(HockeyStL) -- With the season’s end expeditiously nearing, the Blues must gear their focus towards the NHL playoffs. Currently a lock for one of the top two spots in the Western Conference, the Blues can begin examining their possible first round matchups as well as work on some internal improvements. The Blues clinched the Central Saturday night, despite playing arguably their worst game of the season, but to say that the Blues are a “one and done” team, is borderline insanity.
The Blues have a lot going for them as they close out the season, and unlike many teams that will finish with enough points to find themselves in the playoffs, the Blues are a more well-rounded team. Let’s take a look at why the Blues should make it past the first round this year.
-Defense: The Blues’ lack of offense often overshadows the attribute that has given the Blues a playoff berth. The Blues’ defense has been nearly flawless the entire season, and has been the most consistent defense in the NHL. Allowing an NHL low 147 goals this season has seemingly come easily for the Note. The Blues defensemen are rarely out of position, simply because they don’t allow themselves to be drawn into vulnerable spots on the ice. The Blues’ forwards play just as defensive of a game as their blue-liners, back-checking to break up opponent’s scoring chances, as well as protecting the puck when they find themselves with it in their possession. Enough cannot be said about the Blues’ defense, but just as important is the next key to a playoff run, their goaltending.
-Goaltending: The tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott is considered the best in the NHL. Together they combined to allow just 147 goals, amounting to an average of just 1.86 goals-per-game, which leads the league by a large margin. As if that is not testament enough to just how good the Blues’ goalies are, the duo’s save percentage is sure to satisfy skeptics. Through 79 games this season, the Blues’ goaltending tandem has a save percentage of .930, also leading the way in the NHL. You could not find a sufficient enough word to describe the Blues’ goaltenders this year. Who would’ve thought that at this point in the season, with an unproven goaltender in Halak, and a mediocre backup in Elliott, the Blues would lead the NHL in almost every goaltending category.
Defense and goaltending are the two major components of a Stanley Cup champion team, but the Blues have a few more important factors that could turn the tide in their favor.
-Proven leader: Hiring “the right” coach has proven to be a difficult task for the Blues the past few seasons. Now the Blues, thanks to GM Doug Armstrong, have a coach who is a proven leader, and who knows what it takes to win a Stanley Cup Championship. Ken Hitchcock, who took over for the Blues early into the season, has valuable experience in the area that is most coveted: a Stanley Cup playoff run. The Blues were lacking this type of experience under former head coach Davis Payne, but now have a coach who has “been there, and done that”. Hitchcock won the ultimate prize with the Dallas Stars in the 1998-99 season. In his career, Hitchcock has become known as one of the greatest hockey minds in the entire world, and his lifetime record of 575-365-80 shows just why. Making the playoffs is the easy part, winning the Stanley Cup is much more difficult, but the knowledge of veteran head coach Ken Hitchcock behind the Blues’ bench, may be just what the doctor ordered.
-Team Depth: Not many teams that had as eventful a year as the Blues injury-wise, would be able to say at the end of the season that they were one of the NHL’s best teams. The Blues are able to do just that thanks to Doug Armstrong’s offseason acquisitions. Adding the veteran presences of guys like Jamie Langenbrunner, Jason Arnott, Sott Nichol, and Kent Huskins has been huge down the stretch for the Blues. Not only did these acquisitions fill in for injured players, D’Agostini, Steen, McDonald, and Perron, but they also helped the team keep its composure throughout the season. Now with a fully healthy roster, Hitchcock is able to throw many different matchups at opponents, and keep his players fresh and well-rested. The Blues’ depth is as good as it gets, and watch for many different lineup changes in the playoffs as head coach Ken Hitchcock makes use of this advantage.
There are many other advantages that the Blues will have in the playoffs including home ice advantage, health, skill, and a well-rounded offense. All of these will play a big role in how far the Blues go into the playoffs, but the Blues are not a “one and done” team this year. They are too good to be eliminated in the first round, and hopefully they carry their play over into the playoffs, and continue to play with the heart and the passion that they’ve played with all year.
-Stay tuned later in the week for aspects of the Blues game that could possibly hinder them if they remain unattended to come playoff time.