Team captain wills his body to get others on board…even if Alexander Burrows plays pat-a-cake to stop a fight.
The St. Louis Blues are quite the perplexing bunch. On paper, the team is loaded with promising young talent, physical centers, and a bolstered defensive unit. But at 24-16-2 the Blues are clawing and scratching for a coveted playoff spot in the clustered Western Conference. The team has entertained a fair share of adversity; T.J. Oshie, Andy McDonald, Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Steen, and Jaroslav Halak have all missed time dealing with various injuries. The goaltending pendulum has swung between Halak to Brian Elliott to Jake Allen and back again about 10 times. When they scored, the goaltending faltered. When the goaltending starred, the pucks went wide. As if the lockout-shortened season wasn’t strange enough…
This team runs on the David Backes Engine. Forget his goal tally, if Backes throws his weight around like he did Tuesday against Vancouver, the Blues are a different squad. Backes led both teams with 6 hits Tuesday night. When Backes hunts like a madman, he engages players like Chris Stewart and Roman Polak to use their strength. He pushes Vladimir Sobotka to take it one more notch (which seemingly has no limit). Backes is the captain, and when a leader plays with such intensity, the entire team responds. He also destroyed Henrik Sedin on faceoffs winning 15-of-21.
The Blues needed this victory for a couple of reasons. One, points are scarce and imperative. Two, this game was no country for old men. The winning team needed more ice packs than the loser. When I walked into my house late Tuesday, a friend staying with us said, “wow, they fight a lot more than they used to.” Perhaps, but this was ‘keep your head up’ hockey. Nobody felt great after this war, but the sweet reward of victory was well worth the pain. This is the time when veterans know what’s at stake.
Ken Hitchcock is extremely satisfied with how his team is playing. Despite losses in Columbus and at home to Chicago, the Blues are 7-3 their last 10 games. Brian Elliott has stabilized a once dreadful goaltending situation. Players are committing to defense, evident by the scoring deficiency. This is lockdown, classic Hitchcock hockey. He tried to gradually unleash the offense throughout the season but sloppy team defense forced a return to what helped them collect 109 points a year ago.
The 2-1-shootout win was Hitchcock’s 600th career win in the NHL — to which he had a humorous response:
Two major concerns: 1) The PP. After a 0-for-4 showing against Vancouver, the team is now six for their last 76 tries. 2) Scoring chances. Though 36 shots sounds like a lot, the Blues are lacking good scoring chances. Too many bouncing pucks, bad angle shots, and misfires. Got to bury the biscuit.
St. Louis has a day off before three games in four nights including a back-to-back starting Thursday against Phoenix.