The season can seem like an uphill slog sometimes, can't it? The Blues may well win their 8th in a row tonight, but that seven game winning streak only has their Central Division lead at one point over the Nashville Predators. The Preds, lead by a healthy Pekka Rinne and Calder candidate Filip Forsberg (who they basically stole from the Washington Capitals), have alternated wins and losses recently but still have won enough to keep on hanging around at the top of the pack. James Neal, late of the Penguins, leads the team with seven goals and just eight penalty minutes thus far. That's an achievement for him.
The Blues, whatever it is that they've been doing these past seven games, has been working. Mainly the strategy seems to be "get the puck to Vladimir Tarasenko and then he'll score." Luckily, he's been cooperating. He's also been getting some support from teammates on and off of the power play. Alexander Steen scored his first powerplay goal Thursday night against the New Jersey Devils, which was one that the team needed considering their defense collapsed at the end, going from zero to three goals allowed in a matter of minutes. That was more than likely an aberration, which it should be considering that Pekka Rinne is probably not going to spot the Blues a three-goal lead at any point. His 8-2-1 record, .932 save percentage and 1.89 GAA is among the best in the league among starters; him being healthy contributes loads to the Predators' success.
Before you get caught up on the Blues winning eight in a row, here's Ken Hitchcock (speaking with Tom Timmerman in the Morning Skate) to bring you back to earth:
"I look at it ... anytime we're playing a division opponent, we're trying to keep everyone underneath us. That's as important as anything. So to me, it's the same thing: division opponent, good team, seems like you say that about every team in the Central Division. There just doesn't seem to be much difference between any of the teams in the Central right now. Anybody can beat anybody and anybody has beat anybody. We're looking at it that any points we get in these division games is really, really important."
Hitch is right. The Central's just as tough as always; so far this season, it almost seems a bit tougher by virtue of the Jets and Predators playing decent hockey to start the year. In the grand scheme of things, does an eight-game winning streak mean a lot? Yes, but it means more when you shut down your division opponents to continue it.