It’s Christmas Eve. Okay, maybe it’s not Christmas Eve, but it is the night before the Blues first playoff appearance since 2009. Tomorrow night, the St. Louis Blues take on the San Jose Sharks at home, in their quest for their first ever Stanley Cup title. The Blues are hungry, and they need to capitalize on that fire during these NHL playoffs.
The big decision that we have all been anxiously waiting for since their last regular season game on Friday night, pretty much answered itself today. Coach Hitchcock was supposed to announce his starting goalie tomorrow, but with Brian Elliot’s unspecified “upper-body injury,” it was a no brainer that Jaroslav Halak was announced as the starter today.
Brian Elliott was at the top of NHL goalies in the 2011-12 season with a 1.56 goals-against average, nine shutouts and a .940 save percentage, and was the Blues’ lone All-Star. These are remarkable numbers considering that he achieved them in just 38 games. Jaroslav Halak was ranked fifth overall with a 1.97 goals-against average and six shutouts. However, Halak is playoff-tested. Although I think Elliott’s injury is unfortunate, I would have started Halak regardless, due to his playoff experience. He was a big part of the Montreal Canadiens’ 2009-10 playoff run, helping them win two Game 7s.
The playoff expectations for this St. Louis Blues squad are at an all time high. This team became red-hot after the hiring of Coach Hitchcock in early November, and the return of David Perron on December 3rd. Following the hiring of Hitchcock, the Blues went 43-15-11, after a mediocre 6-7 start. They are the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference after a 109-point total that tied for second overall in the NHL.
The best part about facing the Sharks in the first round of the “second season” is that the Blues have had such great success playing against them this season. Outscoring them 11-3 during the season, the Blues have won every meeting against the Sharks this year, AND both of our goalies have shut out San Jose when playing them in St. Louis.
Although I would have much rather seen the Blues go into the playoffs on a winning streak, I am not worried about our offensive front being able to step up and make the big plays. Hopefully after a few days of rest, David Backes, David Perron, Andy McDonald, T.J. Oshie and Alexander Steen will hit the ice full speed ahead and make easy work of the Sharks.
When asked about our offense, Coach Hitchcock said: “I’m excited to see how we look offensively because I believe we can match against anybody,” Hitchcock said. “And I think we’re going to prove it.”
Although the Sharks have two players, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski, who have cracked the 30-goal mark this season, they do not nearly have the offensive depth that the Blues have this year.
The Blues defense has really rallied under Coach Hitchcock as well. Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk have thrived under Hitchcock’s leadership, and have emerged as standouts on the blue line.
The Shark’s lack of defensive depth and veteran experience really hurt them during the playoffs last year, and during the offseason they tried to remedy that by trading with Minnesota for defenseman Brent Burns, and adding free agents Colin White and Jim Vandermeer. Is it enough to make a difference during this playoff run? We shall see, but the Blues sure have had the Sharks number this season, and I do not see that changing during this playoff series. I know that seven games is a long series, but I think the Blues are hungry and want it badly.
One final point … the underlying story of this playoff series is the concussion twist involving David Perron and the Shark’s Joe Thornton. The Blues’ David Perron missed more than a year of play following a mid-ice blow to the head delivered by the Sharks’ Joe Thornton. Thornton was coming out of the penalty box when he caught Perron by surprise. I know that they are both saying that their history is a non-factor, but come on, this is hockey. You can’t tell me that hit won’t ALWAYS be in the back of Perron’s mind (he had an entire YEAR to think about that hit), and that a win over the Sharks in the first round of the playoffs wouldn’t be sweet revenge. I’m just saying.
Let’s Go Blues!