Welcome to opening night. Pre-season's over; these games count now. Last season, the Blues treated their fans to a 6-0 curbstomping of the Detroit Red Wings, giving people hope that this was the season that the power-play clicked, and that this was the season that the Blues steamroll opponents, and that this was the season that they finally got that Stanley Cup on Market Street.
Let's try that again.
This year, even before the game against the Nashville Predators, there're expectation about all of that all over again. Very few pick the Blues to win the Central Division over the Blackhawks - the Hawks'd have to have a Patrick Kane sized hangover to not continue their dominance. But that doesn't mean that pundits and video games alike aren't choosing the Blues to win everything this year. Expectations are higher than they've been for a while.
Hopefully the Blues finally realize the difference between hype and expectations. Only one of those two is something that the team needs to live up to.
"We’re getting at that stage where all the rhetoric from preseason is over," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I think that’s what all of us are looking at, getting a chance to play."
That quote, right there, is what the team needs to do. They need to play. They need to play smart, they need to play to expectations, and they need to make sure that they play to the best of their abilities. This is a talented team, but it's not talented in the same way a flamboyant Eastern Conference team would be. They're talented workers. They push, they defend, they sacrifice the body, and they realize that they don't have a 50 goal scorer, so they make up for it by everyone sharing the load.
A perfect example of this is the power play. Jeremy Rutherford lays out who is on it, and it looks like what would make up another team's penalty kill:
In training camp, one group was made up of David Backes, Patrik Berglund and T.J. Oshie, another consisted of Derek Roy, Chris Stewart and Vladimir Tarasenko and a third featured Brenden Morrow, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Sobotka. Meanwhile, the two-man point crews were Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo, and Kevin Shattenkirk and Steen.
The purpose of having three units, in part, is keeping players fresh, but it’s also designed to give a variety of players a chance to produce.
It's offense by committee; it doesn't rely on a star at the point to score goals with a well-timed slapper every time. They have to work, and they will. Everything this team does is by committee - you want to know why Hitch says the words "buy-in" so much? Because they have to. If someone doesn't buy-in, the whole system runs the risk of not working. The power-play started off tops in the NHL last year before dwindling to 12th overall. The team's success partially depends on that not happening again.
The Predators, by the way, are going to roll out their first round draft pick Seth Jones. Get ready for an explosion of patriotism when the highest drafted American in 2013 goes out there against Captain America himself, David Backes. It's the Preds, so expect a hard-fought, defense first game. It's quite the rivalry that these two teams are building between them. The Blues were 3-1 against the Preds last year, with the only loss coming at Scottrade on February 5th. That 6-1 loss was part of the Blues' February from Hades.
Brenden Morrow may or may not make his debut for the Blues tonight. He's having visa issues, and obviously this is not the best time in the world to have those. According to Jeremy Rutherford, if Morrow can't skate, then Sobotka will be on the second line and Magnus Paajarvi will be slotted in on the fourth.