Memorabilia Memories, with Rick Ackerman
Since I don't really have any cool Canucks memorabilia and haven't yet made a trek to Rogers Arena in Vancouver, kindly allow me to continue my observations from last Saturday's article about the officiating in the NHL for just a little while more, okay?
I have been watching professional hockey for over 53 years now and have a confession to make. I don't know what icing is anymore. Whether it be live or on Center Ice on the big screen, I think there is an obvious icing call and somehow it is waved off at the last second. Even the announcers seem confused as they now say, "This should be icing", and then it isn't, much to their amazement. Nor can or do they explain it. Nobody can explain it. And it has nothing to do with the new "no-touch" rule, either. Sometimes I think icing should be waved off because it either hit an attacking player's stick in the offensive zone or the attacking player out-skated the defenseman to the dot in the face-off circle. And then it isn't called off. It's the same thing when I think the defenseman is obviously slowing down to get the icing call and it should be waved off, and they call it. And just recently the Blues appeared to ice the puck and the opposing goaltender played the puck before it crossed the red goal line, yet it was still called icing.
Yes, after 53 years of experience watching pro hockey, I really don't know what icing is. Perhaps you share my affliction, as well as my consternation. Perhaps it would be better to go back to the old system where a player actually has to touch the puck before a judgment can be made as to whether or not it is icing.
April is just around the corner and believe it or not, there are only six games regular season games left on the Blues' schedule after tonight's contest with the Vancouver Canucks. Where did the time go?
The good news is that the Blues are currently one of the six or seven best teams in the NHL and relatively injury free, quite unlike last year when injuries ravaged the Note. It is highly unlikely there will a repeat of last season's debacle in which St. Louis lost the last six games of the regular season, and the now out of the playoffs Colorado Avalanche snatched the Central Division championship away. The Blues ended up facing Chicago in the first round of the playoffs, only to lose the series in six games. More disappointing was that the Blues won the first two games in thrilling fashion in overtime before two SRO crowds that had the TradeStocks Center rocking and rolling with sheer delight.
More good news involves the development of the Blues' penalty killing into a real force on the ice while shorthanded. At the end of February, the Blues were ranked 22nd in penalty killing. Since then, they have dramatically improved and cracked the top ten in the league, now ranked ninth. The power play, once first in the entire league, has slipped a bit lately as the Blues are now ranked third, yet the return of Kevin Shattenkirk should help remedy that minor problem.
The only possible bad news would be that five of the six remaining Blues' games are against strong teams that are currently in the playoffs, while the Ducks' remaining four games are all against weaker teams that will most likely not qualify for post season play. And three of those matches are at home in Anaheim. That makes it pretty difficult for St. Louis to win the conference and earn home ice advantage in the upcoming Western Conference playoff games. Nashville only has four games left, two at home and only one against a playoff contender (Vancouver tomorrow night). Chicago, like the Blues, has six games left. Three are at home, yet four are against playoff contenders, including two games against St. Louis.
Those two Blues-Blackhawks meetings are obviously extremely important for both teams and will most likely determine what the divisional standings will look like at the end of the regular season. The first is Sunday, April 5. in Chicago and the second is a week from Thursday, April 9, in St. Louis. Nails will be bitten down to the quick in all three Central Division cities by the end of the season on April 11 as the Blues, Preds and Hawks fight it out for the division crown.
With two weeks left in the regular season, which team would you prefer the Blues meet in the first round of the playoffs? Most Blues fans would like to see the Note win the conference and meet either Vancouver or possibly Calgary in the first round, especially if Los Angeles comes up short and does not even qualify for post season play.
That would be quite logical, of course. Very few would choose either the Kings or Blackhawks for obvious reasons.
Me? Well, since you ask, I would prefer either Los Angeles or Chicago in the opening round. Yes, you read that correctly. I would really like to see the Blues face one of their most formidable opponents in the first round and get it on right from the beginning. Quite frankly, if the Blues are good enough to win Lord Stanley's Cup this June, then they are going to have to defeat the best teams in four seven game series. That translates to winning sixteen tough, hard-fought defensive playoff games. If the Blues are not good enough, then for me it's better to lose in the first round and get it over with. Some might be content with advancing to the Cup Finals and losing to the Eastern Conference champion, yet I would find that far more distressing and upsetting than losing in the first round.
So, yes, bring on the conference's very best and let's get it on from the get-go.