It’s crazy to consider that a) St. Louis hasn’t played Detroit in 10 months, b) the Red Wings haven’t mattered to Blues fans in what now feels like a lifetime, and c) the historic Joe Louis Arena has been closed for half a year.
Nevertheless, today’s Atlantic Division residents sit at 11-12 on the season, nestled in a race for either middle of the pack or the basement.
Many are the reasons one could spend all of their column space writing about the Detroit Red Wings. The once-memorable rivalry rivals Kansas City-Oakland in the National Football League in that two things used to command certainty in these meetings: 1) you never knew who would emerge victorious; 2) it was always going to be ugly.
From Gordie Howe to Chris Chelios to Steve Yzerman to the despicably respectable Scotty Bowman, the Red Wings remain -- in a celebrated sense -- one of the best American franchises in the National Hockey League. None of that matters today, however.
The Red Wings, as of the end of the Blues’ game versus the Dallas Stars at Scottrade Center Thursday night, resemble nothing more than the next St. Louis opponent. They are, like every other team in the league, no slouch. They’re no one any smart club overlooks, but they are also not what they once were, which -- for all intents and purposes -- has been the recent-era Chicago Blackhawks for Note backers.
What’s important about this game (beyond the fact that the Blues are in the midst of a weird five-home/two-road/one-home/one-road/four-home stretch of the schedule) is that St. Louis has dug themselves out of a hole that a week ago threatened via its depth. What’s important is that this team snapped a three-game skid by taking a decent lead over the Montreal Canadiens Tuesday, squandered it, and managed to emerge victorious in regulation. They then followed that effort with a handsome three-goal shutout over Dallas two days ago, an important win that had heavy division stakes tied to it at the time of the contest.
What’s important about this game is that -- as the season has developed -- this St. Louis club has developed bench depth similar to a nine-hour snowfall. The initial flurries generated points via the top-dog Blues and did so in a fashion that created a collection everyone noticed. Some secondary drifts flowed in from others who hadn’t registered a ton of scoresheet inches. This was followed by a bit of a lull, causing questioning regarding the storm’s length, Then a late wind developed, sparking accumulation from some still-unheard from fellas, marking this first two months of the season as both exciting and pleasurable.
And as has been discussed in the print version of St. Louis Game Time, these are the separation-building days of the hockey season; your start determines your middle determines your finish determines your post-season setup. The Blues have put themselves in position to have a successful middle, which means they could determine their own destiny early on in the final third of their season. Of course none of any of that matters if you qualify for the post-season and then don’t do well in it, but the argument could be made that the Blues haven’t had the opportunity to immerse themselves wholly into a mental state that focuses on their play and their play only since the early part of the Joel Quenneville era.
They have created opportunities to do that for themselves on more than one occasion this season and right now -- continuing with this game at Little Caesar’s Arena -- is another one of those.
A strong pre-holiday push means a ton for the oft-understated come-back-from-Christmas recalibration that is a real thing, even if there are zero extra days off involved. Even if the proverbial finger can’t be put on it, there’s some kind of anomaly that happens to teams as the tail end of December transitions into January.
It’s not a slump per se, but there sometimes appears -- with certain teams -- to be a groggy, perhaps-turkey-induced fatigue as clubs attempt to ring in the new year and skate in the direction of spring. A strong, pre-holiday finish has the potential to set up an eager-to-get-back-to-work mentality that might give a group an edge regarding continuing going about the established business.
This, it would appear, is the stage that has been set for the Blues.
They earned first place early and, for the most part, kept it. They established a bit of distance, competition improved, and they maintained course. Then they hit a rough patch and found themselves upside down in the division, but it proved to be a pan flash.
If they seize this opportunity to focus on their game and not worry about what anyone else in the division (or the league) is doing, they have a chance to really cement both their identity and their game.
This last week and change of St. Louis hockey has shown a lot of promise in terms of total team effort and they’re posing the suggestion that they’re not a one-trick pony that has to lean on one or two guys to get things done.
Whether or not they’ve adjusted to recent roster moves has yet to be determined, but the fact that they didn’t just continue to lose games after their three-game slump means a lot.
It means that there’s a message, and that -- regardless of who’s conveying it today or where it came from in the first place -- carries a ton of weight for any team in any sport that actually, legitimately wants to believe in themselves, are committed to doing so, and will act in such a fashion that mirrors the belief.
This Blues unit is boiling with potential and snagging two points in a game like this afternoon’s (Editor’s Note: “Pizza, pizza.”) could pay down-the-road dividends that aren’t even evident today.