Gameday Preview - Singin' the Injury Blues

Kent Wilson
January 26 2011 10:17AM

 

 

While the Ottawa Senators are often mentioned as a Flames comparable, the Blues also kind of mirror the Calgary's struggles this year: both teams are relatively strong at ES in terms of possession, neither has good special teams and both are clawing for the final playoff spot in the West.

To be fair, the Blues come by their struggles a bit more honestly. Once upon a time one of the big spenders in the NHL, an ownership boondoggle and a slashing of the budget cut the legs from under the franchise and they've been trying to regain their footing ever since. John Davidson has been steering the ship more or less correctly since he was hired as the team's president, but the Blues have yet to consistently re-establish themselves as contenders.

With the addition of playoff hero Jaroslav Halak in the summer, this was supposed to be the year that the Blues stepped out of the WC basement for good. Things started out well enough for St. Loo when they won nine of their first 10 starts, but the wheels have mostly fallen off sine then for various reasons. Primary of which is injuries: the club has played without David Perron, TJ Oshie, Andy McDonald, Barrett Jackman, Roman Polak and Carlo Coalaiacovo for large stretches of time this year. In fact, only 8 Blues skaters have appeared in all 48 games this season.

The other issue is Halak has struggled relative to expectation so far. His .907 SV% is the lowest of his career (ignoring the 16 games he played as a rookie), and his .914 ES SV% is surprisingly below average given the .933 rate he put up for the Canadiens last year in 45 games. Halak is just 25 years old and he's been a pretty good puck stopper for most of his time in the league. It wouldn't surprise me to see his save rate creep back up as the year progresses.

Up front, the Blues (again, like the Flames) make do without a truly elite player. They have some quality depth however and the team is currently paced by big winger David Backes, who has 16 goals and 37 points. Jay McClement is St. Louis' well kept secret: a center who gets buried against tough competition night-in and night-out. McClemment is the reason guys like Patrick Berglund and Alexander Steen can play against second and third lines and have zone start numbers in the 58-65% range.

TJ Oshie might be the best of the Blues kids and he's just returning from a long lay-off. David Perron remains sidelined by a concussion, but he's a guy who made the club as a teen and potentially has a high ceiling should he ever take a step or two forward. The rest of the forward corps is filled out by capable enough players like Brad Boyes, Vladimir Sobotka, Matt D'Agostini and Brad Winchester. Cam Janssen plays the role of fighter/cheap shot artist/dude who can't really play hockey when he's not in the press-box.

On the back-end, the Blues sport a mix of decent veterans and kids with high pedigree. Barrett Jackman, Eric Brewer, Colaiacovo and Polak make up a solid if unspectacular core. Erik Johnson and Alex Pietrangelo are both former top-5 picks who are still finding their way at this level, the latter more than the former. Johnson had his entire 2008-09 season wiped out by a off-season golf cart incident so he's a year behind the curve. His results to date are okay and he's playing 20+ minutes a night, but I suspect the Blues were hoping for a bit more out of a first overall pick when they took him in 2006. The path to stardom for blueliners can be a little rockier, though, so it may be a few more years before the 22-year old starts to pay real dividends. The other kid just turned 21 and is getting the same treatment Dion Phaneuf did at that age: middling opposition and tons of offensive zone face-offs and power play time. His 5 goals and 23 points lead the Blues back-end in scoring as a result.

Both clubs are bottom-third in the league in terms of special teams, so tonight should be an ES battle. St. Louis is going to war with less than a full compliment of guys so the advantage should be in Calgary's favor. A win means another step down the improbable path towards 8th place.

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Former Nations Overlord. Current Fn contributor and curmudgeon For questions, complaints, criticisms, etc contact Kent @ kent.wilson@gmail. Follow him on Twitter here.
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#1 Gange
January 26 2011, 10:37AM
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This is a team that the Flames can beat and with the recent run it seems that the playoffs are not that far out of reach.

Yay?

I'm not sure how to feel about this all. Would I love to see a run and a couple of series wins? Sure who wouldn't? Is it likely? Well I guess I could win the lottery as well...I mean someone has to right?

However this just seems like a mad rush to another first round bow out at best and at worst a 9th place finish.

Since it seems they aren't listening to my calls of "Tank it" I guess lets get the two points and see if we can climb the ladder.

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#2 walkinvisible
January 26 2011, 10:39AM
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in recent memory, the blues have ALWAYS been riddled with injury; so much so that a big deal was made of the so-called "calendar curse" a couple years ago. in a nutshell, before the featured player's month arrived, that guy was either traded or injured.

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#4 funkyjaman
January 26 2011, 11:20AM
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No matter what happens tonight, I have to admit that this stretch since Christmas has been fun to watch ( the exception is the 6 - 0 loss). I can haddle losing when the team actually plays. This team is also night and day from the team of November, December. They are having fun, the confidence is coming back, even the swagger, Brent is finally using players in the right spots and our PK/ PP is starting to show signs of life again.

Side note: It seems that Brent is actually being allowed to think for himself and his "system" is starting to work for the guys.

I like the fact he using Tangs on the point during the PP and that Jackman and Mosser are getting their time out there as well. Those two in front of the net is causing some grief for the goalies. I also like Morrison on the top line and on the PP. Seems to be working and thou early, some chemistry is building on that line.

I know we are still along way from the playoff picture, and we could still end up falling short. But since the removal of Darryl this team is playing hockey, still with some mistakes, but hockey non the less and having fun doing it.

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#5 Scott
January 26 2011, 11:52AM
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I dont know if it is a coincidence that this team started playing, and brent start coaching, after Darryl left. Whether it was Darryl, or whether it was the fact that Brent would be next out the door, or the players would be traded. Or if they simply bottomed out do to their poor play and realized the only way to survive the season is to have fun and play relaxed...

I wouldn't be too quick to put that on Darryl not letting Brent coach, after all, Darryl had the opportunity to coach and turned it down.

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#6 the-wolf
January 26 2011, 01:03PM
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Palying without stress is a big factor, no where to go but up when you're 14th and everyone has written you off and demanding the team be blown up. It won't last.

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#7 schevvy
January 26 2011, 01:36PM
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@the-wolf

you are looking at it from a glass half-empty point of view. Now you may be right, but we might as well have some optimism, the team is actually doing something productive. I hope the team proves you wrong

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#8 Monaertchi
January 26 2011, 01:48PM
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Actually, I think the glass is 14/15ths empty, based on points per game.

4/5ths empty on a league wide scale (24/30).

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#9 the-wolf
January 26 2011, 03:46PM
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schevvy wrote:

@the-wolf

you are looking at it from a glass half-empty point of view. Now you may be right, but we might as well have some optimism, the team is actually doing something productive. I hope the team proves you wrong

It's philosophical, they don't have a contending team. 2004 was an aberration, don't expect it to happen again, it'd be nice, but the reality is this team needs a rebuild, especially given the core's age. Therefore, any success they have just moves us away from a better draft position. On the other hand, maybe it increases the assets' trade values, but I'm worried ownership will once again be duped.

I incresaingly have the sinking feeling that they will wait to see how the team performs down the stretch and possibly intop the playoffs and that no true rebuild will happen until the summer.

Which sucks.

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