As the 2009-2010 St. Louis Blues’ season wore on, it became obvious that something wasn’t right. The inability to close out home games was alarming. Had the Blues finished the 08-09 season where everyone expected them to (at the bottom of the standings), Blues nation would be happy about the progress of Steen, Oshie, Perron, Polak, and the re-emergence of Paul Kariya in the last two months as well as the return of Eric Johnson. A hard fought 9th place finish would still be viewed as a let down, but a sniff of the playoffs would have been considered progress by many; including myself. However, having had a taste of the playoffs last year, anything less would be a disaster and the St. Louis Blues’ 2009-2010 season was nothing short of that. The Blues owned the worst record in the NHL during the 2009-2010 season when leading after two periods. For most experienced teams, a third period lead is as good as a win. When the “experienced” players on your roster cannot or will not pull the weight of the team (let alone their own), that doesn’t give a very strong pillar for the likes of EJ, Oshie, Perron, & co to lean on. As I wrote in an earlier blog (Home is Where the Hate Is), young teams are more likely to crumble under pressure and there’s more pressure in your own building when everyone you know is watching.
Aside from the obvious letdown, lets take a look at a few more things.
This was Chris Mason’s first season as a starter. For those of you outside of Blues nation, Mason put the team on his back starting on MLK day and had the best record in the NHL from January 17, 2009 until the season ended with a 15th to 6th place sprint finish. I felt like I finally saw the goalie that this team desperately needed when they had the likes of Al MacInnis, Chris Pronger, Doug Weight, Keith Tkachuk, Scott Young, and Pavol Demitra all in their primes and had to hand the keys to (cough) Fred Brathawaite and Brent Johnson. I don’t have much good or bad to say about Mason. In an interview last week, he (correctly) stated that he had a good year except for the month of December. What I like about Mason is his ability to rob a sniper blind at a critical point in the game. There’ve been countless times that goals would surely be allowed by Turek, Johnson, Brathawaite, or Legace and Mason stood up tall. However, look no further than the Colorado games that cost us a trip to the playoffs and when it mattered most, Mason choked big time. Personally, I’m indifferent about resigning him.
The Blues finished 17th in the NHL in goals per game. They were 16th in the NHL in goals per game and 9th in the western conference. The power play finished at 20th and spent most of the season in the basement between 27th and 30th. All of the evidence points to the fact that the Blues were awful at scoring in 2009-2010. Instead of dipping into free agency, management assumed that getting Paul Kariya and Eric Johnson back from injury would provide the necessary spark to ignite an offense that was tops in the league in PP% through the 09-08 season. Although I was very excited to see Steen break from the third line grinder role to a 20+ goal scorer, I was disappointed at Backes and Oshie’s inability to hit the back of the net regularly. I was (and am) furious at Paul Kariya and Brad Boyes. These two could not have possibly had a more disappointing season without putting the puck in the back of their own net. Tkachuk retired (more on this later), Kariya will move on, and Boyes runs the risk of becoming the Wade Redden of the St. Louis Blues. Lars Eller shows a lot of promise on the offensive side of the puck, but there are going to be a lot of angry Blues fans if Marleau or Kovalchuk aren’t wearing Blues sweaters come October. There’s a lot of Blues fans whom will likely (finally) give up on the team if Marleau and/or Kovalchuk are signed by rivals and are fed “build from within’ propaganda by management, again.
Roman Polak is the best defenseman on the St. Louis Blues. Period. Eric Johnson will be soon, but Polak played the majority of this season paired with oft-injured (and frequently incompetent) veteran Barret Jackman and was dominant in all situations. I love Barret Jackman and have been a fan since the day he joined the Blues, but he cannot play through injury the way that he used to. Jackman and Brewer’s constant defensive zone miscues are a lot of the reason Blues fans are cheering for Phoenix right now while they watch Cardinals baseball and read articles about what the Rams should do with their #1 draft pick this week. Polak’s ability to skate and maintain positioning on defenders is second to none in the NHL. A lot of puck heads throughout the world turned their heads and asked “Who is Roman Polak?” when Czech Republic left Roman Hamrlik at home and chose Polak to represent them at Vancouver in February. Pietrangelo and Junland will likely be with the Blues next year, Sydor and one of either Jackman or Brewer will be gone, EJ and Coliaicovo will assume bigger roles, and Weaver (best unsung hero in a Bluenote this year) will likely be the 7th man, so addition by subtraction will make the 2010-2011 Blues’ defensive corps a younger more solid unit.
The firing of Andy Murray was long overdue. Long enough that the team never hit their stride in time to make up for the points that were lost earlier in the season. Putting Paul Kariya on the fourth line, changing lines multiple times throughout the evening, skating players on gameday and/or day before, having the powerplay go from top three in 08-09 to bottom three in 09-10, constantly giving up possession of the puck so he can get his perfect line match, on top of having a guy on roller skates skate around the Blues’ locker room and burn sage (Native American incense) in hopes of extinguishing evil spirits that were keeping the Blues from winning home spelled Murray’s doom. When asked about his constant line shuffling in December, Andy Murray responded that he “doesn’t believe in momentum”. Next? In steps Davis Payne. Right away the Blues showed more life and players were seeing the same line mates for more than two shifts. Oshie, Berglund, and Perron were getting more minutes.
Overall I give the 2009-2010 St. Louis Blues a C. They passed, but not without disappointment. Had Mason not stood on his head and played an amazing second half last year, the Blues would have finished 13th-15th in the west and we would be happy with 9th.
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Written by Patrick McLellan