When Ken Hitchcock took over the head coaching responsibilities for the St. Louis Blues, the club was off to a disappointing 6-7-0 start. After their 1-0 victory over the Dallas Stars Monday night, the team is now 27-12-6, tied with the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers for the best record in the NHL.
Aside from the new-look Florida Panthers leading the Southeastern Division and the youthful Ottawa Senators competing with the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins for supremacy in the Northeast, the Blues have to be considered the most surprising team in the NHL thus far this season. Especially when you consider that in November the club was floundering in 14th place in the Western Conference, the uphill climb they have made in the last two months to the top of the NHL is rather remarkable.
Last night’s victory was a microcosm of what has made the Blues successful since their resurgence: solid goaltending, a tenacious forecheck and an unwavering sense of perseverance. With the game deadlocked at zero, T.J. Oshie and David Perron worked some third-period magic, helping the Blues secure the win and the top spot in the Central Division.
“It feels good,” said Oshie, who notched his 14th goal of the season. “It’s been a hard-fought battle to get here. We’ve got to keep our head and feet on the ground here though. There’s still a lot of season left. The standings have been changing every other night here.”
Along with their position in the standings, the Blues also have to be pleased that their original starting goaltender is starting to regain some of his swagger. Due to his shaky play to start off the season, starter Jaroslav Halak was relegated to the bench, giving a chance for backup Brian Elliot to shine. Elliot helped the Blues through their early struggles with his stellar play, but Halak, who improved to 9-0-3 in his last 12 starts dating back to Nov. 22, is finally starting to come around.
The Blues look to be in position to qualify for the postseason for the first time since the 2008-09 season.