With the NHL season a week away, it’s time to look at the newly realigned Central division. Each day, we will be looking at some of the teams that the Blackhawks will be facing in the Central. And hey at least, we are not in the Metropolitan division. Today, we look at the St. Louis Blues.
St. Louis Blues
Last year: 29-17-2, 60 points, second in Central Division.
Key Additions: Magnus Paajarvi (LW), Derek Roy (C), Brenden Morrow (LW)
Key Departures: Andy McDonald (C), David Perron (LW), Jamie Langenbrunner (RW)
The skinny: The Blues have had two strong seasons back to back. They were a surprise winner of the Central division two seasons ago. They followed up that performance last year with a 60 point season that was great and would have won the division if the Blackhawks hadn’t put up 77 points. Even after a disappointing first round series loss to the Los Angeles Kings in 7 games, the Blues decided to continue to let their core grow and have another chance at the Cup. It’s a good move that should pay off in spades. David Backes is a big, physical forward who is one of the better captains in the NHL. He has embraced the system of Ken Hitchcock and everybody has bought in behind him. With the continued growth of Jaden Schwartz, TJ Oshie and Vladimir Tarasenko, the Blues should see their offense continue to improve. The Blues are deep at the forward position and can match the talent of the Blackhawks. On defense, the Blues are just as deep as well. They signed Alexander Pietrangelo to a monster seven year contract extension about a week ago and they also have Kevin Shattenkirk, Jay Bouwmeester, Jordan Leopold and Ryan Whitney on their blue line. That is some impressive talent on the back end that will give teams headaches this year having to contend with that depth. The Blues are a deep team that appears ready to knock the door down.
Player to watch: Jaroslav Halak- After winning the Jennings trophy with Brian Elliot two years ago, the Blues goaltending struggled last season. Halak is the number one man in net for the Blues and he is being counted on to lead the Blues to the Promised Land. In 2011-2012, Halak went 26-12-7 with a 1.94 goals against average, 6 shutouts and .926 save percentage. Last year, he went 6-5-1 with a 2.14 goals against average, 3 shutouts and .899 save percentage. The Blues need Halak to rebound this year and if he puts up stats like two years ago, the Blues will win the division.
History: The Blues and Blackhawks have a rich history and these two teams simply do not like each other. Of course that started years ago and notable moments in the rivalry include the St. Patrick’s Day Massacre which featured an all out brawl between the two teams. The Blackhawks went 3-2 last year against the Blues. In the last three years, the Blackhawks have won the season series each year and have gone a total of 11-6 against the Blues. Whoever wins the season series will most likely win the division.