Finally, the NHL is allowing the St. Louis Blues to start their season, and they’ve been given an opponent who - while not an easy win - should not pose a giant fight. The Columbus Blue Jackets added 100 point man Johnny Gaudreau this off-season in free agency, which makes them a bit more dangerous. They also lost noted Blues-killer Patrik Laine on Wednesday during the team’s 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Laine should be evaluated in four to six weeks.
The winless Blue Jackets are itching for some success, which seems to’ve been a perpetual state for the franchise over the years. In his second year as starter, Elvis Merzlikins should be more than up to the challenge, and the Blues will show him one tonight.
The team’s forward lines are, even without David Perron, filled with scoring depth. Right now they’re missing Logan Brown and Alexey Toropchenko, both out with injury... but one of those two may return as soon as tonight if doctors clear him.
Toropchenko says he’s 100 percent and ready to play. #stlblues— Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) October 14, 2022
Berube on whether Toropchenko will play Sat: "We'll make a decision tomorrow. Check out and see how he did today. He looks ready. He's skating extremely well and he's strong, so ... we'll have to see tomorrow." #stlblues— Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) October 14, 2022
There is absolutely no reason to rush Toropchenko back right now - the lines are set and competent, and while he was impressive last season and should be a key piece of re-establishing some identity for the fourth line, he’s also valuable enough to not want to risk further injury to. Toropchenko is developing into the player that the Blues expected Klim Kostin to be: strong on the puck, willing to put himself out there, willing to take chances, and who consistently plays with drive. If the team wants to build on that, they need to make sure that Toropchenko honestly really is at 100%.
The Blues’ defense looks nearly the same as last year, even accounting for the absences of Marco Scandella and Scott Perunovich. The team’s forwards, tonight and moving forward, aren’t where the question marks lie. The questions are with the defense - can they step up? - and of course, with the goaltending. Jordan Binnington, whether he likes it or not, is facing a put up or shut up season. He can’t rely on the backup to bail him out and needs to keep the form he had before his playoff injury.
Without Laine, Binnington may not be tested a great deal tonight, but the Blue Jackets still should make him work.