So here we are, on the eve of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs. Where 30 teams began a quest to make it to this first step. Now only 16 remain. What a ride it has been so far for the unsuspecting St. Louis Blues. I, for one, did not expect the Blue note to be this close to the top of the standings. A playoff team? Sure. I thought an easy five more realistically six seed. But to win the Central Division, arguably the toughest division in the NHL, and coming within two points of the President’s ? No St. Louisan, including myself, saw this coming.
Now comes the true test. The playoffs, or the second season. The Blues first opponent, the San Jose Sharks. I team that the Blues handled very well this season going 4-0-0 against them outscoring the Sharks 11-3 which included two shutouts by the Blues during their four game season sweep. But the playoffs are a different animal all together. The slate has been wiped clean. However, to preview the series we must look back to the regular season for insight to see how these teams match up against each other.
Looking at the season series results:
Oct 15th: Blues 4 – Sharks 2
Dec 10th: Sharks 0 – Blues 1
Feb 12th: Sharks 0 – Blues 3
Mar 3rd: Blues 3 – Sharks 1
As stated earlier the Blues out scored San Jose 11-3 in the four games during the regular season. Both goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot were stellar in each match up this season against the Sharks recording an astounding .977% and .967% save percentages respectively, both posting two wins, while each recording a shutout.
While the regular season numbers bode well in the Blues favor many St. Louis fans will know that does not transcend to the playoffs. Fans will recall the horror of the 2000 Stanley Cup playoffs where the Presiednt’s Trophy winning Blues lost to the lonely 8th seeded Sharks in another of Blues playoff nightmares. Needless to say, fans are nervous in hopes of deja-vu not repeating itself. Especially since the Sharks have probably played some of their best hockey coming into the post season while the Blues stumbled in.
As concerning as this may be I personally believe it is an issue of line chemistry and coach Ken Hitchcock finding the right line combination for a team that is 100% healthy for the first time since October 10, 2010. Finding the right line combinations for the playoffs may have hurt the Blues at the end of the season but I believe in the long run gives the Blues a great advantage. Finally a healthy Andy McDonald, a healthy Alex Steen, Matt D’Agostini, Kris Russell, and Roman Polak gives the Blues some much needed depth in this second season.
Keys to the Series:
The Blues and Sharks are both getting healthy and the Sharks have looked better since the return of Martin Havlat who missed three of the four match-ups during the regular season. It is clear the Sharks have more scoring talent on the top end with Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Martin Havlat, and Ryan Clowe but to me the biggest difference will be the battles in the third and fourth lines. Do the Blues go for more skill or grit? I personally would go with grit, go with what got you to this point even if it means having skill guys sit. The Blues have depth for a reason. Look for the power play and penalty kills to be a big factor, San Jose was in the top 5 of the NHL in the power play but ranked 29th in the penalty kill. The Blues were in the bottom half of the league in power play percentage but ranks in the top 10 in penalty kill. Finally the series may come down to goal tending. Although Elliott is out with an upper body injury, this is believed to be day to day, that won’t stop Hitch from playing either one. I give the Blues the advantage over the Sharks Niemi.
If the Blues can have the same success with their goaltending duo as they did in the regular season, keep it to a 5 on 5 game (best +/- in the NHL at even strength) and minimize penalties to prevent power plays I don’t see why the Blues do not advance to the second round. My prediction: BLUES IN 6
About the Author
Written by Tommy Garner
Born and raised in St. Louis. Blues fan and season ticket holder, economist and co-host of The Blue Line podcast featuring none other than your St. Louis Blues. Tune in Sunday at 2pm central time on blogtalkradio.com and give us your thoughts, comments and opinions.