As part of our summer series previewing the 2014-15 NHL season, CSNwashington.com is analyzing all 30 NHL teams, division by division. Today we continue with the Western Conference’s Central Division.
Today: ST. LOUIS BLUES
2013-14 record: 52-23-7 (111 points)
Where they finished: 2nd in the Central; 3rd in the West; 4th in the NHL
Coach: Ken Hitchcock (4th season)
Key additions: C Paul Stastny, C Jori Lehtera, C/RW Peter Mueller, D Carl Gunnarsson
Key subtractions: G Ryan Miller, C Vladimir Sobotka, C Derek Roy, LW Brendan Morrow, D Roman Polak
Alexander Steen – David Backes – T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz – Paul Stastny – Vladimir Tarasenko
Magnus Paajarvi - Patrik Berglund - Steve Ott
Maxime Lapierre - Jori Lehtera - Ryan Reaves
Extras: Dmitri Jaskin
Alex Pietrangelo - Jay Bouwmeester
Kevin Shattenkirk - Barrett Jackman
Carl Gunnarsson - Jordan Leopold
Extras: Ian Cole, Chris Butler
Brian Elliott - Jake Allen
Our take: Over the past three years, no team in the Western Conference has won more regular-season games than the St. Louis Blues (only the Penguins and Bruins in the Eastern Conference have won more frequently during the regular-season over that same stretch). Unfortunately for St. Louis, the Blues have been unable to translate that success into a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
As head coach Ken Hitchcock enters the final year of his current, the pressure is on for the Blues to finally breakthrough come springtime. St. Louis was eliminated by the L.A. Kings both in 2012 (Round 1) and 2013 (Round 2), before blowing a 2-0 series lead and falling to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in the opening round last year.
While the Blues were dealt a tough hand in having to face the Blackhawks in the first round, they only have themselves to blame after finishing the season 0-6-0 and finishing one point shy of a Central Division title.
Part of the Blues' struggles down the stretch can be attributed to a power play unit that went 4-for-49 in April (8.1%) when combining the regular-season and playoffs. St. Louis hopes that the signing of free agent Paul Stastny (4-years, $28M) and the addition of assistant coach Kirk Muller will provide a boost to the special teams unit.
Stastny's signing should also ease the load off captain David Backes [27 goals and 57 points last season], who centered the Blues' No.1 line for much of last season. Stastny brings 20-goal potential to a lineup that had five 20-goal scorers a year ago and ranked 6th overall in scoring with an average of 2.92 goals-per-game.
The Blues are sound defensively, although not necessarily the most physically imposing. Jay Bouwmeester is a veteran minutes-eater who teamed with Alex Pietrangelo last year to form one of the game's best defensive pairings (they also played together for Team Canada at the Sochi Games) while Kevin Shattenkirk, Barrett Jackman, Carl Gunnarsson and Jordan Leopold round out a solid top-six.
The Blues were unable to re-sign Ryan Miller and will instead look to Brian Elliott to carry the load with relief coming in the form of prospect Jake Allen. Elliott primarily split time with Jaroslav Halak since joining the Blues in 2011, but the 29-year-old has impressed in spot duty. Since 2011, Elliott is 55-24-7 with a 1.86 GAA, .927 SV% and 16 shutouts.
Will they make the playoffs in 2014-15? Yes, the Blues will qualify for the postseason for a fourth straight year.
Against the Capitals: Sat. Nov.15 at St. Louis; Sun. Feb. 1 at Washington (Super Bowl Sunday Matinee)
[RELATED: Life after the Caps: Peter Bondra]