Blues’ strong homestand shows makings of what could be special season
ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Blues haven’t accomplished anything yet.
That’s what Blues captain David Backes wants everyone to remember — his teammates, you, me, the Zamboni driver, the 19,611 fans who packed into the Scottrade Center on Saturday night, the television audience watching on FOX Sports Midwest and everybody else.
The Blues, who improved to 29-7-5 (63 points) with their impressive 6-2 come-from-behind victory over the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets, now have the best record in franchise history at the midway point in the season.
But the reality check, as Backes was quick to point out to reporters after the game, is that while the milestone is a nice achievement it really doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things.
"There’s been some really great teams in this franchise’s history. It’s something to hang your hat on a little bit, but we can’t rest on it," Backes said. "It’s a reality check too because it says you’re only halfway through the season and you haven’t accomplished anything. There’s another half of the season to go and then hopefully an extended playoffs. We can’t get too high on ourselves. It’s time to maybe take a little checklist on where we’re at and where we thought we’d be and keep getting better every day. We like the trajectory we’re on."
It’s an impressive feat, to be sure. But it’s not like the Blues are making plans for a parade down Market Street next week. Nobody has to do a spell check quite yet on "Bouwmeester" and "Pietrangelo" before they can be engraved on the Stanley Cup.
The Blues’ goals for this season extend well beyond 41 games.
"We did the right things in the first half obviously but we know the second half is where things start to get tough and teams start to really play their best hockey and points really start to matter," said Blues defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk. "It’s great that we got all these points in the first half, it’s going to go a long way down the line, but if we can keep progressing and doing what we’re doing well now we’re going to be in pretty good shape."
There are positive signs all around that this could be a special season at the corner of 14th and Clark.
The Blues have so far overcome injuries and illness to keep this thing rolling. Backes and defensemen Jordan Leopold returned to the lineup on Saturday after missing time with injuries. Ryan Reaves came back on Thursday. Alexander Steen, the team’s leading scorer, is getting closer and closer to making his return.
Younger guys like Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko are growing up right before our eyes and emerging as difference-making players on a nightly basis. Guys like Adam Cracknell, Carlo Colaiacovo, Chris Porter and Dmitrij Jaskin have filled in when called upon.
Goalie Brian Elliott, who turned away 22 shots on Saturday, is now 12-1-2 on the season and stating his case as the team’s top netminder while Jaroslav Halak tries to recover from an illness that’s kept him away.
St. Louis has now won five straight games, seven of its past eight and nine of its past 12 and continues to rank among the NHL’s top teams in key statistical categories like goals per game, goals against, power play percentage and penalty kill percentage.
Ken Hitchcock was asked about the midseason mark, but the Blues coach prefers to evaluate his team’s recent stretch rather than the 41 games his club has played up to this point.
But he certainly likes what he has seen.
"I thought we’ve played our best hockey in this homestand," Hitchcock said. "I think we’ve played some really good hockey in the last four games at home and I think that’s what we’re happiest about. We’ve got a way of playing now. I think what we’ve done here at home is we’ve developed a balance between offense and defense. I thought we were tilted a little bit the wrong way and we got frustrated when it wasn’t working and I think we’ve developed a real balance between checking and scoring and I think our players are starting to buy in again.
"It happened today. We created all the scoring opportunities in the second period based on our checking, not on our offensive creativity. That came after we checked the puck back. When we play like that I think our players are starting to believe we can control the hockey game."
That’s a scary thought for the rest of the NHL, that the Blues may be starting to figure out some things that could make them even better in the second half and beyond.
The first half was fun but there’s still plenty left to prove and accomplish and Backes and the rest of the Blues aren’t going to lose sight of that.
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.