By: Ethan Illers
With the NHL season just over half way over, things are starting to shape up and a playoff picture is starting to blossom. Before we get to the nitty gritty of this column, let’s take a quick look around the league and see what catches our eye.
Teams currently on hot streaks: The New York Rangers won six straight games, their most recent coming on Monday night against the Blue Jackets in Columbus. Henrik Lundqvist continues to be the epicenter of the Rangers’ success. Add in newcomers Pavel Buchnevich, Jimmy Vesey and the resurrection of Michael Grabner’s career, and you’ve got yourself a playoff worthy team and a cup contender. Kevin Hayes continues to be a great presence up front on the line with Grabner and JT Miller; they’ve accumulated 17 points, and at the ripe age of 24, Hayes has one exciting career in front of him. The Washington Capitals have won four in a row and are headlined by stars like Alex Ovechkin and TJ Oshie. Brooks Orpik leads the NHL in plus/minus with a staggering +32. Add in great goaltending by Braden Holtby and you’ve got yourself a team destined to go far in the playoffs (whoops, I meant a second round exit like we’re all used to seeing). The Boston Bruins have won three straight and maybe moving on from Claude Julien at the helm was what they needed (Julien has just been hired to coach Montreal after the firing of Michel Therrien early Tuesday). Lastly, the St. Louis Blues have won four straight and perhaps they’re going through the same effect that hit Boston. St. Louis relieved coach Ken Hitchcock of his duties and replaced him with assistant coach, Mike Yeo, who was already slated to assume coaching duties once Hitchcock retired at the conclusion of the season. Also, goaltender Jake Allen was awarded second star of the week due to his recent stellar play after going a month of just absolutely abysmal performances. And Chicago has won five straight; nothing out of the ordinary here.
Teams currently on a cold streak: Detroit. This comes as a surprise as I thought Detroit was an improved team coming into the season, especially with the additions of Mike Green and Frans Nielsen. Throw in enforcer Steve Ott to solidify their lower lines, and I really thought the Red wings had a decent team. However, they’ve been the exact opposite. Awful goaltending, a lack of defense, and a goal differential of -28 just add up to all the miscues that Detroit has endured this year. They’re at the bottom of the Eastern Conference for a reason. The Colorado Avalanche has lost four in a row and have a goal differential of -75. This team has played 54 games and has accumulated only 32 points. That’s bad, real bad. Enough said.
Now for the nitty gritty. The St. Louis Blues came into this season as a team that lost more than it gained. They lost forwards Troy Brouwer to Calgary and captain David Backes to Boston via free agency. Perhaps the biggest surprise was trading away goaltender Brian Elliott to Calgary in exchange for the No. 35 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and a conditional third-round pick in 2018. This team made it to the Western Conference Final last year for the first time since 2001, only to get bounced by San Jose in six games. While that definitely stung, it was a successful season nonetheless for the Blues. It gave their fans a sign of hope and optimism that this team will bring Lord Stanley’s Cup to St. Louis in the near future.
With the offseason subtractions, I still expected the Blues to make the playoffs. This team is very talented with young players like Vladimir Tarasenko, who’s a top sniper in the league, forward Robby Fabbri and defenseman, Colton Parayko. Don’t get me wrong; Fabbri going down with a season-ending ACL injury is a crushing blow for the Blues. This can and will likely prevent the Blues from reaching the Conference Final for the second consecutive year, so it’s time for others to step up. The player that’s done that most notably has been Patrik Berglund. Berglund has established himself as a centerpiece of this Blues team as he’s embraced a leadership role. He recently netted a hat trick in Montreal and has been all over the ice. Forward Paul Stastny has been placed on injured-reserve with a lower-body injury. Thankfully, he isn’t expected to miss a significant amount of time and could be back as early as Saturday against Buffalo.
Parayko possesses one of the hardest slap shots in the NHL. The kid can skate and can play some great defense and team hockey. At just 23 years-of-age, the kid has a bright future. However, by far the biggest rollercoaster of the season has been the goaltending of Jake Allen. Allen turned in an exceptional performance on the biggest and most meaningful stage the Blues have possibly ever been on, the Winter Classic at Busch Stadium. With all of St. Louis looking on, Allen beat Chicago to send fans home happy. Allen wouldn’t win another game in almost a month; he even was told not to travel with the team on a road trip as St. Louis called up Pheonix Copley to make his NHL debut. Copley didn’t perform well and Allen rejoined the team, putting up incredible numbers.
The Blues may be a rollercoaster of a team, but they are exciting. Allen is on a hot streak and so is the rest of the team, as Mike Yeo appears to have grabbed the bull by the horns and pointed them in the right direction. Add in the young talent and players rising to the occasion, one thing is certain. We are in for an exciting and eventful end to the regular season.