The St. Louis Blues are primed and ready for a deep Stanley Cup run this season, which is no surprise to anyone around the NHL. What could make the team even better you ask? How about the return of one of the league’s best face-off men (72% in his first game back on Thursday), a guy who lives to play a fast and physical game, and who doesn’t know the meaning of the phrase, “I give up.” That’s right, Vladimir Sobotka returned to the lineup last night against former teammate David Perron and the surging Edmonton Oilers, and boy did he put on a clinic.
Why Sobotka’s Return Puts the Blues Ahead of the Pack
A lot of things are said about Blues’ power forward Vladimir Sobotka, but unnoticeable is never one of them. His on ice presence is always felt from both teams and fans alike, and his face-off skill set puts him in a league all his own. Though he may take a few games to get fully back into the swing of things, he came out flying in his first game back and was the biggest difference on the ice. What makes him such a difference maker you ask? A few particular skills outside of the obvious advantage he gives the team in the face-off circle.
Looks like Sobotka is back. He is centering Oshie and Tarasenko this morning. #stlblues
— Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) March 13, 2014
Play-makers Make Plays
Sobotka is one of the elite players in the NHL, not because of his size and power, but because of his pound for pound strength and drive. His ability to fight through adversity during plays and to win battles in the corner allow his teammates to find open ice, and wait for their workhorse to deliver a juicy nugget to their stick blades. Sobotka is the perfect play-maker because he sees the ice so well, and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. He is the first one into corners and the last to leave, most often with the puck. His skill doesn’t stop there though as he can find the open man in a split-second with a timely, accurate pass to their stick before any opposing defender can even react.
Hitch on Sobotka: “He’s arguably had the best season of anybody on the team.” #stlblues
— Lou Korac (@lkorac10) March 13, 2014
Feisty Play Motivates Teammates
While Sobby is in the corners mixing it up with the opposing team’s biggest and best, his teammates reap the benefits. His play often sends bursts of energy through them, much like the dynamic 4th line of Ryan Reeves, Maxim Lapierre, and Magnus Paajarvi do. While Vladimir Sobotka is no Ryan Reeves in terms of size and pure brute force, he has a very similar effect for the Blues. His energetic, extremely fast paced play often results in (as mentioned above) timely scoring chances that fuel the blood and legs of his teammates, and his feisty never-say-die attitude gets into opponent’s minds and takes them off their game. This is what makes him such a nightmare to play against night in and night out.
Two Way Play Shuts Down Opposition
We could talk about Sobotka’s offensive prowess for days, but by now fans know what he brings to the table to help the team score, and win big games. What they may not realize is how much he means to the defense. Sobotka is tied for 3rd overall on the team at a plus-20 (he was a plus-3 last night in his first game back), which is a direct reflection of the complete player he truly is. If he does happen to lose a race, or a puck battle he will be the last person you see on the ice sulking, but he may very well be the first you see back-checking into his own zone. He fights for a full 200 feet (the length of NHL rinks for those who don’t know) and rarely stops moving his feet. This allows him to get into opposing team’s passing lanes and intercept scoring chances before they even occur. He forces players to try and make plays from the outer 1/3rd of the rink, which cuts down most angles to a prime scoring play and diffuses most in-zone chances for opposing teams. This is what completes his skill set, and why the Blues are very happy he’s back in action.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting…A Sobotka Return
Out since late January with a knee injury that kept him from representing his home country (Czech Republic) in the Sochi Olympics, Sobotka will look to light a fire under his teammates, and he will play with a chip on his shoulder from here on out (as Thursday night’s game showed us). He should give opponents even less time to set up in the zone, and he will surely cut down angles and impede passing lanes to create more chances for the Notes team. This will boost St. Louis’ offensive production, which has been a little lacking since returning from the Olympic break, and should give the team the added support they need to truly shut their opponents down.
Sobotka: “It’s been a long break for me. It’s been probably 6 weeks right now, and it’s been a tough injury for me. I’m excited to be back.”
— Lou Korac (@lkorac10) March 13, 2014
He came out of the gates flying and managed a 3 point, 1st star of the game performance in his debut from injury acting as a human wrecking ball out there hitting anything that moved while he tested out his knee. This was an amazing sign, showing that he is already ready to play and contribute in all situations, something the Blues were hoping for. Though you didn’t see him on special teams much last night, he will return to his premier role within the next few games, and I believe the entire organization won’t look back.
Lord Stanley here we come for your Cup, it’s been far too long without it. This season is already one for the record books, but could be “the year” for the team, and our city. Whatever the final regular season and playoff games hold on thing is certain, the Blues are a force to be reckoned with this year, and Vladimir Sobotka is a huge reason why.
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Mike has covered the St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning in depth for The Hockey Writers since 2013. He is also a contributing writer for KSDK News Channel 5, the St. Louis area NBC affiliate, and has been a credentialed media member of the Blues since 2014. Follow him on Twitter @pep30.