Last season, the Blues had a solid road record, going 19-16-6 away from the Scottrade Center. This season, as the Western Conference competition (especially within the already tough Central Division) continues to stiffen throughout the offseason, it will be imperitive that the Blues maintain their ability to win away from home. Here is a look ahead at five important road contests the Blues will face, based mostly on the expected strength of the Blues and their opponents:
Saturday, October 13. Nashville Predators- The Blues begin the season with three of their first five games against division opponents, the first of which is at the Preds. With the Weber offer sheet still up in the air, Nashville could look like a very different team come October, but as of now still have a squad that could give St. Louis issues up front, led by outstanding goaltender Pekka Rinne. It is imperative that the Blues get off to division play on a strong note, and pick up as many early points as possible to allow for some room for error and to avoid playing catchup down the road.
Saturday, December 8. New York Rangers- After acquiring Rick Nash via trade yesterday, the Rangers look to be one of the favorites for the Stanley Cup. With numerous potent offensive threats and a dominant defense led by Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist, New York will be a challenge for a Blues team that struggled to score goals last season. Also, the blueshirt scoring line of Nash, Brad Richards, and Marian Gaborik (coming off of shoulder surgery) should give Alex Pietrangelo and the Blues defense all they can handle. Further, this will be a good test for St. Louis to see how they match up against the class of the Eastern Conference, and should give them an early look at their personnel, and whether a trade might be in order.
Wednesday, February 13. Vancouver Canucks- Similarly to the mathcup against the Rangers, this contest should be a good benchmark for the Bluenotes. Vancouver has consistently been at the top of the Western Conference for the past few years, and have a star-studded lineup headlined by the Sedin twins. If Roberto Luongo is not dealt and is able to find his 2007-2008 form, the Canucks will again be a team to be reckoned with, at least in the regular season. This is has the potential to be an important game in terms of playoff seeding, and could wind up being a high scoring affair.
Sunday, April 7. Detroit Red Wings- This game is the first of a four game stretch against divisional opponents that marks the end of the regular season. Along with Chicago, the Red Wings appear to be the Blues’ biggest competition in the Central Division, and have brought most of their core back for another run at the cup. All of the games in Joe Louis Arena tend to be intense contests, but with a division title possibly on the line, Hockeytown is sure to be bumping. In order to win this game, St. Louis will need to come out fired up and ready to play, and try to take the crowd out of the game early. Plus, it would mean added bragging rights if the Blues were able to slay their division rivals in their home arena.
Friday, April 12. Chicago Blackhawks- As mentioned above, the Blackhawks appear to be the team most likely to dethrone the Blues atop the Central Division. Arguably St. Louis’ biggest rival, their is no shortage of bad blood between these two, and a home-and-home to end the season should further fuel the animosity. Without a doubt this contest will at least have seeding implications, and possibly home-ice for the playoffs on the line. Both of these teams have Stanley Cup aspirations for the upcoming season, but I can guarantee neither will take these last two games off in hopes of resting up for the playoffs. This is one of the most heated and evenly-matched rivalries in the NHL, and it should be a treat watching these two teams battle it out to end the season.
Tags: Brad Richards Chicago Blackhawks Detroit Red Wings Henrik Lundqvist Joe Louis Arena Marian Gaborik Nashville Predators New York Rangers Pekka Rinne Rick Nash Scottrade Center Shea Weber Vancouver Canucks