We spent a lot of time in “The Fast Lane” talking about how Blues players could make a name for themselves with strong Olympic performances, and so far they’ve make quite an impression. Obviously, T.J. Oshie is the star of the U.S. Olympics so far with his four-shootout goal performance against Russia. But it doesn’t stop there. Kevin Shattenkirk has been sensational defensively for the United States, and David Backes has been one of their most active two-way players. Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester are playing for Canada the way they play for the Blues. Patrik Berglund and Alexander Steen have been a big part of Sweden’s offense. For Russia, Vladimir Tarasenko has yet to make a mark, and Jaroslav Halak struggled against Slovenia after being led to slaughter in the game against the U.S.
When you consider that seven Blues are playing well in the world’s biggest event, and injured Vladimir Sobotka and previously injured Roman Polak should be there, it tells you why the Blues have the second-best record in the league, trailing Anaheim by three points with three games in hand.
Bovada.lv has made the Blues the favorite to win the Stanley Cup at 11-2, with Chicago and Pittsburgh just behind at 6-1. Clearly, the Blues have made an impact among hockey observers. When they come back from the break, they’ll have 25 games in 47 days, with 14 of those 25 on the road. There will be five times they play three games in four nights, and four back-to-back stints. That’s one area where the Blues have struggled so far, so it’ll be interesting to see if they can fix that aspect of their game and surge to the finish line.
* On what would have been Rick Majerus’ 66th birthday on Monday, ESPN’s Andy Katz tweeted, “The late great Rick Majerus said this to the Oregonian, March, 2012: ‘We’ll be a Top 10 team in about three years.’ SLU is No. 10 today. RIP.” Indeed Jim Crews’ team has won 17 in a row, is 23-2 and is 10th in both polls. In Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology at ESPN.com, he has the Billikens as a No. 4 seed. There’s no reason to believe that, with their defense, their intelligence and their versatility, that the Billikens can’t make a run in the NCAA tournament. Keep in mind, they had last year’s Final Four team and this year’s undefeated Wichita State down by a 58-51 count with six minutes left but couldn’t hold on. If they had, they would have been top 10 long ago.
As it is, this is the best Billiken team of my lifetime, and it’s exciting to see the community as involved as they are. Saturday’s win over VCU drew the biggest crowd ever at Chaifetz Arena, and the rest of the home schedule is nearly sold out, too. The Bills have delivered a once-in-a-lifetime performance, and they deserve the support they’re getting.
* Many draft experts have the Rams taking an offensive tackle with the second pick in the draft. Jake Long is rehabbing after tearing his ACL in the second-to-last game of the season. Long may be back for the opener, but may take longer than that to come back. Long’s contract calls for $4 million of his $8 million salary in 2014 to be guaranteed, and the team liked the way he played last year. Joe Barksdale started 13 games and was rated by Pro Football Focus as the fifth-best right tackle in the league last year. Especially if the Rams re-sign Rodger Saffold, I don’t look at tackle as a major need in 2014. Sure, in a tie, I always like to take the lineman. But this team is under pressure to make a move, and they need an explosive wide receiver like Sammy Watkins if Chris Givens’ regression wasn’t a fluke, and they need a safety. If Greg Robinson of Auburn or Jake Matthews of Texas A&M are instant Pro Bowl players like Long was as a rookie, then taking them is a no-brainer. But Robinson rarely had to pass block in college, and Matthews played in a spread and didn’t have to play in a three-point stance very often. If those guys project to being great right off the bat, then by all means take them. But from my view, the Rams have other moves to fill needs that would be smarter than taking one of the tackles at No. 2 overall.