The truly fantastic thing about opening night of a new NHL season is that it’s a blank slate. Upon this tabula rasa, there are no disappointments. Anything is literally possible. Predictions abound!
Of course, we’re Blues fans, so we like to temper those predictions a bit. Fifty-one seasons without a Stanley Cup will do that to you. There have been years in the recent past where the team all but proclaimed that it was their year before the season even started, and it didn’t end well. Hell, EA Sports predicted the Blues would win the Cup in 2014, which did nothing but prove how poor NHL 14’s AI was.
So no, I’m not going to proclaim that this is the Blues’ year. I’ve been a fan of this team for almost 30 years - what I am comfortable saying is that barring injury and goaltending disaster, this year should be an improvement and the Blues should probably be back in the playoffs.
Why am I comfortable saying that? Here are the opening night starting lines:
#stlblues lines:— Lou Korac (@lkorac10) October 3, 2018
goalies: Allen, Johnson
That bottom defensive pairing is due to Robert Bortuzzo being suspended, Joel Edmundson being out, and Carl Gunnarsson still not being cleared to play. Insert those three players, and that is a solid defensive core. Pietrangelo, Parakyo, and Edmundson are three excellent defensemen. Dunn is growing as a player. Bortuzzo, when not taking unnecessary elbowing penalties, is capable. Bouwmeester may be the weak link depending on his health this season, but there are worse weak links to have. Much, much worse. Despite missing the playoffs last year and having issues on the penalty kill, the Blues finished sixth overall in goals allowed last season. There’s little reason to think that will change.
Where the Blues may shine this season are the forwards. Compare Korac’s tweet to this one:
That’s not even just turnover, that’s upgraded turnover. The only place that may not be an upgrade is the fourth line, but that depends on what you feel the fourth line’s purpose is. Upshall-Brodziak-Thorburn was a grind line. Barbashev-Thomas-Blais actually has the potential to score. Believe it or not, the Blues have four centers right down the middle who can contribute on the point sheet. When was the last time fans have seen that?
The third line of Steen-Bozak-Perron finished last season with point totals of 46, 43, and 65. Last year’s third line of Paajarvi-Sundqvist-Thomas finished with point totals of 12 (including time spent with Ottawa for Paajarvi), 5, and 9.
That’s an increase from 26 points to 154. Even if every guy on the third line has a production drop-off, it’s still a significant step up that should translate into a few more games in the win column.
Hell, even without the obvious upgrades on the top two lines it’s a significant uprgrade, and that’s before you insert Robby Fabbri back in there when he’s healthy.
Special teams has to be better by default because the penalty kill and power play were so abysmal last year that it had to be an aberration.
What will make or break the Blues’ playoff chances are the usual two suspects: can the team (and Jaden Schwartz) stay healthy and will goaltending be consistent? The first of those two things is impossible to predict, but the Blues could limit the damage by making sure that player familiarity is there. The entire team’s chemistry shouldn’t go to trash just because one (very good) player went down. The Penguins have lost Sidney Crosby for extended periods of time and still played very, very well. The Blues should be able to do that when Schwartz is hurt.
The goaltending situation is more controllable, but is still a question. Chad Johnson isn’t as good of a goaltender as Carter Hutton, but the Blues also are capable of turning backups into emergency starters. Unfortunately for Jake Allen, having a quality backup appears to contribute to a case of the yips come January. If Allen can play to the full potential that fans have seen him play to, the Blues will easily make the playoffs. If his usual case of the winter blues returns, the Blues will still probably get in the postseason, but it won’t be a long stay.
As always, success brings up the rear, but overall the Blues have the tools for a successful season. Here’s hoping all of the pieces fall where they need to.