There's no denying the St. Louis Blues are a well-built, well-coached juggernaut that could win a playoff series or two. But there's a little something missing. The Blues are, of course, a dominant 8-2-0 against the East. They're also a strong 10-4-3 against the more powerful West. But in games against top teams they will need to go through to get to the Stanley Cup - San Jose, Phoenix, Chicago, Los Angeles and, er, Vancouver - the Blues are 2-3-2.
This is why the Blues still need a game-breaking scorer to get over the hump.
Normally, you wouldn't want to mess with the makeup of a team like the Blues, but when it comes to evaluating their strengths and weaknesses, it doesn't matter that they've outscored the Florida Panthers 11-0 this season, or even that they've dominated Colorado 11-4 in two games. The Blues will likely have to beat at least two of the top Western teams listed above (plus Anaheim, who they haven't played yet) to get to the Cup final; teams which have outscored the Blues 25-16 in seven games.
The Blues are masters at grinding out close games, just as they ended up making Monday's 3-2 loss in Los Angeles seem closer in the end than it was. But they lack a tried-and-true finisher experienced in the art of sniping. The extra pop, the extra threat, the extra timely goal would go a long way against a team like the Kings, which has the firepower to mount comebacks as well as the defensive discipline and commitment to neutralize the Blues' collection of worker bees.
Now, sure, the Blues are getting way more production out of Alex Steen than anyone could have imagined and Vladimir Tarasenko has all the makings of a goal scoring machine in the near future. But if you're the Blues, you have to seize the opportunity of an open Stanley Cup window. Are you willing to gamble on Steen uncharacteristically keeping this up all season and again through the playoffs? Are you confident Tarasenko won't have at least a little trouble in his first playoff run? A team like the Blues needs some certainty in its offense.
A few of us THN staffers were discussing Monday, the merits of putting Thomas Vanek in St. Louis this season. He's certainly the type of player they could use.
Consider St. Louis' 2-3-2 record against these core Western teams:
Oct. 9: W 3-2 vs. CHI - David Backes and Alex Steen (GWG) one goal each. Patrick Kane/Jonathan Toews two points each
Oct. 15: L 6-2 vs. SJ - Patrick Marleau three points, Joe Thornton four points, Logan Couture two points.
Oct. 17: W 3-2 (SO) @ CHI - Toews, Kane zero points. Backes, Steen one goal each
Oct. 25: L 3-2 (OT) vs. VAN - Ryan Kesler GWG assisted by Daniel and Henrik Sedin
Nov. 12: L 3-2 (OT) vs. PHX - Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Mike Ribeiro two points each
Nov. 29: L 6-3 @ SJ - Thornton and Couture three points each
Dec. 2: L 3-2 @ LA - Mike Richards two points
It's a game of inches, but so far the Blues have been mostly subdued by the star-laden Western teams. They don't have that extra gear yet that will wiggle out enough one-goal wins to survive.
The Blues don't need to panic and go all-in for a sniper tomorrow. Steen may actually keep proving us wrong by scoring at this pace. Maybe David Backes will hit 70 points for the first time. Maybe Tarasenko won't have any growing pains. There's still plenty of time to see what the current roster has in it, before deciding on a major addition. But it is a crucial time for the Blues to analyze what they have and what they need to get out of the West, while the window to win is open.
Because no matter how wide that window seems today, it could slam shut tomorrow.