St. Louis Blues Could Repeat As Central Division Champs In Shortened Season
The St. Louis Blues enter the 2013 NHL season with a roster almost identical to the one that notched 109 points last season on the way to winning the Central Division. With a solid goaltending tandem, a strong corps of offensively-gifted defensemen and several promising young forwards, they could repeat as division champs this season.
Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott return between the pipes for the Blues, fresh off a 2011-12 season that saw them win the William Jennings Trophy. It was not easy for opponents to score on either netminder last season as the pair combined for 15 shutouts and 49 wins. Elliott led the league with a GAA of 1.56 and Halak’s 1.97 GAA was good enough to tie for fourth (with Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers). A shortened season places more pressure on goaltenders and having two strong options like the Blues do will benefit them greatly.
Alex Pietrangelo’s 12 goals and 51 points led Blues defensemen last season, plus was third for team scoring. Kevin Shattenkirk had a breakout 2011-12 campaign and should only continue to get better. Friday’s signing of veteran Wade Redden could be a great move and will help fill the void left by Carlo Colaiacovo, who signed with the Detroit Red Wings. Barrett Jackman, Roman Polak, Kris Russell and Ian Cole all return as well, forming one of the Western Conference’s deepest blue lines.
Nine of the top 10 scorers for the Blues return this season and two youngsters figure to factor into the offense in a big way as well. David Backes should once again lead a balanced scoring attack that also gets contributions from T.J. Oshie, David Perron, Patrik Berglund, Andy MacDonald, Alex Steen, Chris Stewart and Jamie Langenbrunner. Jaden Schwartz should see an expanded role with the team this season and Russian import Vladimir Tarasenko will try to live up to his billing and be an offensive playmaker in St. Louis.
The Central Division once again figures to be one of the most tightly contested in the Western Conference. Four teams (Blues, Chicago Blackhawks, Red Wings and Nashville Predators) made the playoffs last season and most of the top-end talent remains intact. A shortened schedule may look favorably on a deep team like the Blues. If it does, look for them to once again win the Central Division.