Accentuate the Positive

For the fifth time in six seasons, the St. Louis Blues failed to make the NHL playoffs.  With that kind of mark, it may be tough for fans to see the positives that stem from their beloved team.  This is where I come in.

The Blues finished the 2010-11 season Saturday night with a 2-0 win over the Nashville Predators.  Going 38-33-11, the Blues amassed 87 points which placed them in eleventh place in the Western Conference standings.  The Blues do finish with three fewer points than last season; however, there were some bright spots.

The number one question heading into this season was how the Blues would find a way to score goals.  Paul Kariya and Keith Tkachuk left the roster and management did little to fill their spots.  It seems that they did not need to.

Brought in at the trade deadline last season, Matt D’Agostini was the biggest surprise on the roster.  D’Agostini, who’s career-high in goals was 12 in 2008-09 with the Montreal Canadiens, shattered his old mark and put up 21 goals this season.  D’Agostini found himself on the top line many games this season, showcasing his strength and fancy puck work.  D’Agostini was also the workhorse of the team, joining David Backes as the only two Blues who played in all 82 games this season.

Backes was also quite the impressive player this season.  He reached the 30-goal plateau for the second time in his young career, posting 31 goals for the Blues.  His goal totals may not be his most necessary quality though; with former captain Eric Brewer sent packing to Tampa Bay, it seems that there is a captain vacancy.  Backes is the front runner for this spot next season.

Patrik Berglund also returned to form in 2010-11.  After only scoring 13 goals and 26 points last season, Berglund earned career-highs in goals (22), assists (30) and points (52).  While he had his low-points throughout the season, Berglund collected most of his points in the New Year during the Blues’ playoff push.  In late January, Berglund had a six-game point streak totaling three goals and four assists.  He did this again in early February, when he had a seven-game point streak, scoring three goals and four assists again.  Berglund came through in the clutch for the Blues and that should be enough to get qualified this summer as a restricted free-agent.

A trade that sent Erik Johnson and Jay McClement to Colorado actually turned out to be a big positive for the Blues as well.  After being acquired from the Avalanche in mid-February, Chris Stewart busted into the St. Louis scene, amassing 15 goals, 8 assists and 23 points in 26 games for the Blues.  He will be a key to the Blues’ offense next season.

The offense did not turn out to be a problem after all.  In fact, the Blues scored 18 more goals this season than last.  St. Louis ranked tenth in goals scored in the entire NHL.  But the young and gritty Blues defense is what scared opponents.

Alex Pietrangelo was probably the best addition for the 2010-11 season.  Scoring 11 goals, 32 assists and 43 points, Pietrangelo became the best Blues defenseman in just his first NHL season.  Constantly matched-up with the other team’s top lines, Pietrangelo finished the season as the top minute-man on the roster (22 minutes/game average).  Add in fellow rookie defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Nikita Nikitin, and you are looking at a young defense that is stacking up to be a force in the next few seasons.

Despite having his ups and downs, starting goalie Jaroslav Halak still finished 2010-11 strong.  Halak went 27-21-7, posting a .910 save percentage and 2.48 GAA.  His seven shutouts ranked him fourth in the NHL in the statistic.  These numbers are comparable to former starter Chris Mason’s numbers from the season before (30-22-8, .913 save percentage and 2.53 GAA), but this was Halak’s first season as a true-NHL starter.  Halak showed the world what he could do in the playoffs when he was a Canadien; now that he knows what it is like to have the team’s success riding on his shoulders in the regular season, his numbers should only improve next season.

Overall, the 2010-11 St. Louis Blues did not meet management’s expectations of being a playoff team.  But the young squad shows promise and could make some more noise next season.  With a healthy David Perron and a full season out of Chris Stewart, the offense will be impressive.  Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk will have a full season under their belt as top-NHL defensemen and Halak now knows what it is like to be counted on every game.

Look out for the 2011-12 St. Louis Blues.  If this season is any indication, the Blues will only get better and make a stronger push for the playoffs.

 

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