Ed. Note: Between now and the end of the month, we’ll be previewing each of the teams in the new-look Central Division. We have asked Jeff Quirin of Hockey Buzz to help us preview the St. Louis Blues, as he answers 5 questions we posed to him…
1. Compared to years past, what’s the excitement level in St. Louis for this Blues team?
Cautious optimism continues its reign among the core of the fan base. GM Doug Armstrong and head coach Ken Hitchcock have earned a significant level of trust, but there will always be concern that when it counts the team will recoil from adversity. The casual fan, the ones counted on for important supplemental ticket sales, are still watching the Cardinals pennant chase and are more intrigued by the Rams currently. Once the season gets going, and the Blues start winning, the excitement level will grow.
2. Vladimir Tarasenko showed flashes of brilliance last season. Is this the year he emerges as a go-to-guy?
Whether he does or doesn’t can’t be known without using a crystal ball or time machine. That said, Tarasenko will have every opportunity to be a doer. The departure of David Perron opens up a key top-six scoring role and power play time to either of the Blues’ 2010 first-round picks. Jaden Schwartz is just as close to stardom and he’ll push Tarasenko to the next level.
3. In the last 5 months the Blues have obtained Jay Bouwmeester, Derek Roy and Magnus Paajarvi. Which of the three is the most important pickup for this season?
The name of the game, or the system, put in place by Hitchcock, is possession. Transition, comes in a very close second. From that perspective Bouwmeester is the most important acquisition Armstrong has made to date. As half of the top defensive pairing, his responsibilities and skill set drive both the possession and transition games. When the Blues do not possess the puck more than their opponent and transition quickly out of their zone they’re prone to giving up more goals than they can score. In short, Bouwmeester’s success is directly related to how the Blues win games.
4. Prediction: Will Brian Elliott or Jaroslav Halak start more games this season?
Historically, Halak has almost always been a part of a 1A/1B goaltending tandem. He has also missed significant stretches of seasons due to injuries. In that light Elliott is more likely to start more games. However, Halak has come to camp in arguably the best shape of his life. Staring down the barrel of a contract season in his prime will have that effect on a guy. Further, he has the backing of the organization. He’ll take the lion’s share of the starts if he’s healthy.
5. What is one thing that has to happen for the Blues to contend for the Stanley Cup?
Score goals. Everything else has seemingly sorted itself out and been corrected. The lack of goal scoring, or the timely finishing of chances more accurately, is what’s holding them back.
You can follow Jeff on Twitter: @HockeybuzzBlues