Incredible November for the
St. Louis Blues
If you would have asked me at the end of October what I thought the Blues would do in November I would have predicted some mixed results. Then again, I think most fans would have. The Blues ended the month of October on a sour note with consecutive losses to Calgary and Edmonton. The club then posted a win over Vancouver to start November before dropping a tough game against the Minnesota Wild. Exit Payne. Enter Hitchcock. What followed was a month that saw Hitchcock and the Blues set new records and play some of the most exciting hockey fans have seen in recent memory.
Simply incredible. Who could have possibly predicted that the Blues would not only have Ken Hitchcock behind the bench, but proceed to end the month of November with 20 of a possible 26 points. From sitting outside of the playoff picture to sitting one point behind the Chicago Blackhawks in the Central Division, the Blues have turned hard work and consistent effort into a hugely successful run.
The team’s win over the Washington Capitals completed what was one of the best months in franchise history. Facing the Capitals in their first game since firing their coach, the Blues clamped down on Washington’s offense and shut down any attempt to break Jaroslav Halak’s net. The victory over the Capitals extended the St. Louis win streak to four games.
Honestly, how surreal is all this?
The firing of Davis Payne came as a bit of a surprise as most fans (based off Twitter responses) thought the change was a bit premature. The hiring of Ken Hitchcock might have been an even greater surprise as most linked Hitchcock to being the next coach to man the bench in Columbus. The Blues swooped in, got the man they wanted, and now look like geniuses due to the club’s immediate correction under a new coach.
If you DVR St. Louis Blues games, go back and look at some of the team’s games from October. Then, compare that game with last night’s or any under Hitchcock’s reign. To borrow an extremely old and exhausted cliche, the performances are truly night and day. As the newest run of commercials on Fox Sports Midwest have highlighted, Hitchcock came in looking to bring complete efforts both offensively and defensively. To use more cliches, he wanted 60 minute efforts and 200 foot hockey. Amazingly, that’s exactly what he has brought and installed in a group of players that seemed unable to get inspired under Davis Payne.
Under Payne, there were countless shifts in each game where a fan sitting at home would have to restrain himself/herself from launching objects at the TV as the Blues looked like they had no interest in being out on the ice. Under Hitchcock, somehow every single player has bought into his system and have been giving their all each and every shift.
Take Tuesday’s game against the Capitals. The Blues had seven regular starters sidelined with either an injury or the flu. Seven. The Blues also were starting Jaroslav Halak, a goaltender that has been much more composed in recent weeks but still hasn’t been able to achieve the unthinkable as Brian Elliott has. Still, all those points aside, the Blues still turned in a great and impressive performance that secured another two points to finish out the month.
The only real negative? The St. Louis power play. It’s dreadful. As a matter a fact, the power play currently ranks 30th in the league at a 8.8%. The Blues continually fail to capitalize on the advantages they are given yet continue to do what it takes to get the “W”. Perhaps the Blues should bring back the “Whatever it takes” slogan as that’s currently the mindset throughout the St. Louis roster.
Earlier this week I discussed Brian Elliott’s extreme success. While his story is beyond incredible, the roster is full of performers that have stepped up under their new coach.
T.J. Oshie has arguably been the most complete player on the roster. Since Hitchcock joined the team, Oshie has contributed four goals and four assists. However, it’s all of his work that doesn’t show up in the stats sheet that has made him steal the spotlight away from Elliott. If you caught last night’s game, or really any of the games in November, Oshie’s determination to steal the puck is relentless. Whether the opposition is in their own end or deep in the St. Louis zone, if Oshie’s on the ice you can bet he will be in the heart of the action. Numerous times last night Oshie hounded the Capitals, forcing them to give the puck away which caused the Blues to win the puck back and further dictate the play.
One other group that deserves credit is the fourth line. Numerous times the fourth line has come on and completely cracked down on the opposition. Against Washington, the fourth line emerged and put up a solid wall in front of the Capitals, not allowing them to exit their own zone for minutes at a time. In particular, I’ve been extremely impressed with Ryan Reaves. By default, Reaves earns the title of enforcer as the team’s go-to guy for fights. However, that title doesn’t really work as Reaves has worked to be a complete hockey player that goes beyond dropping the gloves. Specifically when the opponent is in their own zone, Reaves closes in and makes timely, crushing checks that force the puck loose and allow the Blues to counter. His recent play in the intangible areas reminds me of David Backes, using his body to disrupt the enemy in their own end. Add in the fact Reaves took boxing classes, which is evident in all of the fights he has clearly won this year, and you’ve got yourself a formidable fourth line skater.
Before this rant/tangent/love fest over the Blues November gets even more wordy, let’s take a moment to look ahead. November was everything a fan of the Blues could hope for. How can the Blues follow that up? Simply put, more of the same. This hot run will eventually end and the Blues will suffer some defeats. However, as long as their effort and demeanor doesn’t change then I will have no issue with the club dropping a few games. With any luck, the Blues will use their successful November as a building block towards a successful December. Then use that for a successful January and so on.
As we’ve learned in recent years, every single point is an important one. The Blues incredible November has put them not only in the thick of the playoff hunt but near the top of the pack. They’ve achieved success despite injuries to key players as well as a dismal start from Chris Stewart. With David Perron nearly ready to return, is the best yet to come? Can they retain the momentum? Will the influx of points in November be the spark that carries the Blues to a playoff berth?