As any Rams fan will bitterly tell you right about now, never fall for the siren song of the preseason. That shit is gonna put you on the rocks every time. And while the Blues' roster is essentially already set, with the only questions being which two forwards will end up being the "extra two" that bring that total to 14 and which defenseman becomes the seventh guy. The conventional wisdom says that Ryan Reaves has one of those spots and that either Jonathan Cheechoo or Evgeny Grachev will grab the other one (I'd say that Grachev is making a statement on that front). On defense, I think the seven are already decided, it's just a matter of whether Nikita Nikitin or Kent Huskins takes the spot on the Matt Walker Memorial Seventh Defenseman stool up in the pressbox.
But there are other questions out there that are being answered or raised by the preseason. Questions that, as fairly skittish Blues fans, we need to have answered sooner rather than later. Let's make a deal: I'll list my questions and answers, then you list yours. It'll be like we're sitting in some sort of hockey shrink's office together. Thank you, innanet.
Is Chris Stewart really the silent monster that we think he is? The guy started last year like he was playing to keep some kidnapped relative alive. He scored 11 goals and 14 assists in 23 games for Colorado, tallying multi-point nights in eight of those 23 games. After returning to the Avalanche lineup after a broken hand, he was fairly pedestrian as a scorer, which thankfully made him available to the Blues. In 26 games wearing the Note he had 15 goals and eight assists, amazingly a worse pace than the way he started his season.
But are we getting that Chris Stewart this year? The one who was motivated to dominate at the start and the end of the year? Or the one who struggled and had only four points in 13 games with Colorado post-injury/pre-trade?
My guess is that Stewart is primed to blow the fuck up. Not only is he expected to lead this team in goals this year, he's going to be given prime minutes with prime linemates and will play in every situation that is conducive to him scoring. Expect lots of offensive zone starts, lots of powerplay time, lots of favorable line changes when the team is at home. Add to that the fact that he's in a contract year and Stewart is going to be looking to dominate the league and cash in big time with a fat new contract this summer.
In his first preseason game, he had a goal and two assists. The preseason is a shadow, but it's a promising sign that he took it seriously.
Patrik Berglund has always looked like a second line center. Can he become a number one guy? The one preseason game he has played in doesn't look like it, but we're basing that on a boxscore and the opposing radio broadcast. I will inject a little personal story into this: at the Big Walt Camp I played in, Berglund was on our team. How he played against a bunch of amateurs is meaningless, but I sat on the bench next to several pros who all made comments based on a common theme: Berglund is looking like a beast. Not only were they mentioning how well he was skating, but in the team's unofficial pre-preseason skates he was dominating. Faster, harder, stronger and shooting and passing like a dream.
He did have one snap shot that he took in the camp that the opposing goalie never moved on. As Tkachuk said, "That fawhkin guy has nevah seen a fawhkin shawt like that befawh."
Preseason doesn't mean much and the fact that Berglund showed up on the score sheet only twice, once for hooking and once for cross checking, but I trust the opinion of former and current Blues who all think he looks like he's ready for a "Mohnsta yea-ah" this year.
Is Ben Bishop going to take his spot on his hometown team or is he going to Peoria/away? He's a great story, especially in St. Louis, where we love the "Hometown Kid Done Good" angle more than almost anything, including the "Popular Athlete Will Take Less Money To Stay Here Because It's Clearly The Best Place On Earth To Live (North City Exempted, Of Course)" storyline.
With Halak installed as the starter for the foreseeable future, unless he decides to go all Pascal Leclaire on us, Bishop needs to play his ass off to win the No. 2 job and then hope he somehow manages to outplay Halak and move into the No. 1 job. If Halak secures himself as the franchise goalie, Bishop likely becomes a permanent backup here or he gets traded like Halak did in Montreal.
But first he has to beat out Brian Elliott for that second-in-line job. Based on their first preseason games, Elliott would seem to have the edge, having allowed only one goal while Bishop allowed three last night. Bishop faced 24 shots, and also faced a better Lightning lineup, with Steven Stamkos, Marty St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier shooting at him. All three of the goals he gave up came on the high-powered Tampa powerplay.
Elliott faced a comparable 22 shots and allowed his only goal on the powerplay as well.
So the preseason numbers tell us, basically, nothing. But I guarantee the coaching staff has seen plenty from both to start forming opinions on which guy is playing better to face NHL talent. The guy who wins gets better pay, better travel, better, everything. The guy who loses gets to play a lot more, albeit against weaker competition. The ultimate winner of this competition won't be decided in September, it'll be in February, as the trade deadline looms, or in late June, when one guy gets a new contract and one guy's agent gets to work on getting a new home.
The preseason has yet to reveal anything on this one.
Jonathan Cheechoo or Evgeny Grachev? In game one, Cheechoo played 15 minutes, had two shots and had an assist. Grachev played 16 minutes, had three shots and scored two goals. In game two, Cheechoo sat while Grachev played . . . and added another assist on the powerplay.
The preseason, you know, she lies, but Grachev seems to be impressing some people and getting a chance to win a job.
There are three more preseason games in the next three days. Let's see if they answer any questions or simply raise even more.