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Identity Crisis in St. Louis?

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The St. Louis Blues have many questions surrounding them this year. Goaltending is the hot topic, but what about the team’s identity? The blue-collar, lunch-pail work ethic isn’t going anywhere, certainly not under Coach Ken Hitchcock’s leadership. However, Hitch’s claim after game two victory over the lowly Calgary Flames that, “We just got our identity back,” doesn’t light the lamp for this writer.

This offseason saw GM Doug Armstrong retool the roster to achieve a net-gain in skill. Additions of Paul Stastny, Carl Gunnarson, Jori Lehtera, and Joakim Lindstrom, along with the elevation of “Goalie of the Future-in waiting” Jake Allen have the club poised to be the deepest and most productive per cap-dollar-spent of any team in the Central Division. I think it’s also fair to say that whoever emerges from the Central in April will likely be a consensus Stanley Cup favorite. Sure, the losses of “ALL-IN” Ryan Miller, and fan favorites Vladimir Sobotka and Roman Polak sting a bit, but the impressive depth of the roster has yet to provide fans with vindication of their worries about those departures.

The worry that exists, is that we have not yet seen this year’s team achieve their identity, despite Hitchcock’s assertion that, “Until two weeks left (last season), we were in second place in the National Hockey League with a certain identity, and then we lost those players (to injuries) and we stopped scoring and it led into the playoffs. We just got back to it.” That statement doesn’t really jive with reality, though. Hell, the very next game saw the ‘Note fall to the Los Angeles Kings in the shootout 0-1. Not so much scoring for a newly rediscovered identity of scoring goals.

I’ll concede that the Blues’ identity in net is, “NOT-Ryan Miller” but the composition of the top-9 is totally in flux. The depth chart at center is about as clear mud with David Backes, Jori Lehtera, Paul Stastny, Patrick Berglund, and Steve Ott all very capable of having lines built around them. St. Louis became a media-darling for playing the “heavy” game, but that philosophy has been modified to concentrate not on big hits and grinding play but instead on “separating the puck.” The defense, enviable for its collection of agile, offensively gifted defensemen, has doubled down on the concept with the Gunnarson/Polak trade and has instead made an effort to concentrate on quick defensive zone exits and outlet passing.

Many of the names remain the same, sure. But with every single line combination up for speculation (aside from the fail-safe top line of Alexander Steen, Backes, and TJ Oshie), combined with the defense playing in new pairings after losing a big part of its identity and still waiting for the replacement/”upgrade” to get healthy, the loss of humanoid-swiss-army-knife Sobotka, addition of Assistant Coach and former Carolina Hurricanes Head Coach Kirk Mueller to the power-play unit, and several new philosophies in all areas of the game, I would venture to say that the St. Louis Blues most definitely have not found their identity so far in this young season. Oh, and Paul Stastny is week to week with a shoulder injury. That doesn’t help matters, either. What’s that? Reportedly 5 or 6 payers have the flu going into Thursday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks and the return of failed experiment Ryan Miller who is off to a hot start with the ‘Nucks? Oh, great.

Steen hit with the flu bug. Hitch said affecting 5-6 players. Lineup for Thursday fluid. #stlblues

— Lou Korac (@lkorac10) October 22, 2014

After the team’s 2-2-1 start to 2014-2015 season, most of the fanbase reaction has been positive, and quick to self-sooth in the lament of plain-old bad luck. However, Blues hockey fans will admit that no horror is beyond possibility when considering the BlueNote. Conversely, the Blues troubles have historically come in the playoffs, following above average regular-seasons. While, a return to the wilderness years of the 2000’s is highly unlikely, the current squad must find its identity anew. This is not last year’s team and so we shouldn’t be happy with recapturing its identity. There are new pieces in the room who must be a part of the team’s new identity. The only line that looks like it has staked a claim on its identity is Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Lehtera. I’m calling this the “STL Line” and soon so will everyone else. In the meantime, we need the boys in blue to define a new identity for themselves and a little early adversity with Stastny dinged up and a flu-bug in the room might be a good opportunity to reshuffle the pieces and give guys a chance to carve out their spot going forward. Let’s hope so.

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  1. Happy Gilmore's Avatar
    Excellent work sir, come back anytime.