The Blues are back! The preseason is over. The daycare preliminary action is completed. Now, teams begin to hate each other and perform with reckless abandon on a sheet of ice as rabid fans attempt to contain themselves on the sidelines. When you attend a hockey game, it doesn’t matter if you love or hate the sport. You may not know a single player but it’s hard to not get glued to the action. Players slamming into each other or gliding around obstacles. Men wearing masks waving sticks around like it’s Halloween. Sirens being lit up and blood being sprayed on the ice. Unlike baseball, hockey starts when things get cold outside. When bugs hide and grass dies, the puck hits the ice. When the sun goes down, hockey players punch each other and there’s a reason behind it. For 82 games, nothing else matters but winning. Acne and bruises may fill a player’s neck and face, but if a W was posted, personal features matter little. A full set of teeth isn’t as cool as a hat trick. Ask any hockey player. The team comes first.
With that being said, here are 10 things to look forward to at Scottrade Center as the Blues open the season against the Eastern Conference Champion New York Rangers.
1.) Facing the best. Henrik Lundqvist helped guide this team to the Stanley Cup finals and owns the label of the best stopper in the East. He may look like a Calvin Klein model off the ice but on it he is a member of King Arthur’s unit, with the bushy beard and mad face to go with the big stick. He’ll show the Blues where they are at right out of the gate. Henrik is bitter and hungry. He laid face first on the ice after the Kings won it in triple overtime last June and still hasn’t forgotten the smell of defeat. He will be a Mad Men tonight, minus the scotch.
2.) The appearance of something truly great. Vladimir Tarasenko is going to score 40 goals this year. I truly believe that. I’ll write more about the kid in the coming weeks, but this much is known. He’s a potential 50 goal scorer and has the perfect combination for a winger. The shot. Placement on the ice. A little grit to go with the slick. Tarasenko paid for his rugged play with a concussion last year but that won’t stop the Russian Flash from becoming something truly great on the ice. He is the one player I look forward to watching the most this year.
3.) Brian Elliott gets to put his foot down as the leader in net. The team named him starter a long time ago. Tonight, Elliott can shut down the defending East Champs and outduel one of the best in net. If Ells wants to join the big boy camp for once and for all, he needs to beat the best. Jake Allen isn’t going to breathe down his neck like Jaro Halak and Ryan Miller did, but the young gun won’t wait for long.
4.) Patrik Berglund needs to earn that money. Plain and simple. He got a contract extension after scoring 14 goals in 78 games. Please save me the “cheap big body potential” talk. In my mind, Bergie is a bust and should have been a sign/trade type. Unfortunately, he stayed so all one can do is hope he breaks out. That or have fun chewing on those 3 million dollars.
5.) Paul Stastny. That small deal the team made in the offseason that changed the expectations for the coming season. I won’t expect the world from Paul. I simply want him to make other players better. He is a table setter and not someone who will light up the lamp 40 times. Look for him to assist in goals more often than not.
6.) Ryan Reaves to hit someone and do it quick. The big guy can play hockey better than most fighters but I can’t wait to see him drop the gloves tonight or simply run someone into the boards. He’s an exciting player who makes other teams adjust to him.
7.) Let’s see if Ken Hitchcock sticks with the lines he set for tonight for at least 2 periods.
8.) If the game gets to overtime and proceeds to a shootout, it won’t get much better than T.J. Oshie facing off with Henrik. Too bad Oshie is only allowed to shoot once.
9.) David Backes working as one of the best captains in hockey. While Stastny was a flashy signing, the presence of Backes on the ice is so vital to the Blues playing their style of hockey. There is a particular grit to the game of Backes. He isn’t afraid to run opponents off or contribute points. He scored 27 goals and was a +14 last season. He is a horse as well, averaging 77 games in the last five full seasons. I coined the nickname freight train for Backes because he doesn’t hold back with his physicality and embraces his size(unlike his Swedish teammate).
10.) Shoot, what else? That first siren going off at Scottrade after a goal. Watching the Blues go marching in. The sound of the crowd, wondering if 2014-15 is the season where Clark Street becomes a sea of blue. The hope to be apart of something great. There are many Blues fans who are Cards fans. I’ve talked to quite a few on social media and around the city. They want exactly what the baseball team down the street is plowing towards. A serious push for a championship. Forget playoff entry. Serious playoff activity. It’s been a long time since the words Stanley Cup and Blues hung around each other for a while.
Will this year be the season it all changes or will the start of summer bring some more well known heartache? Who knows? My early prediction has the Blues having the firepower to take out the Hawks and Kings and advance to the Stanley Cup. For now, let’s just have fun tonight at the season opener. Cheer on the Rogues in Blue.