It has been a common criticism among Blues fans for several years now: while talented and hardworking, the Blues lack a bona fide NHL scoring line.
Well, four games into the 2013-2014 regular season, it looks as if the Blues have found themselves a first line- at least for the time being. Alex Steen, David Backes and T.J. Oshie have started the season out on fire, displaying an ability to light the lamp that hasn’t been seen around St. Louis since the days of Keith Tkachuk, Scott Young and Pavol Demitra in the early 2000s.
On Saturday night, Steen, Backes and Oshie led the Blues to a 5-3 win over the New York Rangers, sealing the Note’s first 4-0 start in franchise history.
The three combined for nine points (3 G, 6 A), highlighted by Backes’ two goals, his third and fourth of the young season. Steen also chipped in his fourth goal in as many games, banging home a rebound off of an Oshie shot to give the Blues an early first period lead.
After Saturday’s performance, the three have now combined for 18 points on the season (Steen [4G, 4A], Backes [4G, 2A], Oshie [1G, 3A]).
There are a few reasons to be impressed by the group’s fast start.
First, Ken Hitchcock likes to match the trio up against the opposition’s top line every chance he gets. Each of the three is a strong two-way player whose first priority is to shut down the opposition’s scorers, making their offensive prowess that much more notable.
“Between the three of us, it’s something that we take pride in,” said Backes after Saturday’s win. “We’re matched up against the other team’s top line typically, and playing in their end is the best way to keep them off the score sheet.”
Second, Backes is a notoriously slow starter. Four games is by far the quickest that the Blues captain has reached the four-goal mark in his eight year career:
- 2013: 35 Games
- 2011-2012: 12 Games
- 2010-2011: 23 Games
- 2009-2010: 24 Games
- 2008-2009: 22 Games
- 2007-2008: 28 Games
- 2006-2007: 25 Games
Backes’ quick start may be attributed to Hitchcock’s attempt to keep his energy up by relying more on role players to kill penalties.
“He’s had a huge burden and a huge load to carry probably the last three years,” Oshie said. “I think you can just already see it — he’s a little more relaxed. He doesn’t take everything so hard and he’s able to just go play because we do have guys like (Vladimir Sobotka) and (Maxim Lapierre) that can get in there and play some big minutes.”
Backes’ quick start could mean a career year is looming for the two-time 30-goal scorer.
However, the first line’s quick offensive start would not be possible without the extraordinary depth the Blues possess at the forward position. Offseason additions Derek Roy and Brenden Morrow have bolstered the Blues top-nine scoring depth, while Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz have shown improvement in their sophomore season playing with Patrik Berglund.
The combination of these factors has forced opposing teams to game plan for three legitimate scoring lines, opening up extra chances for Steen, Backes and Oshie.
As is always the case, health will be a critical factor in keeping the Blues first line intact and on fire. Steen and Oshie have both been injury prone recently, missing 57 and 53 games respectively over the past three seasons.
However, if Steen, Backes and Oshie are able to stay reasonably healthy over the course of the season, the Blues may have found their scoring line that fans have so desperately craved.
What do you think?
Are Steen, Backes and Oshie the Blues next big scoring line?
Let us know in the comments section below.