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Zach Sanford has played well since being recalled from San Antonio
Blues fans all over sighed in relief as the team won, impressively, in Toronto on Saturday night.
The worst start to a season in decades has fans and the coaching staff concerned. An early record (before the Toronto game) of 1-3-2 is not reflective of the team on paper, at least. And it’s not what everyone expected, given the heightened expectations after an offseason full of change and optimism.
The team’s problems are well documented at this point. Defensive breakdowns, inconsistent energy levels, and blatant missed coverage are among the most prominent. But that all was put to bed, at least for one game. The great win in Toronto revealed four things to us:
- The Blues are capable of playing a solid, thorough game. They blocked more shots, won more faceoffs, put more shots on goal, and ultimately, outscored their opponent. They won despite the Leafs having a greater team CF% (Corsi For percentage, measuring on-ice events for or against).
- Jay Bouwmeester should not play top or even middle pairing minutes anymore. Well past his prime at 35, and slow, he has become a liability when logging lots of ice time. In the loss versus the Canadiens, Max Domi got past everyone to give the Habs an early 1-0 lead. He couldn’t get back to defend against him, and even gave up skating all-out before the play was over. The younger defensemen are capable and have earned more ice time, and as St. Louis Game Time speculates, it’s his last season with the Blues.
- Zach Sanford can play in the NHL. While he missed pretty much all of training camp due to bereavement leave, he played well in San Antonio, with 2 goals in 4 games. He earned a call-up to replace Chris Thorburn, and it paid off with his 1st NHL goal of the season against Toronto. He has a quick, accurate shot.
- The Blues have enough depth that they don’t need Kyrou and Thomas around for the entire season. Robert Thomas is coming to the end of the 9-game period that the team has to decide whether to keep him all year or send him to juniors. With Sanford, Thorburn, and Soshnikov all viable 4th-line forwards, unless Thomas is head-and-shoulders better than those 3, he should be sent to juniors to continue his development.
So not only was it a win at the right time. The victory over Toronto developed storylines from early in the season that should aid Mike Yeo in massaging his club into a consistent winner. The defense should play well if A) everyone is healthy and B) the right players play the most minutes. Having Sanford healthy, and Fabbri on the way, means that the Blues don’t need Robert Thomas to stick around. And, perhaps most importantly, this win can only help the Blues get some of that swagger that Brayden Schenn referenced recently. Winning produces swagger.
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Two games in, Ryan O’Reilly has played as expected, winning faceoffs and assisting goals.
I will admit that, following the Blues’ 5-4 OT loss to the Blackhawks on Saturday, I was alarmed.
And I think many other fans were too. After all, the Blues lost their first two games of the season. Jake Allen surrendered way too many goals. The defense was atrocious. The only forward to have any goals so far is Vladimir Tarasenko. The first thought to cross my mind, and many others, is that these are the typical Blues who don’t do the hard work and hustle necessary to win hockey games.
But after a day to calm down, have some cofffee, and contemplate it further, we need to take comfort in the likely fact that the ship will be righted in due course.
There are 5 factors at play, and their resolution will go hand-in-hand with improved play from the Blues:
- The defensemen have been at less than full strength. Robert Bortuzzo did not play in the first game of the season due to being suspended during the preseason. And Joel Edmundson is recovering from a minor injury. Those 2 are very important pieces to the D-corps, and having both in the lineup will help Pietrangelo and his rearguard play better and consistently.
- There are a lot of new faces on the roster, 7 to be exact. That’s 1/3 of the roster, actually, and it could take time for everyone to play their part and make up the identity of the club. Sure, they’ve had the preseason games to do that, but preseason games are different from regular season games. NHL clubs don’t run out their full squads for any particular preseason game. Like the Blues, the other clubs use the games to play young kids like Thomas and Kyrou, to see if they can contribute during the regular season.
- The leaders will show the way. Alex Pietrangelo has been singled out for poor play, and he is very much aware of that, and that he needs to correct it. And he will. Ryan O’Reilly said that the team is playing to score, not executing the fundamentals and playing protectively through the neutral zone. I believe that the Captain and his alternates will hold the team accountable, especially after Coach Mike Yeo took them to task in his press conference.
- Believe it or not, the Blues have goalie depth on which to lean. Now, Jake Allen is the No. 1, through and through. But, winning is everything, and if Allen’s play does nto improve, provided he’s supported by offense and defense, then Coach Yeo will have no choice but to give Allen extended time off by playing Chad Johnson. Perhaps Doug Armstrong would even consider calling up Ville Husso for a start or two. It’s rare that an NHL club would carry a 3rd goalie, but you know what they say about desperate times….
- The individual Blues have a better track record than this. Ryan O’Reilly is a proven producer. And he’s showing that in just two games, winning faceoffs like crazy and showing his playmaking skill. Pietrangelo, Edmundson, and Parayko are good defenders who know how to protect against goals. Allen is capable of stellar netminding. We will see these elements come together and put wins in the “W” column.
With all these things to consider, it’s simply too early to make any real judgments about this team. Every team in the league will lose games they shouldn’t. Or play bad defense for a time. Or whose goalie will let in softies. Let’s not worry too much and see how the team responds to these first two games. #LGB.
Going into camp, most of the roster that will be on the bench on Opening Day was known. One of the biggest questions that coach Mike Yeo has to answer is: which forwards will earn the last few spots up for grabs.
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Dmitrij Jaskin scored in Sunday’s preseason game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, furthering his campaign to earn a spot in the bottom 6 forwards.
That is not yet determined, but halfway through the preseason schedule, the possible answers are taking shape.
Continue reading “Camp so far: Projecting the Forwards”