The Blues believe they won't have the growing pains that others might endure during the compact NHL schedule
By B.J. RAINSFS Midwest
ST. LOUIS - A six-day training camp, no preseason games and six games in nine days to start the regular season would seem to be a tough situation for teams to face as the NHL schedule kicks off on Saturday.
The St. Louis
Blues feel it plays right into their hands.
A team that returns their coach, both goalies, virtually their entire lineup from last year and the momentum from winning their first playoff series in a decade, the Blues figure they won’t have the growing pains that others might endure early in the season.
“I think we’re in a good spot,” coach Ken Hitchcock said. “I think we’re in a real good spot. What we do with it is up to us, but mentally I think we’re in a good spot. We’re not making a lot of changes to our system, we think we have a good way to play and we’re just going to keep building on it and hopefully we can get going right away.”
A big reason the Blues are excited about competing within a condensed 48-game schedule in barely three months is because of returning netminders Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott. The two combined to win the Jennings Trophy a season ago by allowing the fewest goals in the NHL.
The Blues play 10 sets of games on back-to-back nights and will play 41 of their 48 games with either zero or one day of rest. Both goalies figure to get plenty of work and both should stay relatively rested.
How many other teams will have the luxury to feel as confident in both of their goalies as the Blues? Not many. While other teams are overworking their starters, the Blues will be alternating on a nightly basis without much dropoff.
Up front the Blues have very few changes either. Only defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo is gone from a rather impressive defensive unit and his replacement – prospect Ian Cole – looked impressive during sporadic time in St. Louis last year.
Veteran Jason Arnott is the only subtraction from the forwards but he’s being replaced by Russian sensation Vladimir Tarasenko, who most expect to make an immediate impact for the Blues on a line with Alex Steen and Andy McDonald.
“I think it’s going to be great,” said Blues forward T.J. Oshie. “As far as ‘D’ pairings and as far as the lines go, everyone has played with everyone except for maybe a couple guys but there’s going to be some instant chemistry that we don’t have to find and need to build. It’s already there. That should be pretty good for us to get a good start.
“With us being so familiar with each other and the systems and what we need to do, that’s going to put us one step closer to our end goal.”
While some teams are spending the six-day training camp and likely the first few weeks of the season trying to get to know the tendencies of their new free agent or trade additions, the Blues won’t be in the same boat.
The Blues already know Hitchcock’s system and they already know how they fit within it. It figures to be an obvious advantage as the season gets going this weekend.
“I think that’s extremely important,” said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. “You look at some of the best teams in the Western Conference and the league, they’ve kept most of their teams together and that’s why they are so successful and I think with what we have here, it’s a huge, huge advantage if we can make it that. I know we’re all comfortable with each other.”
Added Barret Jackman, the longest tenured Blue, “There’s been a lot of changes throughout the league, big players going to different teams and a lot of moving parts on different teams but here, it’s the same team and we have a lot of depth so that will help carry us, especially the first part of the season. The depth and chemistry we had last year will help.”
The Blues open the season Saturday night against the Detroit Red Wings at Scottrade Center. Coverage on FOX Sports Midwest begins at 6:30 p.m. CT.