After a relatively busy off-season and a destructive training camp the St. Louis Blues travel to Pittsburgh to take on the back to back defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins for game one of an eighty-two game season that will hopefully end with better results than the previous 50.
Due to season ending injuries to both Robby Fabbri and Zach Sanford the Blues roster doesn’t appear to be much, if any, of an upgrade from last year’s squad that finished third in the division and was bounced in the second round of the playoffs.
Before we dissect the Blues starting lineup let’s take a look at tonight’s opponent.
When looking at the Pittsburgh Penguins one might as well start right down the middle.
Sid “cry me a river” Crosby and Evgeni Malkin make up the best one two punch in the entire NHL.
While most teams, like our Blues, would kill to have just one top line center these greedy bastards have two.
You can either choose to defend against Sid and the kids, Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel, or you can throw your best out there against Malkin and Phil “the thrill” Kessel.
Either way, it is more than likely one or both of these lines will make you pay at some point during the night.
However, despite the talent that makes up the Penguins top six, the bottom half of the lineup falls off rather sharply.
Due to salary cap issues the team had to say goodbye to a trio of forwards. Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen all departed during the off season and no real replacements were brought in. Aside, that is, from former Blues fourth-liner Ryan Reaves who was traded for a first round draft pick as well as center Oskar Sundqvist in order to give the Pittsburgh lineup some size and toughness.
On the backend the Penguins defense has two ratings depending on whether or not Kris Letang (who suffered a neck injury last season and hasn’t played a game since February 21st) is in the lineup.
With the eleven year veteran in the top pair the Penguins blue line becomes one of the more prolific in the NHL. Without the speedy offensive-defenseman they are mediocre at best. And yes, he is most definitely playing tonight.
A younger group of (former Blue) Ian Cole, Brian Dumoulin and Justin Schultz as well as free agent acquisition Matt Hunwick round out the top five and are very beatable in every sense of the word.
The problem is even IF you can get past the Penguins mediocre third and fourth line and IF you can catch them without Letang on the ice you still have to get past a two time Cup winning goalie.
Matt Murray will begin his third year with the club and thanks to the expansion draft that sent teammate Marc-Andre Fleury to the Vega Golden Knights will finally be the team’s legitimate number one goaltender.
It’s no wonder that this team, even after significant personal losses, are still a heavy favorite to win a third consecutive cup.
Like I said before, due to some preseason injuries the Blues opening night roster is not exactly what the coaching staff had envisioned at the end of August.
According to practice the team’s lines should look something like this:
Vladimir Sobotka, Paul Stastny, Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, Dmitrij Jaskin
Magnus Paajarvi, Oskar Sundqvist, Tage Thompson
Scottie Upshall, Kyle Brodziak, Chris Thorburn
I can’t imagine that those lines are going to strike much fear into their opponents. Glee maybe but probably not fear.
However, this is what the Blues were dealt and head coach Mike Yeo is trying to balance out the talent the best he can.
He also made it very clear that if things start to head south the trio of Schwartz, Stastny and Tarasenko will quickly be reunited.
Heading into tonight you can tell that the name of the Blues game is defense. Yeo made a point to say the reason Thompson made the lineup and Barbashev and Megan didn’t is because he likes what Tage brings to the defensive side of the table.
I am going to take this opportunity to go ahead and warn you that Mike Yeo will always be a defensive minded coach. Yes, he understands that in order to win in this league his team is going to have to score goals but his philosophy is to protect the house first and then attack as a five man unit. Especially with the talent he has to work with now.
If any of you have any grandeur of a fast-paced, reckless, high-scoring offense you might want to go ahead and abandon ship before it sets sail. It ain’t going to happen.
Speaking of slow paced and non-scoring, Jay Bouwmeester was also injured during training camp so the Blues back end has been shaken up as well.
Joel Edmundson/Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson/ Colton Parayko
Vince Dunn/ Robert Bortuzzo
Goalie: Jake Allen
The top two pairings should be fine as long as Edmundson returns to last year’s playoff form and Parayko’s booming shot can find it’s mark. Neither one is a guarantee.
The bottom pair will be interesting to watch as rookie Dunn will get a chance to show what the training camp hype was all about.
Come back later for your season opening Game Day Thread and remember that one game does not a season make. Unless the Blues happen to win, then they are totally going all the way.
Pop a top and grab a seat. Hockey is officially back in our lives.
Thanks for reading and Go Blues!