First things first; Hallelujah the lockout is over! By now most everyone has celebrated that the NHL and the players association agreed upon a new CBA early on Sunday morning. However, the season is quickly approaching and it is time to get down to business.
We are unsure as to whether the season will consist of 50 or 48 games at this point, but either way it is just over half of a normal 82 game season. The Blues were very successful in last year’s campaign, racking up 109 points and narrowly missing out on a President’s trophy. However, as previously stated, the 2013 season will be a whole different animal.
There will be no real training camp this year. Players will be thrown onto the ice and asked to compete at a very high level after a layoff that is twice as long as the normal offseason that they are accustomed to. Not to mention that if a team gets off to a bad start, they can pretty well kiss their season goodbye.
The shortened season can work for or against teams. A strong start can secure a playoff berth, whereas a late season push may easily come up short. It will be a sprint instead of a marathon in 2013. So the real question here in St. Louis is will that sprint benefit or cripple our Blues?
There are unfortunately a couple things that could hurt the Blues when they play a shortened season. For one, it is quite alarming when you recall the Blues slow start last season under Davis Payne. If that is duplicated, then the Blues may have a tough time this year.
The Blues started the 2011-2012 season off at 6-7-0, rather mediocre. A slow start this time around does not offer nearly as many games to recover with. On the bright side, Ken Hitchcock is a great leader and would in theory have the team ready to come charging out of the gates.
Something else that is worrisome considering the shortened schedule is that the entire season is expected to be played within teams’ conferences. Although this will not devastate the Blues, they may struggle a bit considering how successful they were against the Eastern Conference last season.
The Blues were 14-2-2 against the east last season, and those 30 points were a big part of the teams’ success. By defeating eastern teams, they were able to create and sustain winning streaks that built confidence going into matchups with opponents from the west. However, the Blues were still very impressive against the west at 35-20-9, so they are by no means doomed inside conference play.
Although there are a couple negative things about the schedule, it brings some positives as well. Health is probably the first thing that pops into one’s head. Andy McDonald, David Perron and TJ Oshie among others have all missed substantial time in the past due to injuries. However, in a schedule with over 30 less games, there are a lot less opportunities to get hurt.
Regardless of what happens, just about everyone expects the Blues to be a playoff team come seasons’ end. Players should not be so dinged up both throughout the season and at the end of it. That being said, a healthy roster can go a long way in the playoff as St. Louis fans know thanks to the Cardinals.
In addition to health, the Blues roster may be more NHL ready than any other to start the season. Eight Blues players were playing overseas during the lockout, which is one of the highest totals of any team. Sure, they were not playing with NHL caliber teams, but it sure beats sitting on the couch watching TV and eating Cheetos.
Aside from the players overseas, many other players have also been in town during the entire lockout. The Blues have held several practices that have included team leaders like David Backes, Barrett Jackman and Jamie Langenbrunner. The fact that the players have been working out and keeping themselves in shape is not only comforting, but speaks volumes to this team’s work ethic.
Also, the Blues have a huge advantage above other teams in net. There will most likely be games on consecutive days throughout the season. Although it will be extremely taxing on goaltenders, coaches will be putting out there starter every time they can due to a lack of faith in their backups.
That may be St. Louis’ biggest benefit of the schedule. They have the two-headed monster of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, and Ken Hitchcock has complete faith to put either of those guys between the pipes on any given night. Both goalies will see a very comfortable workload throughout the season, which should keep both rested and healthy throughout
The Blues will also be helped by their consistency in a shortened season. The Blues had several winning solid winning streaks last season and almost no prolonged losing ones. If they can continue that trend in 2013, they should be sitting pretty come seasons’ end.
The Blues had an uncanny ability to shake off losses and get back to business. Even after bad losses that looked like bad omens, the team could come back out the next night and look like the best team in the league. Ultimately, the ability to do that will be every team’s key to success in 2013.
Overall, it appears as though a shortened season should benefit the Blues more than it should hurt them. They were one of the most consistent team last year, and they could be the best team in the league if they can repeat that success. Also, if the players are there and healthy for the playoffs, this team could very well be ready for a cup run.
However, we cannot get ahead of ourselves. A good start is the first thing that should be on Coach Hitchcock’s agenda. If the Blues can get off the block quickly, then they can start looking ahead to bigger and brighter goals.
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