St. Louis Blues 2013-14 Season Preview

St. Louis Blues center David Backes
St. Louis Blues center David Backes
Apr 4 2013 Chicago IL USA St Louis Blues center David Backes 42 during the third period against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center The Blues beat the Blackhawks 4 3 in the shootout Rob Grabowski USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Blues are short on big-name offensive guns, but Ken Hitchcock’s well-balanced band is on the brink of greatness. If the goaltending tandem can return to elite form, the Blues will have a an excellent shot at the Stanley Cup.

St. Louis entered 2013 with great confidence in their two-headed goaltending monster, but inconsistent play from Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott became nothing more than a pair of headaches.

Though Elliot led the NHL in both goals-against average (1.56) and save-percentage (.940) in 2011-12, Halak started the 2013 season as the first choice goalie. Halak earned two shutouts in his first four games, all wins by the way. However, injury limited him to just 15 starts.

With Halak out of action, Elliot bombed, going 0-6-1 in February and March. After temporarily losing the workload to rookie Jake Allen, he finally switched it on in April. Elliot turned in a superb .948 save percentage and an 11-2 record including one stretch of three consecutive shutouts. He got all of the work in the postseason, but he couldn’t win a duel with L.A.’s Jonathan Quick in the opening round.

The Blues have arguably the most talented goaltending duo in the league, unless of course Martin Brodeur has another vintage season left in the tank. Now they just have to decide how to maximize the tandem’s potential.

Halak has been the more reliable netminder when healthy, but Elliot can be otherworldly when hot. Expect both to see significant time, but don’t count out the 23-year-old Allen. The second-year netminder looks like a reliable backup option, meaning that GM Doug Armstrong has the flexibility to shop Halak or Elliot if more scoring proves to be necessary.

The Blues offense ranked 17th in the NHL last season, but it is almost certain to improve this winter. Summer signing Derek Roy is a proven goal-scoring center who should fit nicely in the middle of the ice, but the real upside in the St. Louis offense comes from second-year players Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz.

The two young wingers are definite top-six options moving forward, and both have star potential. The much-hyped Tarasenko displayed his immense skill with three goals in his first two NHL games. However, the Russian struggled with the physicality of the North American game at times. He should be a stronger more confident player in his sophomore campaign.

Schwartz meanwhile is a versatile two-way skater who can excel in every phase of the game. Unlike Tarasenko, Schwartz is a typical fit for the Blues’ relatively conservative style. However, his offensive ability should top out above most of his veteran teammates down the line.

The pair of rising stars could threaten Chris Stewart‘s team points lead this season, and they will inevitably benefit from the leadership of captain David BackesDavid Perron is gone to Edmonton via trade, but guys like T.J. Oshie and Alex Steen continue to give the Blues a deep if not flashy bunch of forwards.

The blue line group has been very strong over the last few years, and it should stay that way for a while. Star defenseman Alex Pietrangelo recently signed a seven-year $45.5 Million contract, and trade deadline acquisition Jay Bouwmeester agreed to stay in St. Louis until 2019.

Though Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester snag a lot of the attention, Kevin Shattenkirk has quietly become an elite two-way defenseman. A gifted power play QB and reliable shutdown force, Shattenkirk should shine this winter in his pursuit of a Team USA roster spot for the Sochi Olympics.

When key players aren’t slumping, the Blues are effectively hole free. Unfortunately they have to share a division with the Chicago Blackhawks. The new Central Division is the shallowest in the league, and Ken Hitchcock should be able to guide his team into the playoffs quite easily. While Winnipeg, Minnesota and Dallas will be hard-pressed to box the Blues out of the postseason, the Blackhawks seem to have a strangle hold on first place.

A Stanley Cup hangover for Chicago could put a division title within reach, but for now the Blues should happily accept second place. Once they get into the second season it could just be a matter of choosing the hot hand in net. The Blues are a guaranteed Cup contender, and an another first round exit would come as a major disappointment.

author avatar
Chris Blanchard
Chris Blanchard is a Boston, MA native and a student at Davidson College. He began writing about hockey as a Boston Bruins featured columnist for Bleacher Report in the fall of 2012. He has been covering the NHL for XN Sports since May of 2013. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+'://';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');