Starting in October, I will be featuring a Blues player each month as part of The Two Line Pass.
Each month, I will interview a Blues player (along with Kevin Lorenz-more on him later) for The Two Line Pass and do a special feature on him for Hockey Independent. No definite line-up of players has been set yet, but I will announce who the player will be each month as soon as I know and create a thread on the HSB forum for any questions you want me to ask him.
I’m extremely excited about the potential this feature has and I’d really appreciate your feedback. If there’s something you’d like to see added, tweaked, or removed from The Two Line Pass or you have questions you’d like answered, please let me know! I really appreciate the feedback and would love to get Blues fans involved as much as possible.
I’d like to give a big thanks to Blues Vice President of Public Relations Mike Caruso for helping me set everything up as well as Kevin for helping me get this thing started and for agreeing to be a regular guest.
This week’s guest: Andy Strickland
Andy Strickland, who has won numerous broadcasting awards and was named Best Reporter in 2004 by The River Front Times, recently started up True Hockey, the newest source for NHL news. Andy can be heard in Saint Louis on 590 The Fan KFNS. In addition to his journalism activities, Andy is also a coach with the AAA Blues organization.
Assessment of Blues preseason
The Saint Louis Blues fell to the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in their preseason finale. BJ Crombeen, TJ Hensick, and Patrik Berglund all found the back of the net, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the 4 goals given up by back-up goaltender Ty Conklin in the 2nd period. The loss dropped the Blues to 5-3. Even though it doesn’t count, the Blues did finish 2nd in the Western Conference with 10 points.
Here is what Andy and Kevin took out of the Blues’ preseason performance:
Strickland: A couple of guys stand out right away, first of all David Perron and Alex Steen were the two most impressive players, by far, in training camp. These two guys really look like they have the ability to break out. They’re kind of under the radar players, not necessarily in Saint Louis, but in the broad scope of things in the NHL. I don’t think people in the league realize just how good these guys are and just how confident they are with the puck right now. I don’t think anybody’s more confident than those two. So, that sticks out right away.
There’s certainly some competition on the back end, without a doubt. Jaroslav Halak gives his team a lot of confidence on the back end. I don’t think scoring is going to be as big of an issue as maybe it was at times last season.
The big question continues to be how good is this team going to be inside its own end? That’s just something we’re going to have to pay attention to and watch.
Lorenz: Overall strong performance, but some things that stick out:
1. Slow starts: In all three losses the Blues started off sluggish just to finish strong, but not strong enough. Granted the first two losses were with a jumbled mix of prospects and NHL players, but the final game against Chicago, and even the OT win against Dallas the team started off slowly only to finish strong.
2. The penalty kill is good, but not as good. Losing Mike Weaver really hurts the penalty kill, and someone will have to step up if the Blues want to rely on their kill.
3. The power play is better. Davis Payne has re-worked the power play setup and continues to draw up ways to make the units less predictable. The entry seems better than last season so far.
4. Jaroslav Halak won’t disappoint. Don’t let the numbers fool you (most goals he has let in so far have been odd), he will be a stabilizing force in the net.
Impressions of Jaroslav Halak
After a loss to Colorado in the preseason opener at Scottrade, newly-acquired goaltender Jaroslav Halak won his next two starts including a thrilling come-from-behind overtime victory over the Dallas Stars. While he didn’t necessarily show it in his 3 preseason starts, Andy believes Halak has the ability to shut out opponents, but will once again have to prove himself as worthy of holding the starting job. “He’s going to get his fair share of shutouts, but now he’s the premiere goaltender on this team,” said Strickland. “It’s a new situation for him because he’s never come into a season as the true number one. It’s new territory and he’s going to have to prove himself all over again, even considering what he did last season in the playoffs.”
Kevin agreed with Andy, noting that “It will be a rare occurrence where you will be able to pin a loss on Jaro. You can expect a GAA in the mid-twos and a save percentage in the lower to mid nines. He will keep the Blues in games.”
Checking on the kids
Kevin and Andy were both impressed by 1st round draft pick Ian Cole. “Ian Cole is a guy who doesn’t seem to have a learning curve. His transition from Notre Dame in the NCAA to Peoria was seamless, as was his jump to the NHL in preseason,” said Lorenz. “Ian has a legitimate chance to make the opening day roster, and if he doesn’t you can expect to see him as a call-up this season or in a full time role next season.”
Andy also mentioned goaltender Ben Bishop* and Russian D-man Nikita Nikitin. Bishop’s only goal against came on the first shot he saw from the Minnesota Wild in the team’s 2nd preseason game. After shutting down the Wild for the remainder of the game, he shut out the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center.
Nikitin tallied 2 points in his 3 preseason games. While he may not be a household name, the young defenseman’s ability to move the puck and willingness to throw his body around means he could become a real asset to this team in the future.
Here is what Andy had to say about Nikitin, “[Cole] sticks out along with Bishop and the Russian kid, Nikita Nikitin, who we didn’t know a lot about. He’s a big strong kid who I think handled the adjustment of not only being over here in North America with the language and everything [well], but just handling the smaller ice surface and just playing with a faster brand of hockey.”
*Ty Conklin will once again be serving as the Blues’ second string goalie. However, if prospect Ben Bishop plays as well in Peoria as he did during the preseason, Andy believes that he could find himself on the NHL club. Check out what Andy had to say about the Saint Louis native here**Link to HSB trasncripts.
Quick Hits: Pluses and Minuses
Andy and Kevin state what they believe to be the Blues’ biggest strength and their biggest weakness heading into the regular season.
Andy: They’re young, the enthusiasm and energy they play with. They’re hungry to prove people wrong. They’ve got underrated skill and they got good goaltending. They got a bunch of guys who can play real well at this level. I think the strength of this team has to be the ability to play an aggressive, up-tempo, fast brand of hockey.
Kevin: Team defense and Goaltending
Andy: Their biggest weakness comes defensively. They didn’t do anything to upgrade their defense from last year. Do they have enough guys who can really jump start that up-tempo transition game?…I think that was an area heading into the offseason that they wanted to improve, but they didn’t get that done.
Kevin: Unproven scoring.
Parting shot: Where will they finish?
Andy: I think this team making the playoffs is realistic. They have to stay healthy, they have to be consistent and show that consistency throughout the season. If they don’t make the playoffs it’s going to be a drastic step in the wrong direction for this organization.
Kevin: I predict they will finish anywhere between 6 and 10th place in the Western Conference.
Thanks for reading!
Filed Under: St. Louis Blues
About the Author: Sophomore journalism and business student at Mizzou from Saint Louis. Sports staff writer for The Maneater (MU's student newspaper) and Intern for InsideSTL's One to Three Show on 590 The Fan KFNS. Die-hard Blues fan. Twitter: Brian_Haenchen Check out my blog! http://hanksportsblog.wordpress.com