ST. LOUIS – A season some thought would never happen officially begins Saturday night. And the Blues are as ready as they can be to get it going.
More than eight months since being eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings, the Blues will take to the Scottrade Center ice Saturday with just six days of official practice and no preseason games.
“We’ve had great productive days,” said captain David Backes after Thursday night’s scrimmage. “I think we get better every day and turn the temperature up a little more every day and guys are still begging for more and not breaking down and that’s a great sign of the shape we’re in. We’re ready to hit the ground running.”
Winners of a playoff series last year for the first time in a decade, the Central Division winning Blues hope to pick up right where they left off. And with both goalies and nearly their entire roster returning, it seems like a logical scenario.
After the NHL lockout forced the cancellation of more than one-third of the season, the Blues and the rest of the league will begin a 48-game sprint to the finish Saturday. And what better way for the Blues to start it than against the hated Detroit Red Wings.
“I think the lines look like they are meshing very well,” said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. “The same thing on the back ends, both goalies look great, but once that game hits and your true competitive spirit comes out and you don’t like the guy you’re lining up next to, I think that’s when you really see everything turned on and you really can’t get to that point until Saturday.
“I think it’s going to be great. Just looking at a lot of the social media sites and stuff, a lot of fans are really excited for Saturday and I know we are. It’s going to be a phenomenal night.”
The Blues had 5,500 fans at Scottrade Center for their first practice on Sunday and 8,000 showed up for their first scrimmage Tuesday night. They had 10,200 at Thursday’s scrimmage. A standing room only crowd awaits them Saturday.
After surprising some last year, the Blues don’t figure to have the same luxury this time around. The Blues won the Central Division, finished with the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and nearly finished with the best record in the NHL.
With the Blues expected to be even better this year, teams will come gunning for them.
“I think more teams have respect for us obviously,” said forward Patrik Berglund. “We played great. We didn’t let in any goals really, we have two great goalies and a great ‘D’ and we won a lot of one-goal games. I think we have respect from other teams but it’s a new year and a new opportunity so we have to go out and earn the wins.”
The product on the ice figures to be a bit sloppy the first few games with no preseason games and not even a full week of official practices leading up to the start of the season. And the physical play could suffer as well with most teams doing very little contact-related drills in practice.
But after nearly four extra months of waiting for the lockout to end, nobody seems to care much about the abbreviated schedule or sped up training camp. The NHL will return to Scottrade Center and the rest of the country Saturday night, and the Blues are ready to go.
“It’s a short time but we’ve packed a lot into a few short days and tried not to overload guys mentally or physically,” said Backes. “I think we’ve reached a good balance point as far as making sure we’re trying to get our conditioning to where it needs to be and getting the basics in there of our systems.
“I think we have an advantage that we have a group of guys that were mostly all together last year and not a lot of new faces so we’re a little bit ahead of the game but still tons of work to do to get that first W.”
The Blues hope that first ‘W’ comes Saturday. Coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. on FOX Sports Midwest.