Not Feeling Blue About St. Louis

When the NHL preseason predictions came in, absolutely no one could have predicted the St. Louis Blues as only having one regulation loss in the first six weeks of the NHL season — not even Blues President Jon Davidson. And yet here we are heading into the second week of November and the Blues have been nearly unstoppable. Remember, this St. Louis squad was an up-and-coming group two years ago that took a big step back in last year's non-playoff year that could have very well been pegged as part of the learning curve. How have these Blues done it?

During the offseason, veterans Keith Tkachuk and Paul Kariya essentially finished off their NHL careers (Tkachuk retired, while Kariya stayed indefinitely out due to post-concussion syndrome). That cleared quite a bit of cap space for the Blues, but they didn't go for the quick fix. After all, they'd tried that already by trying to get players like Tkachuk, Kariya, and Bill Guerin some years back, and it allowed them to float along in that range between pretty good and mediocre, but never really turning the corner for the better. This year's Blues squad is different.

The easy way to sum up the Blues is that they're young and cheap. At an average age of just under 26, gone are the days of heavy veteran contracts weighing down the club while taking ice time. Instead, the team is counting a wide range of up-and-coming players, from blueline stud Erik Johnson to skilled youngsters like T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund. St. Louis's "veterans" include old men like Brad Boyes (28) and Alex Steen (26) on the forward group.

It really is about youth, and so far, it's working. The forwards haven't produced any true standouts, though fan favorite leads the team in scoring going at about a point-per-game, while other players like Steen, Matt D'Agostini, and David Perron are contributing by committee. In fact, veterans Boyes and Andy MacDonald haven't really done too much this season.

On the blueline, there's a little more veteran presence, as Eric Brewer and Barret Jackman provide the experience. The centerpiece is Johnson, though — not to be confused with Jack Johnson in Los Angeles, though both young Johnsons found time on the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team. Entering his third NHL season, Johnson is living up to his status as a former first-overall pick. Last year, he had 10 goals and 39 points as a sophomore, and while he's off to a slower start this season, there's no question that Johnson is going to be wearing the blue note for years to come.

Is it all about youth, then? Yes and no. The forwards are scoring by committee and the defense is showing to be plenty dedicated, but the bigger story is the play of new goaltender Jaroslav Halak. You might recall Halak had a pretty interesting playoffs last year for the Montreal Canadiens, shutting down a few fellows named Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. When the Habs elected to keep Carey Price over Halak, plenty of Montreal fans wound up scratching their heads (or worse), and so far, they're proving to be right. Halak's numbers are carrying right on from his playoff performance, with a goals-against under 1.5 and a save percentage over .940. Those are unreal numbers — and they're certain to return to earth at some point this season. The only question is when.

That leads to the bigger picture about these Blues. Leading the league six weeks into the season is one thing, but can they sustain it? We saw a similar effort last year with the Colorado Avalanche, when Craig Anderson played the best hockey of just about any goaltender's career, let alone a career journeyman trying to grab a number one spot. In Colorado, the combination of Anderson's stellar netminding and plucky young forwards lasted about 1/3 of the way through the season before the road bumps hit. At that point, Colorado's early season cushion began to dissolve, and they fought tooth and nail for their playoff spot.

Will that happen to the Blues? There are certainly similarities, but considering that Halak is more battle-tested than Anderson, his highs and lows shouldn't dip quite as much. And as Halak goes, so go the Blues; he gives St. Louis a chance to win every night. The biggest concern, then, is the scoring-by-committee forwards. Teams that rely on that often hit an ugly dry spell at some point, and it'll be up to Halak to weather the storm when — not if — that happens.

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