In the age of miracles, the age of sound, the St. Louis Blues will take on the Vegas Golden Knights this evening in Sin City.
Having posted two impressive division-opponent wins in consecutive nights already this week, the Note headed west yesterday and find themselves again in a position wherein they must defend their Central Division lead. Vegas, in the midst of a seven-game home stand, also takes the T-Mobile Arena ice with a two-game win streak in their belts, and find themselves one point below the Los Angeles Kings in the Pacific Division.
For Blues fans the second time in October atop the division is nice, but the fact means nothing for a franchise that still seeks its first Stanley Cup. The real gem headed in to this evening’s tilt hails from Saskatchewan and wears the number 17 on the back of his sweater.
Jaden Schwartz leads the club in points with a pair more than team captain, Alex Pietrangelo. Schwartz’s half-dozen goals and equal number of assists put him on pace to tally an unthinkable 120+ points on the campaign.
Such a trend will not hold, of course, but it’s a nice one to imagine. Schwartzy has felt the vibe, let it rise to the occasion, let it move right in, and the early-season production has come with him skating with not only new linemates, but new teammates: Brayden Schenn at center; Samuel Blais at right wing. And although he’s logged some time with the first power-play unit (with Schenn and Paul Stastny), all six of his goals -- and five of his six assists -- have come at even-strength play.
This specificity matches what has always been Schwartz’s strength (finding open ice), but accelerates his roster-spot value by the simple virtue that he has produced at such a solid level thus far. In fact, headed into this evening, Schwartz trails only Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos (14) and Nikita Kucherov (13) in points, Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin (10) and Kucherov (8) in goals. And if you’re into the sort of thing, he sits in a five-way tie for third place in plus/minus.
Other highlights of Note for the week include the return of Alexander Steen to the lineup who made immediate ice-time contributions (36 minutes), as well as a bit of scoresheet production from the roster’s depth: defenseman Robert Bortuzzo and left wing Scottie Upshall earned their second points of the season Wednesday night in Chicago while Kyle Brodziak registered his first; the following night in Denver, Vince Dunn buried his second goal of the season while Brodziak scored his first and Samuel Blais logged his first helper.
Maybe the Blues just needed a minute or two to get their #AllTogetherNowSTL mojo fired up. Maybe Ivan Barbashev and Magnus Paajarvi are ricocheting in their cages with grace ascending, taking the next step to be what they’re s’posed to be. Fans will be eager -- and to some degree already are -- to see this team mold itself into an identity that features production across the board instead of a group with talent trying to figure out who it is.
As for the Golden Knights, they couldn’t have exploded onto the National League Hockey scene with any more fervor than that which they already demonstrated. It would appear that this league does in fact have parity if it can poach a player from each roster via expansion, appear to do somewhat well in the regular draft, and head in to their seventh professional game at 5-1, a league best for new clubs.
The Knights have had impressive levels of electricity and support surrounding their team through these first two weeks and after tonight’s contest versus the Blues, they’ll host the two road foes in the same order St. Louis just faced them: Chicago on Monday, Colorado three nights later. After that, though, Vegas will take to the skies with six straight on the road (three on the east coast, three in Canada) and be in and out of their own barn through the first two weeks of December. Their entire season schedule appears to have long stretches of home and away. Perhaps their facility schedule was uncertain when the league game dates were hammered out. Or perhaps their location has something to do with it.
Regardless, monitoring their wins and losses and the City of Lights’ support will prove a fascinating season study. The club has held open practices at the new City Bank Arena, sometimes luring upwards of 2,500 fans, who are often treated to photo and puck-signing opportunities afterwards with players.
St. Louis will face top Knight performers James Neal of last year’s Western Conference Finals champion (and club that eliminated the Blues) Nashville Predators and their own former player, David Perron. The two Vegas left wingers have amassed five goals and eight assists between them. The Golden Knights have seen a bit more production across their entire roster than the Blues have and have developed -- according to one season-ticket holder -- a bit of a fan favorite in right winger Alex Tuch.
In net the Knights have seen both goaltenders stay positive in the win column, with Marc-Andre Fleury registering three wins and the club’s only loss; Malcolm Subban, brother of the Predators’ P.K., has earned victories in both of his outings.
The Note comes in to tonight’s game with 68 scoring points to Vegas’ 52, but they will face a club that has shown some skill at clogging the neutral zone and creating opportunities off of turnovers generated near center ice. The Knights have also had some success protecting the slot in their own zone, indicating that the Blues may be faced with the challenge of spreading the puck around to generate scoring chances then crashing the Vegas net when they’ve produced shots.
After this evening’s contest, St. Louis hosts Calgary on Wednesday, plays in Carolina Friday, and then returns home to Scottrade Center for four straight to close out the first month of hockey. Blues fans hope that, by then, their squad has seen that the rest of the Central is a natural disaster, that #AllTogetherNowSTL’s blowin’ up like a ghetto blaster.