(HockeyStL) -- If you were like me you were excited about the Blues prospects for a deep Stanley Cup run while we enjoyed a very strong regular season. From October through the Olympic break we looked and acted like one of the top 4 franchises in the NHL. We were dominating our division and had beaten the Blackhawks home and away.
Our offense which had trouble scoring in ’12-’13 season was finishing, in fact for the season the Blues led the NHL in scoring averaging a strong 3.6 goals a game. Our split goaltending tandem of Halack and Elliot were among the best in NHL, and the combination of high scoring and good goaltending led the team to the NHL’s best record as half the team headed to Sochi.
So where did the Blues get off track? They came back from the Olympics and for the first few weeks after the games the Blues were able to hold it together even as they started to get hit by what was the start of a bad injury streak. In the first 19 games after the Olympics the Blues won 13 and lost 6. They were not as good as they had been earlier in the season, but still winning 2 of every 3 games. They also made the “big trade” for Miller and Ott.
Early returns on Miller were good as the Blues went 9 and 1 and included the game on April 1st the Blues won 1-0 against Philly. Anyone seeing that game saw the Miller we hoped we had traded for, he stole that game.
But then the wheels came off. The following game against Buffalo they won but that was more about how bad Buffalo was. As we all know they finished the season by losing 6 straight and so many Blues were hurt that the final game against the Red Wings looked like the Chicago Wolves (Blues Minor league team).
Could they turn it back on for the start of the playoffs against the Blackhawks? How many of the injured could come back and play, and even more to the point – play like they did when they were healthy? The answer was only Tarasenko who came out with a jump in his game and literally carried the Blues to wins the first two games and led the Blues in goals with 4.
But where were the other team leaders? The Backes injury in game two hurt, and he was courageous to come back but our 2nd leading regular season goal scorer (27) didn’t register a goal in the series. Steen who was our regular season goal leader (33) should get kudos for the OT game winning goal in game 1 but that was it for goals. Schwartz who had a very strong regular season (25 goals), had a huge game tying goal, but despite his hustle was unable to score again in the playoffs. Oshie who had 21 regular season goals and missed the first game due the injury that sidelined him at the end of the regular season scored two goals in the playoffs as his game came around the more he played. But we needed more from this group.
Coach Hitchcock is right, the team had Chicago down 2-0 in games, “but failed to step on their neck”. Games three and four were filled with opportunities to score, but what I saw were shot after shot just wide, or just high, and yes we hit some posts as well. Crawford can get the credit for stealing game 3, but we could have won both games. Game 5 was no different except the chances to score were even more pronounced and just as troubling as we shot wide and high time after time. I haven’t seen the stat but one radio broadcaster said we led the league in missed shots in the regular season and no doubt in round one of the playoffs. What is interesting to me is when we were dominating the league from October through March these shots were finding the back of the net much more often.
Finally, let’s talk about the goaltending. No way I blame Miller for losing this series. This was a team effort, not one guy. But Miller’s goals against average of 2.70 is unacceptable and puts him with the goalies who lost the first round, his save percentage of .897 is also very troubling. What is interesting is it wasn’t a lot different in his short regular season with the Blues when his goals against was 2.47 and his save percentage was marginally better at 9.03. I think the Blues were trading for the Ryan Miller from 5 years ago when he was an elite goalie. By comparison Brian Elliot who gets no respect had a 1.99 GAA and 922 save percentage. Elliot’s numbers are what the Blues were looking for from Miller.
Next year the Blues say Jake Allen will have a roster spot as 1 of two goalies, I would re-sign Elliot as the other goalie, and let Miller find a new home. I would also make room for Cracknell and Porter and hope that Paajarvi comes around and grows into the talent the Blues think he is. We could use another 25-30 goal scorer where does that come from? I don’t see that coming from Berglund. I like Sobotka’s hustle and effort and he missed 20 games from injury but he needs to score more than 9 goals. Tarasenko is an emerging star and the coaching staff needs to get him additional minutes on the ice and he could deliver 30 goals. The defense is strong overall, but it might be time to beyond Jackman. He is full of effort and can make the big play, but he usually delivers a few bonehead plays each game. Are the Blues ready to give a spot to Cole or Colaiacovo? I think Cole has the stronger game. My final note is about Maxim Lapierre. I was not impressed with his game early on, but he really impressed me in the series and end of the regular season. While he may not have the skills of some others he had 9 goals in the regular season he shows up every night ready to play.
The fan base needs a team that get into the 2nd and 3rd round of the playoffs, much less finally bring the Cup here to St Louis. The team we saw for 6 months was capable of that. Time will tell how the Blues remake the team for next year and hopefully next April we can see a dominant Blues team.