remaining.
#stlblues are two points ahead of Nashville, four ahead of Chicago for the Central Division lead at the end of the night.
— Lou Korac (@lkorac10) March 20, 2015
They have posted a 21-11-4 record on the road which is good for first in the Western Conference. In fact they are the NHL’s hottest road team winning 12 of the last 16 road games. However, anyway you look at it there is not an easy opponent in the West from 1st to 8th place. Using the standings right now, the Blues will end up in first or second in their conference facing one of the Wild Card teams.
Consistent success on the road is vital to winning in the playoffs especially when the 7th man really comes into play.
With the potential of Winnipeg Jets who currently sit in the second wild card spot. The Blues have won 3 out of 4 match-ups this season, including two wins at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg. The MTS Centre is one of the hardest barns to win in the league because the intimacy of the arena and its fans.
It is the same theme with the Minnesota Wild who hold first in the wild card as the Blues won the only game they played at the Excel Energy Center in a shootout.
With the ability to win on the road against these two clubs the Blues should be able to do this in the playoffs as well something they’ve had a problem executing in past years. Winnipeg and Minnesota aren’t exactly the Chicago Blackhawks or the LA Kings but they will pose a first round threat to the Blues.
Depth is off the charts
What separates this year’s team from the others? For starters, it’s one of the most complete lineups throughout the entire league. It’s hard to find a weakness from the front office to the healthy scratches within the organization.
The maturity of the ‘STL’ line made up of Jaden Schwartz, Valdmir Tarasenko, and Jori Lehtera. Tarasenko has solidified himself as a bonafide superstar and is on the verge of hitting 40 goals and the 70 point mark.
Veteran forward Alex Steen is proving that last season’s success anchoring the top line with TJ Oshie and Captain David Backes was not a fluke. Together that line has been unstoppable with each member hitting the 50 point plateau.
In 33 games since Jan. 1, Steen (36), Oshie (35) and Backes (33) are at a point per game or better each, 104 points combined. #stlblues
— Lou Korac (@lkorac10) March 18, 2015
The back-end led by Pietrangelo, Bouwmeester, Gunnarsson, Jackman and trade deadline new-comers Bortuzzo and Michalek make up one of the most solid defensive corps in recent memory. With top-scoring d-man Kevin Shattenkirk slated to return to the lineup Hitchcock will have to decide on pairings moving forward.
Goaltending has been second to none with Brian Elliot and Jake Allen making it look rather easy between the pipes, giving the Blues an opportunity to win every single night.
The Fourth Line
The biggest factor is the depth in the bottom 3. Head coach Ken Hitchcock can roll a top 9 and arguably the best fourth line in the entire NHL. The ability to roll all four lines not only gives the top players rest, it allows the Blues to play a relentless game.
The Blues ‘energy line’ has a rotating door most nights with mainstays Ryan Reaves and Steve Ott. The rest of the line rounds out with either Chris Porter, Olli Jokinen, and Marcel Goc. (Patrick Berglund has found himself on the fourth line as of late for lack of production.)
What makes it so effective is that all of these players have a wealth of experience in the NHL. Reaves, Ott and Porter seem to be the best combination as they are a nightmare for opposing teams when they get going. It would be best if Hitchcock kept them together for the remainder of the season to develop more chemistry.
Ken Hitchcock said yesterday opponent determines who plays and who sits. Will play lineup that gives team the best chance to win #stlblues
— Andy Strickland (@andystrickland) March 19, 2015
It used to be that third lines win championships but a fourth line that a coach can trust in double OT is an invaluable asset heading into the playoffs.
Although mid-June matters more than mid-April, having everything in sync and almost everyone healthy is a very good indicator for General Manager Doug Armstrong and Co. He was able to fill the holes on the roster at the trade deadline and the new acquisitions are fitting in nicely with their new club.
With a record of 6-2-2 in the last ten games it’s safe to say the Blues will make a deep run in the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs. One thing is for certain, a Stanley Cup Parade in St. Louis this summer wouldn’t surprise anyone at this point.