Blues Looking to Improve on Road Record for Second Half
More important than the return of Alex Steen and Andy MacDonald, more important than the impressive play of their two goalies, more important than the extra long break they got after the All Star Break, nothing is more key to the Blues keeping pace atop the Western Conference standings than improving their road record. The Checking Line's Taylor Giffin takes a look at the road woes that St. Louis has had and if the second half presents an opportunity for change.
Coming out of the All Star Break holding down one of their best positions in the Western Conference for quite some time, the St. Louis Blues have their sites set on a playoff spot guaranteed, but could home ice advantage going into the post season also be on the radar. We will take a look at, and break down the teams second half, more or less, before their first game tonight against the Los Angeles Kings.
Currently sitting in fifth spot in the Western Conference and only four points back, with two games in hand, of conference and division leaders the Detroit Red Wings, the Blues are going to have to play some solid hockey in the upcoming months if they expect to keep pace with the heavy hitters of the West. Sure, they have a comfortable ten point cushion between them and the eighth place Minnesota Wild, but falling much further than where they are now would not be beneficial. They already have the Chicago Blackhawks breathing down their necks and will play them four times before the end of the year.
"We've proved it game-to-game, week-to-week all season long," captain David Backes said. "We're in a spot where we'd like to end the season. We just need to make sure that we don't have any drop-offs. Teams like Pittsburgh, teams like Detroit, like Chicago -- teams that are in the playoffs consistently -- after the All-Star break, they ramp it up."
It would seem like staying in the top six of the Western Conference will be ideal for the Blues. If the standings are to stay the same as they are now, which is unlikely considering the parity within the top western teams, falling into the seventh or eighth place would mean a first round match, without home ice, against two top teams. This would be either the Detroit Red Wings, who hold the leagues best home ice record at 20 – 2 – 1, or the defending Stanley Cup finalists the Vancouver Canucks. Although no one match up of Western Conference teams can be considered a walk through, both these teams would present a dangerous, well balanced team that the Blues would have to fend off.
So what are they going to have to do you ask in order to keep pace or maybe climb the standings in the remaining games of the season. For starters, they will need to improve their down right awful road record. Sitting at 8 – 10 – 3 at the moment will just not cut it. If you look at the rest of the playoff bound teams in the West only the Wild have a record sitting at below .500, and even then, still better than the Blues.
Although the Blues have set themselves up nicely into the top of the West for the first half of the season, the scheduling of the NHL has not set up to kindly for them in the second half. They will be playing 20 of their last 33 games away from home ice.
Although a win to start the second half of the season against L.A. would be nice, the key dates to watch for are their six and seven game road swings. These will be crucial for the Blues to stay in the race for the division if they play them out at .500 or just above. The first one, the six game swing, comes late February and includes a Western road swing that starts in Nashville and ends with Vancouver and San Jose, if they can steal a game or two there the rest should be wins that they are capable of quite easily. The second one begins the week after a three game home stand. Mixed in through the seven games of this second road trip are the Blackhawks and the Kings, the only teams with playoff spots right now they will have to play.
There is opportunity here for the Blues to improve their road record but it is something that will have to be examined later on and throughout the second half. As for now, the Blues can hopefully continue their strong play and push towards the playoffs.