By Brad Lee
Shock and awe. Those were the feelings walking out of Scottrade Center Friday night after the St. Louis Blues won their home opener 5-2 over the Nashville Predators. Where the hell did this team come from and how long are they going to stay?
The Blues have an exceptionally young team with 11 players 25 years or younger with four rookies making their NHL debuts Friday night. Their youth showed, but in overly positive ways. First, the Blues have a lot of enthusiasm on the ice. Part of it was the excitement of opening night in front of a sold-out crowd with an electric atmosphere.
Secondly, St. Louis is a much faster team than compared to any of the recent editions. It's a startling difference watching the play break up ice quickly through the neutral zone, one of the nagging problems the team had a year ago. Their puck pursuit was outstanding with players pouncing all over the ice.
Finally, this team even as young as it is has a much higher skill level. The stickhandling, the passing, the creativity on the ice is refreshing. The Blues since the lockout have been a stale, plodding team relying on primarily hard work and capitalizing on rare chances. Not last night.
The easiest comparison to last night and all of last season is the power play. The Blues scored four goals with a man advantage Friday night - the first time the team has done that since January 2004. I think most fans would have been happy with a pair of power play goals.
Of the veterans, Lee Stempniak was more assertive Friday than in any game last season. Paul Kariya was flying again. Brad Boyes obviously wants to make sure people know last year wasn't a fluke.
Granted, one game can be deceiving. The kids who looked mature beyond their years and overflowing with confidence Friday could be tentative and slow to react on the road Saturday night on Long Island. The veterans could feel the effects of traveling and playing back-to-back nights. Chris Mason could struggle his first game as a Blue. Saturday's game will be a quick reality check for this team.
This was my No. 1 question heading into Friday's opener: Was the preseason real or just a mirage? With 1/82nd of the season gone, I'd say it was pretty fucking real. This team was predicted to challenge for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft. Right now, they're tied for the lead of the Central Division. I'll take that.
Defenseman Barret Jackman went down in a heap with 11 minutes left in the second period. Replays showed he took an accidental skate the groin. The fact that it was an accident didn't seem to make it hurt any less. He did not return to the game.
Last year the Blues brought back a lame taco promotion where they gave away a free taco to anyone with a ticket stub when the team scored five goals at home. Compared to 33-cent tacos when the Blues scored five anywhere, it was horrible. I gave my ticket to homeless people both games I saw them hit the mark last season. Friday night when they hit five, the fans didn't know what to think when the scoreboard flashed a brief message saying five goals = a free Blizzard from Dairy Queen. Apparently the team was going to announce the promotion next week. To make it up to the fans, according to the Blues' Web site, the one free taco promotion will happen again on Monday.
The Blues organist is now out in the open in the Top Shelf area wearing the world's largest headphones. And yes, he did play "When The Blues Go Marching In" after each Blues goal.
If I ever get on the scoreboard with the "Kiss Cam" with my wife, I'm using tongue and grabbing a boob. Fair warning.
The first "Let's Go Blues" chant started by the horn guy in the mezzanine was 10 minutes before the Blues roster was announced. Impressive.
Keith Tkachuk was honored during a TV timeout for scoring his 500th career goal during the final game of last season at Columbus. He scored goals 501 and 502 during the game. He was robbed of the first star by goaltender Emmanuel Legace who was good, but not great stopping 20 of 22 shots.