Monday, November 25, 2013

Weekend wrap: Blues, Coyotes, Blue Jackets and more

A look at three of the biggest stories from the NHL weekend and how they’ll play into the coming days.

Central Contenders Left Cursing a Blue Streak

Coming off a 6-1 win against Dallas on Saturday night, the St. Louis Blues have quietly moved to the top of the league in points percentage.

Of course, “quietly” is about what we’ve come to expect from the Blues, who’ve managed to be one of the NHL’s best-run and most consistent teams while never seeming to generate much excitement around the league. We can debate whether that’s due to geography, their recent defense-first mind-set, four decades’ worth of uninspiring playoff runs, or some combination of the above. But the Blues have become an easy team to forget about despite being one of the West’s best over the past three years.

Maybe this is the year that changes, with St. Louis looking like they’re well equipped to emerge from the Western Conference dogfight. They’re a team without an obvious weakness, featuring their usual tight defense combined with a surprisingly productive offense that ranks second in goals per game. That offense has been spearheaded by Alex Steen’s remarkable season, but has also featured a strong year from David Backes and three different defensemen who rank in the league’s top 10 for scoring.

If there has been an area of concern, it’s been in net, where Jaroslav Halak’s numbers have been merely decent. His .906 save percentage is well off his career average, though it’s an improvement over the disappointing .899 he managed last year in limited action. That’s a concern for a team that was hoping its starter would rebound to closer to the .926 mark he put up in 2011-12.

In last week’s first-quarter review, I predicted St. Louis would be the eventual destination for Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. A few Blues fans questioned that, pointing out that Miller wouldn’t necessarily be a major upgrade over Halak. That may be true, though it’s tough to compare their numbers given the radically different teams each is playing behind. If Halak can’t get his game back on track by the new year, I could still see the Blues packaging him with a prospect and a pick to land Miller (with the Sabres then flipping Halak elsewhere for an additional asset), and I’m not the only one.

But that’s speculation for down the road. Right now, the Blues are riding a three-game win streak but facing a brutal stretch of schedule that will see them face the Wild, Avalanche, Sharks, and Kings over the next eight days. It will be a good test for the Blues, who’ll likely need to go through at least a few of those in the playoffs if they view themselves as legitimate Cup contenders.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

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