The Blues lineup is a constantly changing and evolving thing, and whether one certain combination strikes our fancy (or not) doesn't really matter a whole lot. In any competitive endeavor, the last thing you want to become is predictable. Eventually your bag of tricks will be empty, and your opponent will know it's all been done before. As a result, the long regular season of an NHL team will mean constant adjustments. Much like St Louis weather; if you don't like it, stick around. It'll change. Of course, an NHL season also means injuries are inevitable as well - and the absence and presence of various players will also feed the need for changing lineups.
That being said, we have the confluence of those two factors in play tonight. First, we have forward Jordan Caron being sent back to the AHL Wolves, which suggests that Patrik Berglund is ready to play. We know he's been skating with the team for quite a while now, and has been cleared for contact for not quite one week. He had become the whipping boy for a lot of Blues fans, and the target of much of their angst. However, viewed objectively, he's been a positive contributor to this team and been more asset than liability. From our own Robb Tufts:
However, he must be doing something right when he is on the ice. Last season he saw roughly 12 minutes a night. Berglund brought home a 55% corsi for and was 5th amongst forwards in goals scored at 5v5. All while seeing more defensive zone starts than offensive zone starts. Complain all you want, but he is a valuable member to this Blues' team.
So, welcome back Berg-Dog.
Along with that, we have the failure of the Blues to score, particularly during 5-on-5 play. We've done very well at special teams, but not so much in the standard format of the game. That needs to pick up. After another low-scoring loss Thursday night, Coach Hitch had this to say:
"We’re not scoring, we’re not scoring five-on-five," Hitchcock said. "We just can’t keep living on the fine line that we’re living on right now, scoring one and two goals and still getting points. It’s hard living with one goal. I think that’s something we’ve got to have an honest look here in the next 24 hours and what we’re doing offensively and see if we can get some more juice by possibly blowing some of this up."
So, with this desire by the coaching staff, and the return of Berglund, we can expect a real shake-up of the Blues lineup. Which is a good thing, by the way. All coaches do this, and especially the good ones. With the way the Blues have played lately, that time has come. In the last 5 games, there have been 9 goals scored. Of those 9, 5 were by Kevin Shattenkirk or Robby Fabbri. We need to see more from the rest of the team, particularly the forwards. Alexander Steen has been heating up, but there have been some noticeable absences on recent scoresheets. Backes, Brouwer, Lehtera... get in line. It has to be this team that fixes the malaise. I'm sure Doug Armstrong is wishing "If I had a $1,000,000 more of cap space ..."
As for tonight:
The Maple Leafs host the Blues tonight, and have every right to feel pretty good about themselves right now. The team is actually playing with structure right now, roles are more defined, and Coach Babcock has the team believing in themselves. They've won 6 of their last 10, and while nobody is penciling them in for the playoffs just yet, they have been showing a lot of potential for what to expect in the coming years. That's the Toronto fans' life, in a nutshell - the promise of getting better.
One area that still needs work is goaltending. They started the season with essentially two starters, James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier. It was the latter that was tabbed as the "official" starter, but they could not get him a win. In his 17 appearances this year, he's posted a record of 4-10-3 and a stat line of .889 Sv% and 3.22 GAA. He did not get his first win until December 19th, his 12th game of the season. However, since then, he's gone 3-2 including a shootout win in Pittsburgh Wednesday night. He'll be in goal tonight for the Leafs, backed up by Antoine Bibeau. At the start of the season, Bibeau was their 4th-string goalie, so that tells you a little about how things have gone. I'd say more about that inexperienced backup, but it was the 3rd-stringer Garret Sparks that pretty much shut down the Blues when they played here on December 5th. In that game, former Blues came up big: Roman Polak had 2 assists, and Brad Boyes scored the game winner.
Blues vs Maple Leafs coverage
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Final Verse: Early start tonight, as we're going to be the feature game on Hockey Night In Canada. The puck drops at 6PM St Louis time, and the GDT should drop shortly beforehand. The TV Broadcast will be on Fox Sports MW, and the radio call will be on KMOX 1120 AM. Get some alcohol and come join us, won't you? You'll probably hear a few of the several nicknames we have for Berglund, including the original - Techno Viking: