After one of the most successful seasons in the team’s history, the St. Louis Blues have struggled greatly to find consistency so far this year. An exceptional start during which the team won six of their first seven games was followed by a stretch of five straight losses, four of which were at home. In the first seven games, the team scored 27 goals and allowed only 14; in the subsequent five matches, they scored 11 and allowed an astounding 26. Since, the Blues have beaten skilled teams such as Detroit and Vancouver away, but have lost at home against the San Jose Sharks (who had lost their previous seven matches) and were defeated by a Colorado Avalanche team that sits at 12th place in the Western Conference.
The Blues have shown their capability to play as well as they did last year, but they have also demonstrated an almost anemic capacity the likes of which has not been seen since the dreaded post-lockout years. Why can they play so poorly when they have the ability to play so well? The answer is not entirely complex: some players are playing to their potential, and others, simply, are not.
The 24-year-old Swede has the ability to be a successful power forward, and while he has certainly been far from abysmal, he has never seemed to hit his full scoring potential. He is showing this year, however, that he can indeed finish adroitly and clinically, and be a strong presence in the slot. Berglund has scored nine goals thus far, outpacing the 19 he registered in 82 games last season. He has been powerful in his skating and stickhandling, and has been reliable in scoring on important chances. If he continues at the current level, this season will certainly be his best yet.
A defensive defenseman is not a position of glamor, but it is one of the most important roles in the National Hockey League. Roman Polak has fulfilled this occupation better than any player on the team for the past several seasons. Polak is big, fast, and intelligent; he rarely loses out on a race to the puck, has above-average positioning, and is almost never pushed around. He has continued such consistency into this season.
Yet another Czech that has been playing above his weight for the Blues. Sobotka is consistently one of the most tenacious players on the ice. Physical, energetic, and effectual, Sobotka has the ideal mentality for a scrapper, and his effort is splendid. While he doesn’t have the skill of a Sydney Crosby, he uses his abilities to their fullest potential at all times. If all players had the demeanor he exerted, the Blues would certainly be an elite team.
Playing at their potential:
The 23-year-old Pietrangelo established himself as an all-around defensive force last year, and has continued his on-ice command into this season. He quarterbacks the Blues’ impressive power play, and does so with confidence. A potential Norris Trophy candidate, Pietrangelo has been as good as Blues fans would have hoped thus far and is on schedule to be an elite NHL defenseman (if he is not one already).
Oshie is almost always a presence on the ice when he gets on it. He doesn’t always play to his full ability, but he rarely takes a shift during which he fails to make himself known. He has continued to exhibit his physical and attractive style of play this season. The one drawback of his career so far is, simply, that he doesn’t score enough. His five goals and eight assists so far this season are adequate but not stellar.
These two attackers have, when healthy, been some of the best forwards for the Blues for the past several years. Steen’s intelligence in the opponent’s zone is scarcely matched by anybody on the team, and McDonald’s speed and creativity have created innumerable chances for the Blues. They have continued to showcase their offensive abilities this season. The two are, however, injury prone, and it is important that they stay healthy for the Blues to succeed on the attack.
Need to improve:
There is no doubt that the captaincy increases the pressure imposed on a player by a significant margin. Those who are awarded the “C” are scrutinized heavily. David Backes‘ play has not helped his cause. A mere two goals, one of which was on an empty net, is not adequate. He looks ineffectual in his attacking zone, and has hardly been a force on the ice. While his leadership in the locker room is not in question, his play on the ice has been sub par, and the Blues need their captain to succeed.
Perron is perhaps the most talented player on the team, and has been known to produce breathtaking shows of stickhandling and impressive finishing. So far this season, however, the Quebecois has been very inconsistent. He holds on to the puck far too long, much too often; his stickhandling ventures have culminated too many times in turnovers or interceptions, and when given scoring opportunities, he oftentimes tries to walk the puck into the net, too frequently ending in dispossession or a missed chance. For him to utilize his exceptional skill to its fullest extent, Perron must learn when to get rid of the puck and when to shoot.
After Ken Hitchcock acquired Russel from the Columbus Blue Jackets last year in a trade for Nikita Nikitin, Kris Russell was tremendous. While the 25-year-old is not the largest, fastest, or most skilled defender on the team, he showcased his impressive puck movement skills last season. In the playoffs, he was one of the best players on the team. Unfortunately, he has been nothing short of poor so far this year. He has made far too many mistakes and seems to have misplaced his ability to so skillfully move the puck from his defensive zone into the attacking one. This has caused the Blues to rely on Ian Cole, who has not been good enough either. Russell has the ability; he just needs to find his confidence.