Every team has the big, pressing issues to look at, and the Blues are no different. Picked to win the Stanley Cup this season by The Hockey News and EA Sports NHL 14, the years of the team flying under the radar might just be over.
The Blues are best known for three things: defense, physicality, and goaltending. It comes as no surprise that the team's three biggest questions as posed by SB Nation's hockey league manager, Travis Hughes, revolve around those topics. These will be featured in SB Nation's HUGE hockey preview, coming soon!
1. Will St. Louis finish best in the league in goals against?
There's no reason why they can't do that again - 2011-2012 was not a fluke. This team was built on defense and could handily duplicate their previous full season's results. Last year's February and March threatened to upset the team's trajectory, with sloppy defense, an injury to Jaroslav Halak, and a mental lapse by Brian Elliott that saw him sent to the Peoria Rivermen for conditioning.
This season the defense going into the year is even better than it was in 2011-2012. Jay Bouwmeester will start the year paired with Alex Pietrangelo and Jordan Leopold will begin paired with Kevin Shattenkirk. That's not the flashiest top four in the league, but it's one of the best.
2. Can the Blues successfully walk the line between playing physical and playing disciplined?
Occasionally frustration has led some players to make questionable decisions on the ice - big hits that didn't need to happen, post-whistle scrums, and post-final horn melees. It's easy to roll your eyes and get frustrated, but as the Blues have gotten better, the frustration's backed off. The trick is for the Blues to maintain that high level of play even when frustrated. They need to learn that the best way to throw an opponent off of their game is playing physically while bringing the offense. The Blues aren't a huge offensive team necessarily, but they have enough oomph to where a well timed goal (instead of a poorly timed check) should happen more often this year.
They're a good team. They're a physical team. Those two things can exist perfectly well as long as the Blues don't throw themselves off of their own game.
3. Which goalie establishes themselves as the No. 1 guy?
I believe that this year it will be Jaroslav Halak. His off-season workout regimen has dropped him down to a minuscule body fat percentage of 9.4% and caused him to shed fourteen pounds. If he stays injury-free, which is specifically what his off-season workout was designed to help, (barring a Barret Jackman related accident, of course), then he should be the de facto starter. Does the fact that this is a contract year have anything to do with it? Absolutely. Halak and Elliott will both push each other, and if the Blues wind up with another 1A and 1B tandem this season no one should be upset.