Blues' Still learning How to Win...Oshie feeling less Pressure After New Contract
I keep getting asked if I think this St. Louis Blues team is better than last season’s club that rang up 109 points en route to winning the Central division.
With the addition of players like Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz, along with a motivated Chris Stewart, and a healthy David Perron, Andy McDonald, and Alex Steen the Blues have a formula in place to top last season.
The easy answer would be to wait for the playoffs to determine how good the Blues truly are, but I personally believe this season will be more challenging than last year. Not that I expect them to struggle but because the secret is out.
The Blues are considered among the top teams in the Western Conference which means they’ll be getting everyone’s top game every night.
Opposing teams now measure themselves up against the St. Louis Blues. It’s been a long time since we’ve said that.
The Blues fired their coach 13 games into the season last year and got out of the gate slow. Most teams viewed them as a good but not great hockey club until the latter part of the schedule.
NHL teams now consider the Blues a true test and therefore bring it when facing Ken Hitchcock and company.
Knowing you’re going to get the opposition’s best effort every night is a big part of learning how to win. There’s a level of pressure this organization is still getting accustomed to. Teams like Detroit, Chicago, Vancouver, and San Jose have been through it. Los Angeles and St. Louis are seeing this firsthand.
This type of competition is what pushes you to the next level. I think we’re all interested to see how the Blues respond throughout the season.
Will Work For Shots…
It’s hard to complain when you’ve given up a total of 43 shots against in three home games this season.
Unless you’re goaltender Jaro Halak.
Talking with Jaro this week he says he’d much rather face 30 shots than 14. Obviously the more shots you face the easier it is to find your rhythm. “When you don’t play for eight months and then sometimes go 15 minutes without facing a shot it’s hard.”
Halak tells me these first few games still feel like the pre-season.
Obviously Halak is happy with the way the team is playing in front of him but don’t try telling him Blues goaltenders have the easiest job in the NHL.
Be sure to check out the January cover the Hockey News which features the “Real Housewives of the NHL” including Amanda Elliott, wife of Blues goaltender Brian.
Other wives featured include Marie Beauchemin, Tiffany Parros, Brianne Huskins, and Kristen Giguere.
Amanda was headed out to California to visit her good friend Brianne when she was told they needed another girl for the photo shoot. Brian encouraged her to participate saying “how many opportunities will you have to be on the cover of a magazine”?
Two of the most overlooked areas of the Blues fast start is the job T.J. Oshie and Alex Steen do playing the point on the Power Play.
Steen, one of the best pure skaters in the league, is always on the move which makes it tough for penalty killers. He’s a threat to shoot the puck and as a killer he commands a lot of respect.
You can tell Steen has developed a comfort level playing the point compared to even a year or two ago. He plays with a lot more control and poise and is very good at holding the zone. His ability to keep the puck in led to a Blues goal against Minnesota Last Sunday.
Few forwards in the NHL have the ability to run the point on the PP. The Blues have two of them.
T.J Oshie tells me “I love it, it’s the best position in hockey.”
Playing up top gives Oshie the ability to see the entire ice. You basically have three options when you have the puck including the time to look guys off or shoot when given the chance.
Playing with Alex Pietrangelo makes life easier as “Petro does almost everything.”
The Blues have adopted the same power play entry we’ve seen the Detroit Red Wings and the Vancouver Canucks do for years. Oshie is usually the recipient of the neutral zone drop pass which sees him carry the puck across the blue line. Oshie says it forces the opposing PK to go where you make them go.
Perry Show….there’s no question David Perron likes to hold on to the puck. You can even argue sometimes he over handles it. What do you do if you’re T.J. Oshie when Perron has control of the puck? You definitely can’t get caught watching Perron play with it.
“I just give him space and once he beats the guy or fends him off I try to get open.”
The result has seen Oshie have the puck less which isn’t necessarily by design. I found it interesting when Oshie told me how different it is not playing on a one-year deal as he did last year. He admits that you have to be a little more selfish when you’re in a contract year and with a long-term deal he isn’t concerned with who gets the points.
One thing Perron can do is make plays off the pass. It may take some time for the play to develop but if you’re open he can spot you.
Recently the women’s hockey team at Yale University held a “whiteout for Mandi” in an effort to raise money for Jaden’s sister who passed away after a courageous bout with cancer.
Jaden tells me there are several fundraisers throughout the year including one in Saskatoon and his hometown of Wilcox, Saskatchewan.
Jaden says he would eventually like to do one here in St. Louis.
Recently Schwartz’s game has been a little up and down. Ken Hitchcock says he needs to learn he doesn’t have to defer when he gets the puck and he’s reminded the former first round pick he’s just as good as the players he’s playing with. Schwartz says he’s making sure he keeps things simple to avoid making mistakes and turning pucks over. He’s at his best when he’s patient and holding onto the puck. Still considered a rookie Schwartz acknowledges he’s still adjusting to the NHL game.
It was good to see PK Subban finally sign and rejoin the Montreal Canadians. It kills me that we just missed almost four months of the season and yet some of these guys want to create the same obstacles that led us to a lockout in the first place. I give GM Marc Bergevin a lot of credit for standing his ground. It sends a clear message to future Montreal free agents what they can expect when dealing with the rookie GM.
More to come,
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