By Brad Lee
Caution: This ride may cause light-headedness, nausea and harmful body injury. Pregnant women and people with heart conditions may want to get the hell off. Welcome to the 2008-09 St. Louis Blues.
After just two games, it seems the baby Blues are going to have some ups and downs this season, possibly more ups and downs than a Vivid Video production. An exhilarating 5-2 win Friday against Nashville and then a sloppy, uninspired 5-2 loss at the Islanders shows the range this team will explore this season. Looks like I picked the wrong hockey season to stop taking my high blood pressure medication.
After defenseman Erik Johnson was lost for the season while playing golf, I wrote what kind of impact the injury would have. I believed at the time that during the midst of the season, it would appear that the team had taken a step backwards. But at some point down the road, this season could be seen as a turning point for the franchise where several players found their way and figured out their roles for the Blues. That could be happening already with a few players.
Brad Boyes' 43 goals a season ago were no fluke. He scored the first goal for St. Louis when the team was already down 3-0. A slick rink-wide pass from Andy McDonald to Paul Kariya set up Boyes who was cutting to the net. Kariya led him just enough and Boyes directed it into the net. It was so smooth and effortless, it appeared easy and routine. The Blues needed a spark after giving up an early goal followed by a power play goal and then a Charmin-soft goal. And it almost worked.
The Blues were suddenly finding their confidence again and were playing aggressively. They drew a penalty late in the first. And a damn short-handed goal pretty much sealed the game with 46 seconds left in the opening period.
The Blues managed just six shots in the first period and matched that with six in the second. And I haven't even mentioned the Islanders started little-known backup Joey McDonald who entered the game with a career 3-9-3 record. Any time you see an inexperienced guy in the other teams net, the offense should swarm and put more rubber on that dude than the Michelin Man. Instead he got comfortable and cruised to an easy win stopping 13 of the Blues' 14 third-period shots.
Saturday's game overall was a stinker that probably left a lot of fans wishing they were watching The Andy Griffith Show instead. Oh wait, they were watching the whistling sheriff during the pregame show and the first five minutes of game action because Channel 11 had technical difficulties. First they killed the Fan Show. Then they showed Barney Fife getting lost on a camping trip on TV the night after a thrilling season opener. At least they didn't show a loop of Everybody Loves Raymond reruns like they show every other night of the week. That title lies. I couldn't stand Raymond.
At least KPLR was back on for both Blues goals, the second of which came on the power play from Keith Tkachuk. Big Walt has spent the first two games scoring with the man advantage (all three of his goals are of the power play variety) or sitting in the penalty box feeling shame (he leads the team with eight penalty minutes).
Captain Eric Brewer and Boyes are the only two players who have averaged more than 20 minutes of ice time. What's more interesting is the dispersal of playing time based on experience. The three regular players (and when I say regular players I mean not Cam Janssen who has averaged six minutes of ice time a game and Mike Weaver who was the seventh defenseman Saturday after an injury sidelined Lee Stempniak) who are averaging the lowest ice time through two games are David Perron, Chris Porter and Patrik Berglund - two rookies and a second year player.
Of course last year head coach Andy Murray was criticized for not giving Perron enough ice time and not dressing him for 20 games over the course of the season. What's really interesting is that defenseman Alex Pietrangelo who is also a rookie and the youngest player on the team is averaging about the same number of shifts and ice time as every other defenseman not named Brewer.
The Blues are back in action today for the Canadian Thanksgiving. Yes, those crazy bastards celebrate Thanksgiving the same day we Americans remember Christopher Columbus Day. Of course remembering old Chris usually involves wondering why no mail was delivered today. To commemorate the holiday up north, the Blues take the ice today at noon in a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. There is no local television coverage, so just put into your work computer The Best of The Andy Griffith Show DVD and it will feel like you're watching the game. Come back tomorrow for details of the game.