After 82 games last season, 21 teams had scored more goals than the St. Louis Blues. Heading into Thursday's action, only four teams were scoring at a faster clip than Ken Hitchcock’s squad. That's right, already a third of the way into the season and the Blues have jumped up nearly 20 spots in the goal parade.
This team has been all about Hitchcock, which means goals had been hard to come by at both ends of the rink. That was great for owners of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, but not so good for owners of one of the six quality players who posted between 38 and 54 points last year – players who were capable of so much more.
Today, 10 Blues are on a 50-point full (normal) season pace, six are on pace to top 60 and two would reach 70. So can poolies trust this sudden influx of offense? The simple answer is yes. However, it comes with a “but” – the key players need to stay healthy. Losing just one of the six key players will probably force Coach Ken to return to his famous Hitchcockian ways.
Who are the six players? Why, I thought you'd never ask!
1. Kevin Shattenkirk – If the Blues lose Shattenkirk, their offense is sunk. They'll still win games, but it will be back to the 1-0 wins that made them famous a year ago. He is tied for first on the team in power play time and is also tied for second in PP points. While not nearly as complete a player as Alex Pietrangelo, I give Shattenkirk the edge in offensive acumen; he is the single most important player to this team's offense.
2. Alex Pietrangelo – If the Blues lose Pietrangelo, they may struggle even if they go back to their defensive system. He is a stud at both ends of the rink and a top 10 offensive defenseman to own in keeper leagues (which implies Shattenkirk is even more valuable in points-only formats).
3. Alexander Steen – Injuries have derailed Steen the past couple of years, often just when he starts rolling. He's shown glimpses of offensive stardom in the past. Now, at 28, he's taken it to another level. The key has been the amount of shots that he takes. His average has been up around three per game over the last two years, but this year it's closer to four. While he'll probably never be a 30-goal scorer despite the 300-shot pace, his chances are creating tons of rebounds, which bolsters his assist total. A shorter season helps his chances, if for no other reason than fewer games means fewer chances to sustain an injury.
4. T.J. Oshie – St. Louis' leader in power play points, Oshie is coming off a relatively healthy season after earning the “Band-Aid Boy” moniker prior to that. His feisty style creates scoring chances and he's only now entering his prime at 26 years of age. He's been playing with David Perron and David Backes
5. Vladimir Tarasenko – Besides the healthy return of Steen, the arrival of Tarasenko has the most impact on St. Louis’ offense in terms of big changes. Despite being a rookie, the opposition recognizes his elite-level talent and acts accordingly. Just him being in the lineup is enough to make opposing coaches revamp their game plan. If you think the Oshie-Backes-Perron line would have as much room to breathe as they do without Tarasenko, you would be quite wrong.
6. David Backes – Backes is going to get 50 to 65 points per season whether the Blues are defense or all offense. He's a rock. But as team captain, his loss would leave a huge hole that couldn't be replaced. He is the glue that holds his line together – slotting in a Vladimir Sobotka, or promoting a Patrik Berglund wouldn't cut it.
This team can continue at its current pace if one of Patrik Berglund, David Perron, Chris Stewart or Andy McDonald go down. With Matt D'Agostini waiting in the wings and Vladimir Sobotka capable of short-term stints on the second line, the Blues would be covered. But those six key players I note above cannot miss extended time. Their skill sets are too high-end to just replace with a D'Agostini or Sobotka. So owners of Blues players, please enjoy the ride…and keep your fingers crossed.
Darryl Dobbs’ Fantasy Pool Look is an in-depth presentation of player trends, injuries and much more as it pertains to rotisserie pool leagues. Also, get the top 300 roto-player rankings on the first of every month in THN’s Fantasy section. Do you have a question about fantasy hockey? Send it to the Fantasy Mailbag.