Defense Clamps Down
As mentioned in a post here several days back, there really isn't any reason to continue breaking down all the negatives of the 2010-11 season. We know this team's faults and we know what must be done to improve. However, there's still plenty of cause to commend what is done well and appreciate impressive efforts when we see it. The Blues defense (along with offense and goaltending) has been criticized nearly all season long. Injuries have played their part but too often the defense as a unit has been caught napping all plays, allowing quality chances for the opposition. Too often they have taken shifts off and allowed the other team's forwards to find space to fire pucks at the net. Over the course of the last two games, the Blues have shut the door on defense and limited the majority of the opportunities allowed. Granted, the past two clubs (Edmonton and Minnesota) aren't positioned very high in the standings, but the effort the Blues have turned in their past two games has been impressive. The Oilers and Wild aren't what anyone would label as tough matchups, but we should keep in mind that the last time the Blues took on the Wild in a home-and-home series, they were swept right out of playoff contention. Against the Oilers on Thursday, everything fell together. Jaroslav Halak was steady in net and the defensive unit held Edmonton to just 12 total shots. Last night wasn't as impressive, but still the Blues held the Wild to just 16 shots. Three of these 16 shots did find the back of the net, but clubs shouldn't have much of a problem winning when they hold their opponent to under 20 shots, let alone in the mid-teens. Keep in mind that this defensive unit is completely different from the start of the season, and even from just a couple months ago. Gone is former captain Eric Brewer (traded to TB). Gone is Erik Johnson (traded to COL). Gone is Barret Jackman (injury). What's left is Alex Pietrangelo, Roman Polak and Carlo Colaiacovo from the original six defenseman that started the year with the Blues. Pietrangelo has played an absolute incredible season and should definitely be considered for the team MVP at the end of the year. Polak has had his injury woes and struggles this year but typically has been his usual feisty self. Carlo has had his injury problems as well, especially in regards to his head/face, but has managed to work through the injuries and turn in an overly solid campaign. New to the blueline are Kevin Shattenkirk (trade with COL), Nikita Nikitin (Peoria) and Ian Cole (Peoria). For the most part, these three have done well coming to a new team/group and fitting into their new roles. All three are still extremely young and have plenty of time to continue adjusting and improving under the NHL lights, which is extremely exciting given the talent levels we've seen thus far. When the season is completed, we'll likely see some pretty ugly final numbers when it comes to this team's overall stats. However, you shouldn't use these stats as a blanket to cover the defense as a group as several responsible members of said ugly stats have since moved on to new teams. What's left are several young skaters that all have a lot to prove in the NHL. The past few games, while meaningless, have been a great teaching tool of what the Blues should strive to do on a nightly basis. The offense has clicked, the goaltending has more or less been reliable and the defense has put the clamp on a majority of shooting chances. Hopefully that these few games can be used as an example throughout the rest of the season. There really is no reason why the Blues can't finish out the year strong and go into the 2011-12 season with their collective head held high.