Blues Looking to Get Back to Playoffs After Adding Jaroslav Halak

Blues Looking to Get Back to Playoffs After Adding Jaroslav Halak The Blues appear to be building something special under John Davidson, who took over as president of hockey operations in 2006.

Davidson has put together a strong core of young talent that has plenty of promise. But the results have not yet reflected that potential, as St. Louis has reached the postseason just once since the lockout and was swept by Vancouver in the first round in that lone appearance in 2009.

The Blues took a step back last year as they finished five points out of the final playoff spot despite a record that was eight games over .500. Will this be the year the Blues finally take a dramatic step forward and start fulfilling the promise their talented young roster possesses?

2009-10 Record: 40-32-10, 90 points (fourth Central Division; ninth Western Conference; did not qualify for the playoffs)

Bruins record vs. Blues: Boston leads the all-time series 60-39-18-6, and won the lone meeting last year as Patrice Bergeron assisted on all four goals in a 4-2 victory at St. Louis on Nov. 23.

When to watch:
The Bruins will host the Blues on Saturday, Nov. 6. Boston does not play at St. Louis this season.

Familiar faces:
Center Brad Boyes was one of the most popular Bruins in recent years, both among fans and teammates. The affable young forward posted a career-high 43 goals in 2007-08 in his first full season in St. Louis after being dealt for Dennis Wideman, but his goals have slipped to 33 and 14 the last two years. The Bruins sent another young center to St. Louis for a defenseman this offseason, dealing Vladimir Sobotka for prospect David Warsofsky. Dave Scatchard, briefly a Bruin in 2005-06, will try to earn a spot with the Blues this year after returning to the NHL with Nashville last season. New coach Davis Payne played all 22 of his games in the NHL with the Bruins, spending most of his four seasons with the organization in Providence. Another one-time Providence mainstay, Bill Armstrong, is now the Blues director of amateur scouting. Armstrong played parts of five seasons with the Baby B’s, and also served as an assistant coach and head coach in Providence.

Key additions: G Jaroslav Halak (trade with Montreal); F Vladimir Sobotka (trade with Boston); F T.J. Hensick (trade with Colorado); F Dave Scatchard (free agent); D Nathan Oystrick (free agent); D Dean Arsene (free agent)

Key losses: F Keith Tkachuk (retired); D Darryl Sydor (retired); F D.J. King (traded to Washington); F Paul Kariya (free agent); G Chris Mason (signed with Atlanta); D Mike Weaver (signed with Florida); F Lars Eller (traded to Montreal); F Julian Talbot (traded to Colorado); D Nate Guenin (signed with Columbus)

Burning question: Will Halak be the answer in goal?

The Blues’ major move this offseason was acquiring goalie Jaroslav Halak from Montreal, then allowing incumbent starter Chris Mason to leave via free agency. Halak was outstanding in the playoffs, almost singlehandedly lifting the Habs to a huge first-round upset of top-seeded Washington, then leading them past defending champion Pittsburgh in the second round. He had a 2.55 GAA and a .923 save percentage in the playoffs, averaging 45 saves in the four wins over the Caps and 36 in the four wins against the Penguins. He took over the starting job from Carey Price in the regular season as he went 26-13-5 with a 2.40 GAA (9th in NHL) and a .924 save percentage (tied for 4th). But Montreal opted to stick with Price this year anyway, trading Halak to the Blues. St. Louis already had solid goaltending with Mason (30-23-8, 2.53, .913 last year), and Mason also boasts more experience with 253 career games. The Blues chose Halak’s youth (at 25 he’s nine years younger than Mason) and potential, and rewarded him with a four-year, $15 million deal (Mason settled for two years, $3.7 million from Atlanta). Now Halak, who had played just 56 games with a 2.80 GAA prior to last year’s breakthrough, just has to prove last season’s success wasn’t a fluke. 

2010-11 outlook: The Blues didn’t go after any big-ticket free agents this summer, opting instead to rely on their developing core of youngsters. That includes the likes of forwards T.J. Oshie (18-30-48), David Backes (17-31-48), Alex Steen (24-23-47), David Perron (20-27-47) and Patrik Berglund (13-13-26) up front and Erik Johnson (10-29-39) on the blue line. All of those players are 26 or younger, while 32-year-old Andy McDonald (24-33-57) and Boyes, 28, provide some veteran leadership. That will be key with Keith Tkachuk and Darryl Sydor retiring and Paul Kariya not expected back. Eric Brewer and Barret Jackman will also add some experience to the defense, where 20-year-old Alex Pietrangelo, the fourth overall pick of the 2008 draft, should be ready to make an impact in his first full season in the NHL.

Did you know? While the Bruins hold a commanding edge over the Blues in regular-season meetings, they have been even more dominant in their rare playoff encounters. Boston and St. Louis have met just twice in the postseason, and the Bruins are a perfect 8-0 against the Blues. The first clash came in the 1970 Stanley Cup finals, when Bobby Orr completed the sweep with his famous flying goal in overtime of Game 4. The Bruins swept the Blues again two years later in the semifinals en route to their most recent Cup win in 1972. That overtime game was about the only competitive contest between the clubs, as the Bruins outscored St. Louis 20-7 in 1970 and 28-8 in 1972.

Next: We’ll begin our look at the Eastern Conference by checking in on Craig Ramsay’s Atlanta Thrashers on Tuesday.

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