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Thursday, September 24, 2009

OGA SPR: The St. Louis Blues – The Colonel

If it's Friday then we mus be on OGA's 26th Season Preview Report for the St. Louis Blues. That's right - last year's surprise #6 seed in the Western Conference. Don't let your surprise wane as this team will providesome exciement agai this season...

Last Season versus the Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC): Called at Tee Time – out of the Playoffs – after Game 30 /16 December 2008. Based on their play to close out the season, they stand as one of only three teams to register as a Shot Off The Post – an incorrect call by OGA – as they secured the No. 6 seed in the west. They began the season right along the PQC through Game 25. The Blues then tanked from Game 26 through 45, winning only 7.5 games in 20. But from Game 46 to the end of the season, they played .650 Hockey and netted their first Playoff appearance since the Lockout. An overall PQC of 4.6 last season is the Blues’ highest since the Stoppage and 13.6% better than their previous, post-Lockout best of 4.05.

Post-Lockout average PQC and what to expect this season: St. Louis has averaged a 3.86 against the PQC since the Stoppage and has progressed as far as Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2009. Last season was their best against the PQC in the last four years and a reason for Blues fans to maintain a level of excitement going into this season. It is difficult to measure the Blues’ average play against the PQC – you practically have to discount as anomalies the dismal 2005/6 season just like you do with Pittsburgh in that same year and Philadelphia in 2006/7. Minus 2005/6, St. Louis typically begins the season at right along the curve through the first 20 games. It is thereafter – going into December – that history says they hit a snag. Your key indicators that things are different this season would be standing above the PQC after Game 20 and no significant drop off in production of the “W” from Thanksgiving week onward.

How will the Blues play during the 2009/10 season?

Team Play: ISSUE – A Full Roster… There is excitement in the Blues camp this coming season. It is not only present in the fact that the team will open 2009/10 with a healthy roster. It is also manifest in players’ excitement to simply get back on the ice. An example was the report from Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and stltoday.com’s “Morning Skate” indicating two full teams on the ice for an off-season scrimmage in St. Louis back on Tuesday, 8 September where participation was entirely voluntary.

Rutherford has also indicated matchups are firming up for the forward lines. The No. 1 line looks to be McDonald-Backes-Perron from left to right, and Kariya-Tkackuk-Boyes on No. 2. These players on those lines have combined for five and nine points respectively in the pre-season after only five games. But fans are also likely to see Berglund and T.J. Oshie together (for six pre-season points) one pairing deeper which means there is good scoring potential on three of the four offensive lines. Derek Armstrong, tied with Kariya and Alexander Steen as the leading point-getters in the pre-season, is also making it hard to ship him off the regular season starting squad. Armstrong and Jay McClement look to be potential depth players that will make this team’s forward corps daunting.

The initial top two defensive pairings listed on the Yahoo! sports/nhl site are Brewer (Sydor)-Johnson (three points) and Jackman-Colaiacovo (one point). These top four project at from 20 – 40 points each based on last season’s output with Brewer getting less depending upon his return-from-injury date. Those figures include a rough first half of last season, however – consistent winning will show higher numbers from the blue line. So don’t read too much into Johnson and Jackman being the only ones of the top four bunch with pre-season points so far. Instead, look for good things from this defensive corps in front of their netminders and in the opponent’s twine.

In goal, Chris Mason is going to be backed up by Ty Conklin. We are high on Mason after such a stellar second half of the season (24-8-6 from 19 January 2009 until the end of the regular season). And we also know of Conklin’s ability from spelling Marc Andre-Fleury during his high ankle sprain period two seasons ago. This is a sold duo that should put up some W’s this season backstopping a healthy defense and three lines with scoring potential. And Ben Bishop has shown his mettle this pre-season, making him the No. 1 call-up and the 3rd road goalie for the trip overseas – look for good things from him in the near future.

Fantasy Value: This team is going to be so entertaining to watch that members of the OGA staff are planning a road trip to the Chicago-St. Louis game on 2 January just to see them skate. In our opinion you are going to see a lot of Poolies underestimate the quality of Blues forwards in your draft. That makes the top two lines steals in your mid- to later draft rounds. We are also very high on Erik Johnson and Carlo Colaiacovo for your middling defensive choices unless your fellow Poolies are Blues savvy. Chris Mason is a solid number two netminder for your team, and you have to know Ty Conklin is great for depth where three or more goalies are chosen. Don’t be guilty of underestimating the fantasy potential for this team or you will be seeing a mad scramble for their hot players within a couple of weeks of the first puck drop.

Schedule Analysis: A total of 18 back-to-back pairs of games, the second highest total in the NHL this season. For a primary analysis of the team’s overall 2009/10 regular season schedule, go to this link.

That flash of light on tomorrow's horizon means the Tampa Bay Lightning's 2009/10 SPR is coing this way…

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