Friday, October 7, 2011

New-look Blues ready to unveil their 2011-12 look

Regular season begins against division-rival Nashville

ST. LOUIS -- After months of getting in shape and working out ahead of a new season, the blueprint of the Blues' year will finally take shape.

The regular season opens Saturday night for the Blues at Scottrade Center against the Nashville Predators, who played Friday night in Columbus.

There has been much talk about the Blues being the up-and-coming team, but that's been a topic of discussion for what seems like the last three or four seasons. There is quite the buzz in the city this time around and not cautious optimism.
(Getty Images)
The Blues are looking for a huge season from Chris Stewart (25). 

"It's been a long summer, it's been a long camp," said forward Chris Stewart, who came to the Blues along with Kevin Shattenkirk in a trade from Colorado last season. "We've been waiting for this day for a long time and can't wait for tomorrow to come.

"We came together over a long camp here. You can practice all you want together, but everyone here is looking forward to tomorrow. We're all excited."

The Blues, who finished 38-33-11 and 10 points out of a playoff berth in the Western Conference a season ago and in 11th place, feel like they're geared to be among the West's eight playoff teams this season.

"You take one look at our lineup," said Stewart, part of the Blues' second line with Patrik Berglund and T.J. Oshie. "There's no reason why we can't be a winning hockey team. It all starts tomorrow and we've got to go out there and get off on the right foot.

"We finished 10 points out last year and I bet you everyone in this locker room can go back to a game where we threw away points. It's got to work from the get-go. It's Nashville, a big inner-division game, it's the home-opener."

The Blues added depth in veterans Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner, Kent Huskins and Scott Nichol along with backup goalie Brian Elliott after a rash of injuries to the roster last season.

The Blues feel like it was necessary to add to the depth since it crippled their record-setting 9-1-2 start. They became only the second team in league history to begin a season with 20 points in their first 12 games and not make the playoffs (2000-2001 Phoenix Coyotes).

"We've got some experienced guys, we've got some younger guys," said goalie Jaroslav Halak, who was 27-21-7 with a 2.48 goals-against average and .910 save percentage a season ago, his first with the Blues. "It's a great group in here. ... We've got talent in here. We've got to stay healthy and we should be fine."
(Getty Images)
The Blues need a big season from starting netminder Jaroslav Halak if they
want to contend in the Western Conference.

The Blues concluded a week's worth of practice ready and geared towards their regular season to get going. It's not a coincidence that the emotion and energy seem to be at a high level.

"We've been amped up for a while now," said winger Matt D'Agostini, who scored a career-high 21 goals, 25 assists and 46 points a season ago. "There's a lot of buildup and hype towards the start of the season, so I think the guys are just ready to get going, ready to get on the ice. All the butterflies will go away within the first five minutes."

Added coach Davis Payne, "We've been ready since about Tuesday. It's been a long productive week of practice and to see the league kick off (Thursday) night and see some of the games getting played, and all of the sudden you're coming back to prepare for one more day, it feels good.

"I know our guys are itching to get going. We're excited about the group and excited about our first test against Nashville."

The Blues believe that they are good, but why should anyone else believe them? It's a question that's been posed to many.

We don't spend a lot of time listening to the opinions of others," Payne said. "We know what the opinion of our group is ... we expect to be there.

"You start every year with the same kind of message. But the internal motivations and the understanding of what it's going to take, the things we've gone through, the guys we've added, I just think there's an incredibly strong belief in our room right now that enough's enough and it's time to get in there."

Added D'Agostini, who is expected to play with Alex Steen and Arnott to start the season, "Game 1 is always the tell-tale. We'll see how it goes in the first period and go from there."

Halak, who will be a big key having to play upwards of 65 games this season, said the confidence is high and for good reason.

"I'm pretty sure it is because we've got a great group of guys," he said. "We get along great together, and that also helps. Everybody's ready. Everybody's been practicing hard and it should be a good game."

Forwards David Perron (post-concussion syndrome) and B.J. Crombeen (broken shoulder) will begin the season on injured-reserve but the team is optimistic that both will be back in the near future. In the meantime, there is enough depth to off-set anyone's absence.

"It's the first game after a long summer," Halak said. "Everybody's excited and I'm pretty sure everybody's ready to go. I can't wait to play the game.

"It's exciting for us players, management and especially for fans to see what we're capable of doing. I'm pretty sure if everyone's on their 'A' game and they bring their game, it should be a good game."

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