Two big wins. One was an exciting overtime win and the other was a boat race in favor of the Blues. So currently sitting on the good side of the Central Division standings, the Blues look confident heading into game three of the 82-game grind. Can they keep this play up or is this just a fluke?
Allow some negativity for a moment. Game one was a sloppy and choppy game that saw the Blues get the last lucky bounce when it mattered. The Flyers were without their all-star defenseman, Chris Pronger, and also featured the always-streaky goaltender, Brian Boucher. Game two was against the Anaheim Ducks, who showcase a softer defense than that other side of Sears we keep hearing about. The Ducks’ offense has been non-existent as well, shooting just 14 shots at Halak and averaging 24.0 shots per game, currently placing them 29th in the league.
Also, remember how the Blues started the season in Stockholm last season and shut down their rival Detroit Red Wings in the first two games of the season? They followed it up with a flop at home against the Thrashers 4-2, and then ended with the ninth best record in the Western Conference, which is not good enough to make the playoffs.
But the positivity comes in when digging deeper into the aforementioned games. Most importantly, the defense has been increasingly better. Jaroslav Halak has been good (worthy of receiving Versus’ Player of the Week), but he has only had one real test in both games, which happened to be a breakaway save on Corey Perry in the third period. The entire team defense has been strong in defensive coverage, clearing the front of the net and getting the puck out of the zone. If you don’t want to believe me, look at the numbers. In the Stockholm games last season, the number one defensive pairing of Roman Polak and Barret Jackman was a combined -3 despite the two wins, and the rest of the defense posted just a plus-6. This season, the top defensive pairing of Roman Polak and Eric Brewer was a plus-4 in the first two games, and the rest of the defense was a collective plus-6. Bottom line: the defense is getting it done.
To go along with the defense, the team’s disputed top-defenseman has been the leader that this team needs him to be. That’s right; Eric Brewer has been a force to be reckoned with to start the 2010-11 campaign. He has constantly been in the right spot, clearing rebounds out of in front of Halak and coming to the aid of his teammates when needed. Aaron Voros will think twice before he knees Polak again.
The offense has been in the front lines and has been doing exactly what this team needs as well. Let’s face it; last year they faced the shell of Chris Osgood in game one and in game two it was Jimmy Howard, who was slated as the backup for the first time in his career, instead of being a mid-season call-up. Many of the goals were scored on the rush and on average shots that just found holes through the goaltenders.
This season, the power-play has been so-so but the even strength play has been just what the doctor ordered. The puck-cycling has kept the opposing team defenses on the ropes, and the shots have been handcuffing the opposing goaltenders. David Perron and Alex Steen are still goal-less, but they both have been dominating when threading the needle with passes, scoring three assists between the two of them. The secondary scoring has been a nice addition as well.
Of course Carlo Colaiacovo’s overtime goal was a welcomed surprise, but this Matt D’Agostini guy is looking like a top-line forward. Both of his snipes on the Ducks’ goaltending staff would be good goals for even Lars Eller. D’Agostini has contributed with the team puck control, along with his third and fourth-line teammates getting in on the action. You are insane if you believe this guy can continue his goal-tear for a full season, but if he can net 10-15 goals, it will be a welcomed addition to a team that is being questioned in their offensive abilities.
A behind the scenes look at the team displays the head coach, Davis Payne. Under former coach Andy Murray, the forwards had to learn to play with pretty much everyone in the lineup. Payne has, besides a few small exceptions, kept the lines the same for both games. This creates chemistry between the lines and lets the players learn how to play with the two skaters that they will see the most. In a young lineup, this could be key down the stretch.
Can the Blues keep this great play up?
Well, stop making the jokes that the Blues will be 82-0-0 at season’s end. That will not happen, but I wouldn’t say that this spectacular team play will end. The true test will come this Thursday, when they face-off against the Nashville Predators away from Scottrade Center. If the Blues can put pressure on the stingy Nashville defense like they have in the first two games, this could be a sign of things to come. If they do have a couple of hiccups, don’t sell those season tickets just yet; they look like a team that may thrive at home all season long.