Thursday, November 24, 2016

Blues in a good spot at quarter mark

On pace for 100-plus points despite roller coaster stretches in early going of 
season; young players blending in with veterans after last season's changeover

ST. LOUIS -- A lot of the prognosticators pegged the Blues taking a step back after their march to the Western Conference Final last season.

Losing veteran leadership in David Backes, Troy Brouwer, Steve Ott and Brian Elliott, key pieces that commanded a lot of respect in the locker room, will do that.

The Blues placed their faith in the next generation of players, ones that were a big part of their run last season but without the seasoned, prolonged experience.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Second-year Blues forward Robby Fabbri (right) has picked up his
offensive numbers of late.

Even after a 4-3 loss to the Washington Capitals, the Blues (11-7-3) are in a good spot; they've reached the quarter point of the season and are on pace for 101 points.

The Blues, who begin a five-game homestand on Saturday against the Minnesota Wild, finished with 107 points last season, 109 in 2014-15, 111 in 2013-14 and 109 in 2011-12 (2012-13 was the lockout-shortened season) since coach Ken Hitchcock has been at the helm.

Yes, it would be "a step back," but all things considered, who wouldn't at this point take the Blues reaching triple-digits all things considered? They've turned their goaltending reigns over to 26-year-old Jake Allen, 23-year-old defenseman Colton Parayko is a mainstay on the blue line and fellow 23-year-old d-man Joel Edmundson has secured himself among the top 6-7, 20-year-old Robby Fabbri is playing in the top six at forward, 24-year-old No. 1 picks Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz are centerpieces to the offense and by all accounts, the captaincy was given to defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, still considered a younger player by all accounts at 26. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk is 27 himself, and David Perron, who the Blues drafted in 2007, and Patrik Berglund, drafted in 2006, are considered two of the veterans on the team at 28.

The Blues have had their share of ups and downs in the first quarter of the 82-game schedule, but all things considered, one would have to think that there will be more consistently better-played hockey than not. 

"One hundred points is nice, but we want to make sure we're playing the right hockey for these games," said Fabbri, has four goals and five assists in 20 games thus far, including six points in his last eight games. "It's frustrating when you're not and you want to fix that as quick as possible.

"We went through a little bit of a down (stretch) there, then we bounced back and showed some character in that room. I'm not worried that we're not going to have another bounceback after this (loss Wednesday)."

The Blues started the season winning three in a row, then went through a stretch where they scored 14 goals in nine games. That took its toll, they tried overcompensating in other areas and it all came to a head during an 8-4 beating at Columbus on Nov. 12 that left the team 7-6-3. 

"When you look back, we've made some strides," said Schwartz, who's heated up with nine points (five goals, four assists) in his last nine games. "We didn't play our best at times and then had good stretches. Guys (with) injuries, key guys out of the lineup are (still) finding ways to get points. You play so many games, but not too often you get a chance to sit back and look throughout the games, we know through our first 20 games, we're right there. We're near the top of the division where we want to be. 

"It'll be nice to play here at home and get a couple days here to rest and recover."

Of course, the Blues have their share of veterans, including Alexander Steen (32), Jay Bouwmeester (33) Paul Stastny (30), Scottie Upshall (33) and Kyle Brodziak (32), who carry the load providing leadership, but it's been a a good mix thus far, and the Blues, who are 8-1-2 on home ice this season, including getting points in eight straight (6-0-2) now want to keep the ball rolling.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Goalie Jake Allen (left) makes a save on an Eric Staal breakaway in the
home opener on Oct. 13. Allen is 6-0-2 this season at Scottrade Center.

Tarasenko, who has 22 points in 21 games, may not be scoring goals as much, but his assists have really picked up and he's on pace to finish with a career-high in assists and points; Perron is one game off a career-best seven-game point streak currently with six (two goals, six assists) and the Blues have seven players with at least 10 points or more. The balance is showing, and Allen is finding his groove in goal, where he's 6-0-2 on home ice.

"I definitely think we've had a lot of ups and downs already this year and hopefully as the season goes on, we'll be able to manage the roller coaster ride a little bit better," Brodziak said. "I think you see when we're playing well, we can play with anyone in the league. We just have to find a way to bring that out a little more consistently."

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