(HockeyStL) -- The Blues' 2011-2012 season ended in disappointing fashion on Sunday. The Los Angeles Kings swept the Blues and advanced to the Conference finals while the Blues were sent packing. While it remains hard to believe, and hard to take, it should not cover up the fact that the Blues had one of their best seasons in franchise history.
It was sure to be a spectacular season under head coach Davis Payne, and fans were as excited as ever back in October when it was finally time to drop the puck on a new Blues season. Fans were expecting this to be the year the Blues returned to the playoffs, and after a long rebuild, they would settle for nothing below those expectations.
However, the Blues gave fans reason to be concerned after dropping their home opener, and dropping 7 of their first 13 games, along with losing Andy McDonald to yet another concussion. Blues general manager Doug Armstrong knew that he had to step in, and the time to do so was then. He fired head coach Davis Payne on November 6 and replaced him with Ken Hitchcock.
Hitchcock came in with a hefty resume, including a Stanley Cup ring, but many questioned whether he could turn around what already seemed like a season destined for failure.
Immediately the Blues turned their game around, winning 8 of the remaining 11 games in November. But Armstrong was not done improving his team. In the same month, the Blues traded for Columbus defenseman Kris Russell. Russell, an offensive minded defenseman, gave the Blues more speed and better transition play, something they were seemingly lacking.
With two transitions taking place early in the season, the Blues knew what would be expected of them, and things seemed to fall into place. Winning became second nature for the Blues under Ken Hitchcock, and Russell made the team better rounded.
On December 3rd, the Blues were already well on their way to clinching a playoff spot for the first time in three seasons when they received even more good news. David Perron was ready to return to action after missing over a year with concussion related symptoms. Everything was going the Blues’ way. But as Blues fans are well aware, that rarely remains the case.
In late December, the Blues lost their most versatile player, Alex Steen. Kris Russell was injured in the same week. These two injuries were reminders of a season ago when the Blues battled the injury bug early in the season and never recovered. This year would not be the same scenario.
Thanks to the depth added in the off season, the Blues were able to recover from this minor setback, and apart from a few rough stretches, they did so brilliantly. Players like Chris Porter, Ryan Reaves, and B.J. Crombeen stepped up and filled these gaping holes for the Blues until February when the Blues got Andy McDonald back, and March when Steen made his return. The Blues refused to let the injury bug keep them down as it has in past seasons. This was perhaps the biggest obstacle the Blues had to overcome this season.
It was not easy sailing for the Blues the rest of the way as they finished the final six games of the season with a 1-3-2 record.
Under Ken Hitchcock the Blues recovered from an early slow start, going 43-15-11 under their new coach, and clinching the Central Division. The Blues finished with 109 points, securing the second seed in the Western Conference. It was the Blues first playoff berth since the 2008-09 season.
The Blues would soon find out that winning in the playoffs required a whole new level of play.
Key regular season stats:
-The Blues goaltending tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott led the league with a combined save percentage of .929. They also led the league in fewest goals allowed (165) and goals against average (1.89).
- The Blues finished the season with the NHL’s 19th best power play at 16.7%
- The Note had the NHL’s 7th best penalty kill, killing 85.8% of opponent power plays.
- The Blues allowed, on average, the fewest shots against per game (26.7) in the NHL.
Check KMOV.com later in the week for part two of this series: A look back at the postseason.