The regular season is upon us! It is October 2nd, and the Blues are set to kick off the 2009-2010 season today vs. the rival Detroit Red Wings. The Blues were antsy at practice today, so they seem ready to go, and I’m sure all the fans are excited as well. It’s been 5 1/2 months since I’ve seen a Blues game, so I am pumped for the game today. Hockey is back and it should be a very fun season for the Blues! They have a loaded offense, a solid defense, and a very capable goalie in Chris Mason.
Anyways, I hope everyone enjoys my season preview. I will go over the entire team and break-down different categories as we get ready for the puck to drop.
Let’s start off with what the starting lineup will look like…
Andy McDonald – David Backes – David Perron
Paul Kariya – Keith Tkachuk – Brad Boyes
T.J. Oshie – Patrik Berglund – Brad Winchester
Alex Steen – Jay McClement – B.J. Crombeen
Barret Jackman – Roman Polak
Darryl Sydor – Erik Johnson
Carlo Colaiacovo – Mike Weaver
Extras: D.J. King, Cam Janssen, Derek Armstrong, Alex Pietrangelo
The strong point on this year’s Blues team is clearly the offense, where they will have a ton of firepower. Their top two lines look fantastic with McDonald, Backes, Perron, Kariya, Tkachuk and Boyes. Those two lines both have great chemistry and should light the lamp quite a bit this season. Even when you move down to the bottom 6, the Blues still have weapons. T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund each have the potential to score 20 goals, and they are playing on the 3rd line. Alex Steen, Jay McClement, Brad Winchester and B.J. Crombeen are all solid players who can provide energy, kill penalties, shut down opponents’ top lines, and also chip in 10-15 goals a season. The fact that Steen, McClement and Crombeen are on the Blues’ 4th line says a lot about the depth they have, because I think those three would be 3rd-liners on the majority of other teams around the NHL. The Blues will be rolling three scoring lines and a shut-down line this season, and when they need a spark or are facing a tough team such as Toronto or Anaheim, they can insert D.J. King or Cam Janssen. This is the best group of forwards the Blues have had in quite a while, so there is no doubt in my mind that they will get the job done.
Moving onto the defense — this is the part of the team that may not look the best on paper, but I am confident they can still get the job done. They played well enough down the stretch to help the team get into the playoffs last year, and they were without Erik Johnson. So by adding him this year, I think the defense will be solid. He’s one of the best young defenseman in the NHL, and his shot will certainly be a welcome addition to the powerplay. The Blues have been looking for more offense from their blueline, and EJ will certainly give them that. Meanwhile, Roman Polak has developed into a great shut-down defenseman; the guy is a beast that plays a good, physical game, and he came into camp in tremendous shape once again as he won the Blues’ fitness testing for the second year in a row (benching 315 pounds definitely helped his cause). Carlo Colaiacovo impressed me a lot, and he also has a booming shot from the point, so I’m looking for another good year from him. Mike Weaver is a very underrated. He is a guy who stepped into the starting lineup and really did well under pressure. He’s a small guy at 5’8” but he plays a gritty game and is real sound defensively, so I am glad he will be back on the point again. And more than anything, Barret Jackman and Darryl Sydor will provide valuable veteran leadership. Now, this definitely isn’t the team’s biggest strength, and are there some question marks? Yes. How will Erik Johnson rebound? Has Alex Pietrangelo improved? Does Darryl Sydor still have enough gas left in the tank? Those are legit questions, but I think the defense will be fine. They were good enough last year, and should be better this year.
In goal, there’s Chris Mason, the guy who led the Blues to a 25-9-7 record in the 2nd half of the season last year, which led the NHL. He played amazing when the Blues needed it the most, so I am expecting more good things from him this year. He’s a good goalie, and he finally has a solid backup in Ty Conklin, who is more than capable of making quality starts when Mason needs a breather.
And of course, we have Andy Murray behind the bench. Nominated for the Jack Adams award last year for best coach, it will be good seeing him lead this team once again. He makes sure his players work hard night-in and night-out, and he knows how to win games, so expectations are that he leads the Blues to another playoff berth this year. They certainly have the talent: plenty of goal-scorers on offense, a solid defense and a solid goalie. We’ve seen the Blues play the best that they can — when they led the NHL in points from the All-Star break to the last game of the season, so anything less than a playoff spot will be a huge disappointment. The Blues are a very good team and will be tough for any team to play against. To me, it’s a fact that they are one of the top 8 teams in the Western Conference.
Now my predictions on who will lead the team in a few select categories:
Top 5 in points:
1.) Andy McDonald
2.) Brad Boyes
3.) Paul Kariya
4.) David Perron
5.) David Backes
I think McDonald, Boyes and Kariya all have the potenaitl to top 70 points. Those five above will all get a lot of minutes – on even strength as well as the powerplay – so I would expect them to lead the team in points.
Top 5 in goals:
1.) Brad Boyes
2.) Andy McDonald
3.) David Backes
4.) David Perron
5.) Patrik Berglund
Top 5 in assists:
1.) Paul Kariya
2.) Andy McDonald
3.) Brad Boyes
4.) David Perron
5.) Erik Johnson
Most Fighting Majors:
1.) Cam Janssen
2.) D.J. King
3.) B.J. Crombeen
4.) Brad Winchester
5.) David Backes
Cam Janssen is a fighting machine, so I’d expect him to top 20 again this year, and since D.J. King should be back and healthy, I think he will knock off the rust and get into about 15 scraps this year. B.J. Crombeen is the best middleweight on the team, so he will have to deal with a lot of other teams’ pests. I’d look for Crombeen to pick up 11 or so majors. Winchester and Backes are both growing into the power-forward role, so while both should be focusing a lot on scoring this year, they will have to do the dirty work in front of the net and along the boards, so that should lead to 5-7 scraps for both of them.
Well, it’s just now 2:00, so the game is about to start. Everyone enjoy what should be a very exciting season by our St. Louis Blues. Their offense in particular sure will be fun to watch, and we should see playoff hockey again. The wait is over – hockey season is back. The Blues have sold a ton of season tickets this year, and people are buzzing about the team. It’s great to see hockey becoming so popular in St. Louis again.
And of course, I will be blogging after each and every game with a game review, so stay tuned to Bleedin’ Blue as much as you can. LET’S GO BLUES!