Andy McDonald is at his best with the puck...as long as he's decisive with it.
Before every Blues television broadcast, they have Bernie Federko or Darren Pang or Greg Paslawski (it's never Greg Paslawski) do the Acme Tire & Locksmith Keys To The Game. Sometimes they're a little more involved than "the team that scores the most goals has a good shot of winning." Sometimes.
So with the knowledge that mine will be worth that much value as soon as the puck drops, I have a few ideas for parts of the game that need to happen for the Blues to be successful.
Be Careful, It's My First Time
Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk have grown before our eyes in just their second full seasons in the NHL. They are the most talented and relied upon guys on the defense. They play in all phases of the game and the most important situations. They both had their share of struggles down the stretch when the team faltered. Thursday night, they will both pop their playoff cherries. The lights are brighter, the games more intense. They have to get acclimated quickly for the Blues to get off to a good start.
Get Off To A Good Start
This one is simple. The doubts had to start creeping in when they started losing at home to Columbus by three goals. It had to be screaming in their ear after giving up a two-goal lead at home to Detroit. You could see some of it in their body language in a three-goal loss to Phoenix at home. The Blues need to find the confidence they exuded after Ken Hitchcock turned this team loose. At their best, the Blues pushed the opposition around, they controlled the flow of the game and dictated how it would be played. When they didn't, it didn't work. Score a goal early, hold a lead and see how the play picks up from there.
Fourth Line Must Contribute
When Scott Nichol, Chris Porter and B.J. Crombeen/Ryan Reaves were keeping the puck in the offensive zone, creating scoring chances and banging bodies, the Blues were successful. And when they weren't, they never saw the ice. If practice is any indication, Porter and Reaves will be watching in the press box. I'm okay with that to a degree, but whomever plays with Nichol better be playing balls to the wall aggressive, or this doesn't work.
Tape An Aspirin To It
While the Blues did a masterful job of succeeding when they lost important players to injuries, sometimes the best teams are the healthiest teams. The only concern at the moment is an upper body injury to Brian Elliott that could be anything from a bad heart valve to asthma attack to amputated hand. At least we know he's gonorrhea free because that would totally be a lower body injury.
Andy McDonald Being Andy McDonald
So much of the offense, especially the power play, is funneled through No. 10. When he's crisp and decisive, he's deadly with the puck. When he holds it too long and looks like he's waiting for the play to develop, the whole thing bogs down like it did last Friday against the Coyotes. In his defense, if no one is moving without the puck, this is a moot point. Either way, McDonald has to make faster decisions and raise his level of play or the guys around him have to do it to help him. Otherwise, that power play is going to look like two monkeys humping a football. Lots of sound and noise signifying nothing.
I don't care if it's Jaroslav Halak or Elliott, if the Blues can keep the shot numbers down as they did most of the season and convert turnovers into scoring chances, they'll be fine. If the Sharks set up a shooting gallery, the Blues can go ahead and make those April tee times. Some nights, it seemed just that simple.
You have any keys? Put them in the comments and turn the tumblers. Playoff hockey returns to St. Louis tomorrow.