Hockey This Week
Back a more than a half dozen coaching changes ago in the dim recess of history known as the 2011-12 preseason, I said the St Louis Blues needed to players in key to be successful. The first was David Backes. When he’s on, he’s on and when he’s on and healthy he’s a force to be reckoned with. The second was Alex Pietrangelo. What I don’t think anyone counted on was both of those players having solid seasons, and neither of them being the Saint Louis Blues story. Brian Elliot has jumped not just into relevence but stardom.
David Backes is currently leading his team in every statistical category that Brian Elliot isn’t. Goals, check. Assists, check. Points, check. Penalty minutes, check. Additionally, he’s playing almost twenty minutes a night with about four minutes of that special teams time. With 143 hits through 49 games, its unlikely anyone who has played against him this season has failed to notice him. His scoring total puts him in among the Milan Lucic, ahead of “Mr. Irrelevant All Star2012” Logan Couture. He’s also in a quiet ho-hum way on pace to match or exceed his career best in points.
Alex Pietrangelo has slipped into the role of top defensemen. At the creaky and distinguished age of twenty two he’s on the ice almost twenty five minutes a night. As is to be expected of any top defenseman he’s at the top of the teams chart for shorthanded time. The same can be said for his powerplay time. Putting points on the board has never failed to help a team and Pietrangelo has done that too. Like Backes he’s on pace to match or exceed career numbers.
Brian Elliot has to be the most interesting case of rags to riches this season. His crease partner Jaroslav Halak was brought in from the Canadiens two seasons ago to be the teams number one goalie. When Halak got off to a substandard start, Elliot did not. Having been cross checked out of the Ottawa crease at last year’s deadline and landing in Colorado. Summer saw him pack his bags and seek a new home. St Louis signed him on July first, probably expecting him to play twenty or so games the whole season. So far he’s played twenty three, winning fifteen of them. What’s remarkable is that it wasn’t until his 13th appearance of the season until he gave up more than two goals in a game for the first time. With that sort of run in the books it’s hardly surprising he was signed to a new contract before the season was half over. What still surprises many observers is that the 291st pick of the 2003 draft is perched at the top of goals against and the all-important save percentage lists. I’m sure he’ll want to work on his shutouts where he’s a disappointing second in the NHL.
Combine these three players with a new coach with a new attitude and where they sit in the standings is no shock. Ken Hitchcock came in and with a firm hand on the rudder got consistent results from the word go from a team who defined erratic performance in previous seasons. The foursome and the rest of the team have them primed for a return to the playoffs. Sitting comfortably two points behind Detroit they have the second most points in the west and no one has won more games in regulation or overtime. As good as the team is, heading into the playoffs they could stand to tweak both their power play and penalty kill as both are very much middle of the pack. If the general manager can find them a goal scorer who meshes with the team that could go a long way in helping them go deep into the playoffs. With their defense and goaltending right now, I don’t see them losing in the first round. Take note of the team now, they’ll still be playing when most of the league is done.
PuckSage is a notorious hockey junky known for marauding the internet and laying about him with the sharp end of facts to lay waste to idiots. Follow him if you dare at @PuckSage on Twitter.
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