The All-Star break may have hit at the wrong time for the St Louis Blues. While the overall first half record of 19-23-4, good for last place in the Western Conference, may look bad, there are a number of positive signs to look forward to. The Note finished a hot 5-2-1 in their last eight before the break, highlighted by road wins at Boston and Chicago in their last two. This is great momentum heading into the second half, and team will definitely gain confidence through wins like that.
The first half was really highlighted by two major factors, injuries and the development of the Blues young stars.
While you never want to see a team use injuries as an excuse, the Blues have been hit with far more than their share. First, of course, was the pre-season knee injury that took star defenseman Erik Johnson out of the year. Following that were early season injuries to Paul Kariya and Andy McDonald, robbing the Blues of a couple of their top veteran forwards. Both were going at more than a point per game pace when they were injured. Eric Brewer, Manny Legace, TJ Oshie, Jay McKee, DJ King have also missed significant time, and the Blues have played many nights with as many as nine first or second year players in the lineup.
The injuries and games missed by the veterans has opened the door to more ice time for the Blues youth, though. The dividends are starting to be reaped from the plan John Davidson put in place a couple of years ago to rebuild the Blues through the draft and player development. Patrik Berglund (14-16-30 and a +14), TJ Oshie (5-7-12 and a +6 in 22 games), David Perron (5-25-30 and a plus 4), and David Backes (16-9-25 and a -4) have given the Blues a quartet of talented young forwards who are playing well and will only improve. Brad Boyes netted 20 first half goals in a follow up to his breakthrough 43 goal season of a year ago.
As Blues fans, we were spoiled by 25 straight years of playoff appearances. We simply expected the Blues to be competitive and to be in the mix for the top spots in the conference each year, even if we had very few dominant teams. The years since the work stoppage have been frustrating, with the Note not even sniffing the post-season. The Playoffs might be a stretch for 2008-2009, but this team is on it's way. As this young team continues to develop in the second half, I look for them to set a tone for next year and beyond that that Blues will be a team to be dealt with. Last place in the conference isn't going to be ours for long.