Beyond The Benches

St. Louis Blues: Rise To Western Conference Elite

If we were to go back to November 6th, 2011, there would be no way that anyone would’ve envisioned the St. Louis Blues to be where they are today.  Prior to that date, the Blues were under the control of head coach Davis Payne, a guy that was known more as a players’ coach and what some would consider to be too soft on his players to succeed at a high level.  Payne was hired on January 2nd, 2010 as the interim head coach of the Blues after Andy Murray was fired.  Payne’s interim tag was removed at the end of the season following a 23-15-4 record which saw the Blues finish 9th overall in the West and just 5 points out of a playoff spot.  Over the next year and a half however, the Blues started to regress, missing the playoffs by 10 points the following season and started off the 2011-2012 campaign with 6 wins and 7 losses.

That’s when GM Doug Armstrong decided it was time to turn the page.  On November 6th, Armstrong hired Stanley-Cup winning Ken Hitchcock to give this young Blues team that extra push they needed to get back into the playoff hunt.  And boy did it ever work.  Over the remaining 69 games, St. Louis went 43-15-11 to finish second in the west at 49-22-11 and 109 points, just two points shy of the President’s Trophy-winning Canucks.  Along with the torrid run, Hitchcock’s tight-checking defense-first system helped set many Blues records.  The Blues gave up league-lows of 1.89 goals and 26.7 shots per game along with 15 shutouts between Brian Elliot and Jaroslav Halak.

It appears the only thing standing in their way today is their lack of playoff success.  Aside from that however, the Blues currently sit in first place in the west and first place overall in the league with 99 points and are in the hunt for the President’s trophy once again.  Hitchcock has continued his defense first-approach as they given up only 2.21 goals against average so far this season.  That’s only two behind LA’s 2.06.  What’s scarier is that St. Louis has also found their offensive touch as well.  In the 2011-2012 season the Blues were successful as a team but lacked any scoring threats as they finished 21st in the league with an average of 2.49 goals per game.  David Backes and David Perron were the only players that season to reach the 20-plus-goal plateau that season with 24 and 20 goals respectively.

This season is much different however.  The Blues currently sit fourth in goals per game with .636%.   St. Louis has nine players with at least 32 points and two players with more than 20 goals so far, Alexander Steen with 30 goals and Backes with 21 goals.  In addition, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwarz, and TJ Oshie are on pace for 20-plus goal seasons as well.

But despite all of this success the past few season, one question still remains.  Can the Blues keep it up during the post-season?  Ever since making it to the conference finals in 1986 against the eventual Stanley Cup Runner-Up Calgary Flames, the Blues have only made it past the Conference Semi-Finals once in which they were eliminated by the eventual Stanley-Cup Champion Avalanche in 2001.  And that included the 2000 season when the Blues finished in first place in the NHL with 114 points but were upset in seven games by the eighth-seeded San Jose Sharks in the first round.

All in all, it is pretty clear the Blues have what it takes to win the cup including superstar goalie Ryan Miller.  They just need to put the past behind them and ignore it if they want to get there.