The game I saw had a team wearing the Blue note, but it wasn't the Blues. The St. Louis Blues I have come to know and love overcame ridiculously outrageous odds to make the playoffs last year. The Blues I have come to know and love swept last year's Western Conference Champs in a two game series a week ago in Sweden. I don't know who this team was that stole our beloved Blues' jerseys, but I don't think they'll show up again any time soon.
Early on in the first period, it was plainly evident that this wasn't the Blues team who could rally from a 2 goal deficit. As I tried to get comfy on my couch, I found myself somehow sliding back to the edge of my seat. It was as if I was trying to get to the puck before the Thrasher players FOR the Blues, because the Blues players seemed to be moving in slow motion. A race for a loose puck usually resulted in an Atlanta player skating harder and coming away victorious. The Blues players seemed to be coasting. They appeared... timid? They weren't finishing checks, which up until the third period, were few and far between, and the checks they did deliver seemed weak. Who was this team and what did they do with my Blues? Being the eternal optimist that I am, I shrugged off the slow start after Big Walt put the good guys up by one. Surely this would spark the team.
It didn't take long for that optimism to wear off, however. Atlanta answered with three goals and given the Blues team that showed up, there was no comeback a'brewin'. The Blues players did pick up their game in the third period, but still not to the level that we witnessed against Detroit. Of course, not every player on the Blues roster was slow. T.J.Oshie delivered a few heavy hits and wowed the fans when he danced around the Atlanta players at center ice, worked around more Thrashers in their own end, and tried to roof a shot over Atlanta goalie Ondrej Pavelec. I, for one, took full advantage of my DVR and watched that sequence four or five times. There was only one other player, perhpas two, that I felt played well; Erik Johnson and Tkachuk.
True, Big Walt showed up to score a nice goal, but after that, I think he got sucked into cruise control along with the rest of the team. Just ask Detroit, that type of hockey won't work very well against most NHL teams. Erik Johnson, however, played well throughout the game. Numerous times he took control of the puck in his own end, deked some Thrashers and charged up ice. And he didn't just cross the red line and dump the puck in. Instead, he crossed the red line and fired, ney, blasted shots at the net. This was wonderful to see because it would result in one of three possible outcomes; A goal, a faceoff deep in the opposition's end or a rebound for the Blues forwards to recover. I haven't seen a defenseman for the Blues take that kind of initiative since the days of Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis. If EJ can keep up that kind of play, he will be quite a force to have on our team.
Am I scared the Blues have reverted back to the team we saw three or four years ago? Of course not. Andy Murray wouldn't let something like that happen, nor would JD. Yes, pre-game I could feel it in my gut that this was a game the Blues could, should and would win. Yes, it stung a little to see the puck enter the empty net and squash my hope for a Boston-like miracle comeback. But, I firmly believe what we Blues fans are witnessing is the beginning stages, the birth, of a team which will follow in the footsteps of our hated rivals, the Redwings. Soon, beginning perhaps even this year, the Blues will be winning the division annually, and soon, the Blues will be the team that the rest of the NHL hates to play. Every good team begins somewhere, and just like a baby learning to walk, the Blues will fall down. Fortunately, the Blues are a resilient group, and they will pick themselves up and start again. When the Blues play the Kings Saturday, we won't see the same team we saw play Atlanta. We will see a dominant team - the St. Louis Blues.