Blues Burning Questions - 1/30/10
The regular season is winding down and in a hurry. The Blues sit just a handful of points out of a playoff spot but continue to turn in poor efforts followed by solid ones. Play has been better under Davis Payne, but several questions still remain that the Blues will need to answer if they want to make it into the second season.
Who should be the Blues #1 in net?
Coming into the year the answer was an obvious Chris Mason based on his heroics last year. Ty Conklin was brought in this summer to give the team a reliable backup and an option that the team could rely on. However, both have shown their spots of brilliance as well as some struggles which has caused the coaching staff to seemingly play the hot hand moving forward. I personally feel there is no "true" number one goaltender in St. Louis and that the two should continue to split starts until one emerges as the hot goaltender. Playing just Chris Mason or just Ty Conklin over an extended period of time seems foolish as both seem to struggle after multiple starts.
Looking beyond this season, one has to imagine that the future holds a new netminder for the Blues. It's hard to picture either Mason or Conklin as long term solutions. For the present however, I like the ability to bring in one or the other and know that a more than capable backup is waiting in the wings.
Will Paul Kariya be able to take his game to another level this season?
Honestly, I don't see it happening. The return of Paul Kariya brought new expectations to the St. Louis offense, but the winger has really not lived up to any of the hype since he signed his contract to join the Blues. Making $6,000,000 this season, Kariya's 24 points through 48 games falls well below what fans expected. Kariya is entering the final stages of his career and just can not generate the offense as he used to. His shot seems to lack the accuracy it once had and he appears to be knocked off the puck with ease in the corners. He is a nice piece to have on the power-play, but no one should expect any significant changes down the stretch.
Just how good is Alex Steen?
For my money, I'd label Steen the best player the Blues have had for the duration of the season. Whenever he is out on the ice we constantly see speed and an increased energy that Steen brings to the line. Through 40 games, Steen has tallied 23 points including 12 goals. He missed some time this season with an injury, but still could come close to his career-high in goals scored (18) before all is said and done this season. Looking back, Steen did have some productive years in Toronto with a rookie season that saw him turn in 18 goals and a total of 45 points. I see no reason to think Steen isn't still capable of 40-50 points each season and the intangibles (speed, hard work) that he brings to the team are much more valuable than the points he produces.
Who is the real leader of this team?
Eric Brewer wears the "C", but is he the real leader of this team? No one can really tell how Brewer is off the ice in handling his squad, but on the ice I would have to say several others lead this team, usually by example. Keith Tkachuk and David Backes immediately jump to mind as the "true" leaders of the team despite not wearing the captain's patch. Walt is a perfect mentor for the younger players and often makes the unselfish play on the ice. He leads by example and consistently shows the younger crew how to turn into better hockey players. Backes is fairly young himself, but his hard work and all around solid efforts make him an ideal candidate to be the next Blues' captain. His responses to the tough questions the media asks are ones well above his years and truly show off his experience and leadership. Soon Backes will compete for USA and his role with the team will likely continue to grow as time goes by.