If the Blues sent out bills for playoff tickets today, I'd tell you to go ahead and make a down payment because the Blues are Stanley Cup contenders. No, I'm not under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Maybe a little bit of blue Kool-Aid (sugar free, of course).
The last few years with this core of players, everyone would look at the roster and say on paper the Blues were a dangerous team and at worst a seventh or eighth seed come the postseason. And then they actually started playing the games. I think it's clear to me now that the Blues lacked a legitimate leader behind the bench.
I liked Davis Payne, I liked the idea that he had come up through the organization first with Alaska in the ECHL and then Peoria in the AHL. But something was missing. That cool demeanor that fans read as calm seems like it was interpreted as cold and detached. Ken Hitchcock has a furnace face like T.J. Oshie. He knows how to command the room. His resume with a Stanley Cup ring commands respect. He's getting players motivated to perform and playing to his expectations. And they're doing much better at dealing with adversity.
Last year the Blues lost David Perron and Andy McDonald for long stretches. Other players hit the injured list and the number of guys making their NHL debuts seemed to be a common occurrence. This year, the Blues are without Perron and McDonald for long stretches. On Tuesday night, they were without the following players because of injury or illness:
- Vladimir Sobotka
- B.J. Crombeen
- Alex Pietrangelo
- Carlo Colaiacovo
- Kent Huskins
And still, the Blues played a hell of a game where they controlled the flow, they had more chances than the Capitals and looked like the stronger team. Possibly the most frustrating thing about last year's team was how they folded under the pressure of injuries. They used it as an easy excuse to give in. It was pathetic and made me question if some of these players would ever show the determination needed to succeed as a team in the NHL. Maybe Hitchcock has helped them figure out what it takes.
Early on Tuesday they called up Cade Fairchild from Peoria to play in his first NHL game. The former Minnesota Golden Gopher is a plus-16 in Peoria and played well in his debut despite having to drive up to Chicago to catch a flight. He may have gone straight from the airport to the arena.
The goaltending has carried this team. Last season if the Blues scored two goals, it seemed like they would lose 3-2 more often than not. In Washington they got that second goal, they paid close attention to Alex Ovechkin and they got some big saves from Jaroslav Halak when they needed them. That's a playoff style win right there, folks. And while Halak is showing some of the signs of why the Blues traded for him and immediately gave him a four-year deal, Brian Elliott continues to lead the NHL in save percentage and goals-against average. I'm lightheaded thinking about it.
The Blues under Hitchcock are 8-1-2. The teams they've beaten include: Capitals, Penguins, Chicago, Detroit and Tampa. Sure, they've had seven home games, but the only regulation loss was at home. After Friday night in Colorado they play five in a row again at home. You get this team on a roll fueled by toasted ravioli, some cracker thin pizza and freshly brewed Bud Select (only 99 calories), and watch where this team climbs in the standings. In case you haven't noticed, they're fourth in the conference, just one point behind Minnesota and Chicago. That's right, Saturday night's game against the Blackhawks could be for the division lead.
What year is it again? It sure feels like 10 years ago. In case you're just joining the bandwagon, hop aboard. Plenty of window seats still available.
So, fair commenters, you agree? Dear readers who never drop a comment or who haven't even registered to comment, sign up and agree or disagree. Where do you stand with this team right now? Here's where I stand: I love the Blues and I can't wait for the next game.