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The Blues Are Back, Already Playing Shorthanded In a Treacherous Western Conference

Given the outbreak of injuries, the Blues aren’t exactly ready to roll.

If more players go down, the Blues may have to be wheeled into the arena on stretchers.

It sure was swell of the National Hockey League to feed the visiting Blues to the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins as the new NHL season opens.

There’s an invigorating chill in the air.

Hey, we’re into the fall.

I’m talking about the changing of the seasons.

Not the fall of the Blues.

That said, as a fan I’m a little worried about The Note.

They are missing so many parts. Forwards Robby Fabbri, Patrik Berglund, Alexander Steen, Zach Sanford, and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.  At least Steen and Bouwmeester will reappear relatively soon.

Until then, the early-season schedule will test the Blues’ thinner layer of talent, their resolve, and their survival skills. Five of the first six games — and seven of the front nine — will be roadies.

The Blues’ depth — while not entirely depleted — certainly will be challenged.

This is a hard, hazardous road to take at the start of the season. And that road is unlikely to widen, and clear, and soften as the Blues try to navigate to their usual place in the NHL postseason.

The Western Conference looks brutally tough this season. This reminds me of the playoff race in the 2014-2015 season. Of the eight teams that qualified for a spot in the West tournament bracket, six finished with 100+ points. The other two contestants got in there (barely) with 99 and 97 points, respectively.

Last season it 94 points were required to earn an invitation to the Western Conference playoffs.

It won’t be as easy to crash the gates and get in there this time.

The Blues could miss out. That’s my concern. It isn’t because they will be a bad team; it’s about being good enough. And with the harm to the roster … and some very young players being asked to skate like a man … and with more fringy players tasked with more ice time and responsibility …

The Blues will need a lot of help from a lot of people.

— Jake Allen is in goal, coming off a peak-level star turn in the 2017 playoffs.  But I’ll reference back to last season and say that the Blues can’t afford to have the first-half Allen in net. They desperately need the second-half Allen to be there.  Right away.

— On defense, Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson will have to perform at the same level we saw in the 2017 playoffs. They were damned good, and even great at times. There can be no regression.

— Alex Pietragelo, the captain, is a superb defenseman. And a marathon man who logs a high volume of minutes. Late last season, after the Blues traded Kevin Shatternkirk, Petro turned up the offensive side of his game. We saw an added dimension. He should be more prominent as a scoring threat this season.

— And then, at least for a while, is rookie defenseman Vince Dunn. He’s skilled. He’s a lefthanded shot. And he’s one of the Blues’ top prospects. But Dunn won’t turn 21 until Oct. 29, and this is his NHL debut. How is his poise, his composure. Instant maturity isn’t something that we can demand from Dunn. But we can request it, eh?

— We can make appeals to the hodgepodge collection of healthy Blues forwards. Let’s begin with Those Who Have Been There Before. This is no time for the likes of  Vladimir Tarasenko, Paul Stastny, and Jaden Schwartz to get small. They have to come in big and and carry this team. The Blues will need their best players to be just that.

— Show us what you’ve got, center Brayden Schenn. Welcome to St. Louis. You scored 17 power play goals for Philadelphia last season. And only eight even-strength goals. We’ll be greedy and ask for another 15 PP goals or so. And we’ll be real, real greedy and ask for 15 even-strength biscuits to go with it.

— Tage Thompson, the team’s first-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, has a really cool name and is tall enough to play power forward … in the NBA, that is. He has ability and a two-way conscience on the ice. He opens the season on the Blues’ third line. But Thompson is a lad of 19 years old until the end of the month. Just do your best, Tage with the cool first name. Actually it would be nice if your early-season contributions exceeded expectations.

— Oskar Sundqvist. The center traded to STL by Pittsburgh as part of the Ryan Reaves deal. I don’t know. No one in Pittsburgh seems to have noticed that Oskar is gone. Heck, they never saw him much. Maybe he’ll show up on this Wednesday evening and wreck the Penguins’ opener and give their fans a reminder. That’s unrealistic. Actually, that’s insane. I have no idea what to expect from this dude.

— Chris Thorburn? The Blues signed him to give them some … presence?  After trading Reaves.  I wonder if they’ll drop the gloves and throw tonight? Blues fans loved Reaves. So if the boys decide to spar for a round, Thorburn can win some new fans with a TKO of Reeves.

— Other Blues forwards have to prove why they deserve repeated chances to wear the sweater and take regular shifts. Yes, I’m referring to you, Dmitrij Jaskin … and you too Magnus Paajarvi. The Blues don’t have room for passengers. Get something done.

— Wade Megan is 27. He’s played in three NHL games. He’s starred in the American Hockey League. Some of us are wondering if he’ll amount to much. But maybe Megan just needs a belated opportunity with the big club. Maybe Megan can do the Tommy Pham thing. (Yes, I lost my mind years ago.)

— Ivan Barbashev …  we saw you last season. Yes we did. We saw the speed, the playmaking touch, and a willingness to put your nose at risk. Frankly, I don’t know why you be out there tonight in Pittsburgh. Probably the weakness on faceoffs. Probably because the coaches would like to see more diligence defensively. But the Blues will be turning to you very soon. Make it count. Make them keep you in the lineup. Make it impossible for coach Mike Yeo to say no.

— There’s the Vladimir Sabotka X Factor.  He’s home to stay for a while. He’s gotta play like a top-six forward. Sabotka is intensely competitive. He’s intensely intense. His intensity could frighten a Doberman and intimidate heinous dudes that are doing hard time in prison. But while playing in Russia, Sabotka developed something of a scoring touch. We’re just asking Psycho Sobie to hurt those goaltenders bad — by scoring on them.

In closing, let’s go to the cliche: The Blues must weather the storm early on until healing veterans return to provide reinforcement.

Dig in, and weather that threatening storm for a month, maybe six weeks.

I just hope that this storm doesn’t last three months, or four months.

Good luck to the Blues. They’re going to need some of that, too.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: Armstrong Points to Power Plays and Penalty Kills as Ways to Keep the Blues Afloat Early

  • Tarzan

    Wouldn’t it be a pretty feather in the Blue’s cap if a few of these youngsters play lights-out and become staples of a young, growing team?

    Is there a Pujol-ish gem in the bunch?

  • Mark Lee Arbogast

    What’s the diff? This team wasn’t even close to good enough to win the Cup. They made no real changes from last seasons failure. Who would expect them to do any better this season, regardless of injuries?