As the Blues surge toward what could be the President’s trophy in the NHL, many observers have wondered whether or nor the Blues have enough offense to be an effective playoff team. Indeed, some were upset that the Blues didn’t get a goal scorer at the trade deadline.
The fact of the matter is, however, that since the lockout the NHL has once again become a defensive league. Last year’s Stanley Cup finalists; Boston and Vancouver allowed the fewest goals in their respective conferences. Granted, Boston had the third most goals in the east, and Vancouver led the Western Conference in goals, but the coaches of those teams preached defense first.
Two years ago, Joel Quenneville’s Blackhawks scored the second most in the west, and allowed the second fewest, on their way to the Stanley Cup. The year before that, Pittsburgh and Detroit bucked the trend by being more scoring units than defense-first squads.
With a dozen games left, the Blues have allowed a league-best 134 goals. The Rangers are next, having allowed nine more goals than the Blues. And while 17 teams have scored more goals than the Blues, things have changed of late. Since losing at Nashville on Feb. 4, the Blues have scored at least three goals in 14 of their last 19 games, for a total of 55 tallies. The Blues have gone 36-0-0 the last 36 times they’ve scored three or more goals, so that threshold is a major statistic.
Since Feb. 4, only Ottawa and Pittsburgh have been able to match the Blues’ total goals. The fact is, the Blues have found themselves offensively. Collectively, the power play has become one of the best in the NHL, but individually, guys like David Perron and Patrick Berglund are scoring now, and the return of Andy MacDonald has been a revelation.
Yes, the Blues would like to get more individual consistency from the likes of captain David Backes, forward Chris Stewart and Vladimir Sobotka. But team-wide, the consistency has arrived. There isn’t a team in the NHL that wouldn’t like to have scored three or more in 14 of 19 games.
As coach Ken Hitchcock has noted, the Blues have been able to avoid injuries to their blue-line corps. Alex Pietrangelo has become an elite player. Kevin Shattenkirk has been great. Barret Jackman has had a terrific season, and Carlo Coliacovo and Roman Polak have been more than serviceable. And when guys like Kent Huskins and Kris Russell have gone down, the depth has stepped up.
Oh, the goaltending has been spectacular, too. That total of 134 goals allowed by Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott includes the two best goals-against averages in the league, with Elliott leading the way and Halak second. Halak, as opposed to Roman Turek at the turn of the century, was great in the playoffs with Montreal two years ago, so the Blues believe they can count on him for a strong post-season run.
With the stellar leadership of Hitchcock, the emergence of the offense, the great defense and goaltending, there’s no reason to believe the Blues can’t win the Stanley Cup. Hockey is the ultimate team sport. You can win a championship without a superstar. Boston won the Cup last year without benefit of a 30-goal scorer.
If they haven’t yet, the Blues at some point need to say to themselves, “Why not us?” They have the ability to win it, and there’s no reason to think they can’t. They do have the best record in the league. I think they can win the Stanley Cup. We might as well start hoping and anticipating, because it’s real. The Blues can win a championship, and there’s no reason to not believe.