As the season slowly approaches we move from our goalie previews to our defensive pairing previews. In the first installment we take a look at the rock solid pairing of Barret Jackman and Roman Polak. When you need a shut down pair on the ice, these two guys are who you want out there to ensure that the puck stays out of the net.
Barret Jackman is the longest tenured Blue on the team as he has been a part of the system since 1999, when most of these players were in middle school. Since winning the Calder Trophy for his dominant rookie season, Jackman has progressed from a fly around the ice hitter into a solid all around defensive defensemen. Jackman will never be confused with Nik Lidstrom as a defensemen who scores a lot of points and that is evident by his 19 goals in 517 career games.
Last season Jackman didn’t even score a goal but did record 13 assists and a +3 rating. Jackman’s last goal game in Janurary of 2010, a night in which he scored his only two goals of the season. Barret’s game has always been about physical play and making the opposing forwards afraid to go to the net, but he has done it in a smart way, collecting only 57 penalty minutes in 60 games last season.
Over the past few seasons, Jackman has missed some significant time due to injuries and last year was no exception. Barret had two periods of extended abscence last season, between November 5th and 23rd and March 10th through the 31st. Jackman was not the only one to miss significant time last season and it showed all over the ice, but not having a stalwart in the lineup with a bunch of young defensemen really hurt this team.
When he was in the line up, Jackman brought solidarity to the back end of the ice and that showed most in divisonal games. In the 18 divisional games he played in, Jackman had 2 assists but more importantly he was a +6 with 19 hits and 35 blocked shots and only 8 penalty minutes. With the Blues defense, blocked shots are a high priority and is one of the reasons the defense was one of the tops in the league in shots allowed per game.
This season, Jackman will likely see a smaller but no less important role. As he gets older he may see less ice time but his knowledge of the game will be a very important aspect he will utilize with the young players on the team. Don’t expect an offensive outburst from Barret this year, as he probably won’t score more than a goal this year, but he will assist on a few more goals this year with guys like Chris Stewart and Patrik Berglund in front of him.
Roman Polak will llikely be paired with Jackman this season as the team’s shut down duo yet again. When a team’s top line is on the ice, look for the big Slovak to show them who is boss. Polak is a big hitter but uses that in tandem with his great ice vision and discipline.
Polak also missed signinficant time last season after his wrist tendon was slashed by Sydney Crosby’s skate in a 1-0 win against Pittsburgh on October 23rd. Polak would miss almost two months but when he came back he was arguably on the of the Blues best defensemen the rest of the year.
In his 55 games, Polak netted 3 goals and 9 assists while collecting 110 hits and 78 blocked shots. This year was a big one for Roman, as he nearly doubled his career goal total and hit totals in only 3/4 of a season. Like Jackman, Polak is not an offensive defensemen but that is exactly what this team needs. In the past the Blues have had too many defensive defensmen but with the acquisitions of Carlo Colaiacovo and Kevin Shattenkirk to go along with Alex Pietrangelo, the Blues suddenly have d-men who can score.
Unlike Jackman, Polak has been on the ice for some goals against and his -14 career rating shows that he does sometimes over play his hand and allows chances. But Polak does have deceptive speed which allows him to get away with a bit more than other defensemen and as he continues to grow as a player, he should get smarter with when to take chances and his +/- rating should only improve.
Like the other Blues defensemen, Polak did step it up a notch in divisional games, which will be a big part of the Blues upcoming season. In 14 divisonal games, Polak recorded 2 of his 3 goals, 3 assists with a +2 rating and 6 penalty minutes. In big games Polak’s discipline and reliancy shown through in his play against divisonal opponents.
If healthy this year, look for Roman to have a breakout season, not so much scoring but in his emergence as a top flight defensemen that other teams will talk about. Polak will likley score 5-6 goals and reach double digit assists while improving his +/- rating to a positive number this year. When he is out on the ice, look for the number of chances to go down as well as he matures into a more well rounded player.
This duo may not garner the nod as the number one defensive pairing on the Blues but it is definitely the one that will be the hardest working and will get the bulk of chances to stop the top lines from scoring.