Raise your hand if you expected the St. Louis Blues to have one regulation loss after the month of October. Anyone? No? Yeah, that's what I thought. The first month of the season was insanely good for the Blues. On Nov. 3, the Blues' record is 6-1-2. The Note has 14 out of a possible 18 points. Things are good down at 14th and Clark.
Some people may be wondering just how this happened. Hell, I'm wondering just how it happened. Before the season started, I thought the Blues would be entertaining to watch, but would fall short of the playoffs. Now it's very, very early, but it looks like I may have been wrong about the Blues. Sure, they could go on a 10-game losing streak, but I just haven't seen it this season. Best team in the league? Probably not. Different from last year? Most definitely.
Just how have the Blues been so good, and can they keep it up? Let's take a look at five reasons and see if the Blues can continue this torrid start.
Jaroslav Halak has been nothing short of amazing. Acquired this summer from Montreal, I was hoping that the 25-year-old netminder would develop into a No. 1 goalie. Jaro is an incredible 6-1-1 with a 1.72 GAA and a .932 save percentage.
He's been a calm and steady force in the net—he doesn't waste movement, doesn't get out of position and makes the saves he's supposed to make. He's been simply outstanding. When was the last time a Blues' 'tender was mentioned in Vezina talk? Halak is already getting mentioned, and it's well deserved.
His numbers will fall off a bit—but not too much. He's good and I don't think this is a fluke. Halak should help keep the Blues in every game he starts. My only concern is he's played every game but one; thanks to a sporadic schedule he hasn't been overworked, but Ty Conklin does need to get some work eventually.
This season, the Blues have allowed 25.8 shots per game—the best in the NHL. So what you have is a good goalie not facing a lot of rubber. That'll work.
The top four of Eric Brewer, Erik Johnson, Barret Jackman and Alex Pietrangelo have been a pleasant surprise. Despite his failed attempts at baseball on Saturday, Brewer is playing his best hockey in years. He's skating, hitting and playing with confidence. Jackman is playing his usual steady hand role and Johnson continues to look like a force. The biggest surprise has been Petro.
For the last two years Pietrangelo was in the odd position of being too young for the AHL, but too good for juniors. After being taken 4th overall, the Blues were forced to put him in juniors and watch him dominate the competition. The fact that he couldn't stick with the NHL team, despite not being old enough to drink, made some "fans" label him a bust. Those fans have disappeared. Right now, at age 20, Pietrangelo is the best d-man on the Blues.
Once Roman Polak and Carlo Colaiacovo return, the Blues will be even better. If they can ride out the AHL third pairing of Nathan Oystrick and Tyson Strachan, the Blues will be fun.
How often have you that you can't score if you don't shoot? The Blues are taking this to heart. The Blues are shooting 34.6 times per game, second best in the league. They don't have a sniper like Alex Ovechkin, so instead they're just pelting goalies. It's not a bad strategy. The top five trigger-happiest teams last year were Chicago, Detroit, Washington, Pittsburgh and Toronto.
The Blues still lack a legit No. 1 line. David Perron has four goals, but those all came against Marty Turco and his giant 5-hole. T.J. Oshie is a point-a-game player, but he only has one goal. David Backes, Brad Boyes, Alex Steen and Oshie have as many goals combined (four) as Matt D'Agostini. The Blues 2.78 goal per game is 16th in the league.
Basically, the Note have been doing just enough to get by. With Halak and the defense doing work, the offense hasn't had to score as much. As long as they're controlling the play and getting shots, they're doing fine. The goals will come.
Davis Payne has a system where the team is a 5-man unit. It isn't reinventing the wheel, but damn it's fun to watch. The players seem to have bought into Payne and the Blues' head man has the Blues playing smart, good hockey. They aren't sitting back on leads, they aren't playing for ties, they aren't playing backwards.
Saturday against Atlanta was a game the Blues would've lost last year. Trailing 3-1 in the third, the Blues would've just rolled over and banked on getting a point back in April in a mad dash for the playoffs. Instead, the team went all-out and tied it up. They nearly won in regulation and overtime before sealing the deal in the shootout. He may look like an accoutant, but Payne is a good fit for the Blues.
The Blues have played just nine games, tied with Boston for last in the league. Chicago has played six more games than the Blues. Playing nine games in 30 days is hardly taxing. The Blues have had plenty of time off to rest and heal the minor bumps and bruises that go with playing hockey. Plus, the Blues have been given ample time to scout. Add in the fact that the frequent breaks have allowed St. Louis to play Halak every single game but one and well, that has helped.
Every team is going to play 82 games so this is the one factor that the Blues can't keep up. November is already shaping up to be a busier month.
The Blues are going to lose again in regulation, but it looks like this is a team that is better than I had thought. If the offense picks up and the defense and goaltending continue to play well, the St. Louis Blues can get back into the postseason.