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Posts Tagged ‘Roman Polak’

Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview: #4 St. Louis Blues vs. #5 Los Angeles Kings

In Hockey on April 29, 2013 at 11:59 pm

Get ready for a series in which both teams could seriously hurt each other (fingers crossed!).

The St. Louis Blues didn’t look like the same team that made things miserable for opponents for much of the year. But over the last few weeks, the Blues appear to have rounded into form. Thanks to the Blackhawks icing their AHL team in the regular season finals, cheating me out of a Sharks-Kings matchup, St. Louis will open at home for the second straight year.

The first thing that stands out for the Blues is their defense, which might be the deepest out of all the teams in the playoffs. Adding Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold has shored things up on the back end and made Brian Elliott look like an all-star again. Speaking of Elliott, he is the unquestioned top goalie going into the playoffs this year, and he’s going to have the microscope on him given how bad the Kings made him look last year.

On offense, the Blues are more dangerous than you might think. As much attention as their defense and Ken Hitchcock’s boring system get the credit, the forwards are deep and have plenty of skill. With Chris Stewart playing for a new deal and a healthy Andy McDonald, this team has a legitimate chance to make a run to the conference finals for the first time since 2001.

Oh hey, the Kings open the playoffs as the underdog again. Of course, that doesn’t bother them whatsoever. It’s not far-fetched for the Kings to steam-roll through the playoffs again. But in order for that to happen, Jonathan Quick needs to figure a few things out. He didn’t play during the most pointless lockout in sports history and had back surgery before the lockout came to an end, making him look pedestrian at times. But he’s been here before, and I have to think Quick will be ready to go.

Just like the Blues, the Kings are extremely deep at forward and on the blue line. I like the skill of the Kings more than the skill of the Blues in this series. Anze Kopitar is the most talented player in the series, and he’s flanked by playoff warriors Dustin Brown, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. If the Kings can swarm the Blues with all four lines like they did last year, they’ll be smiling in the handshake line once again this year.

Plus, if we can see this again, that would be awesome. That’s what you get when you fight in your weight class, Roman Polak.

St. Louis will win if:They learned their lesson from one year ago. Last year’s series between these two teams wasn’t even close, and the Blues need to be as physical as they have been all year to unseat the defending champs. They got killed in that area last season and Brian Elliott was exposed as a mediocre goaltender. St. Louis needs to put that in their rear-view mirror to have any success this year.

Los Angeles will win if:
They can handle the pressure of being the hunted. This is basically the same team that won the Cup last year. But they know this year, the target is on their back and their chest. Teams are going to throw everything they have at the Kings, and it’s going to start with a team that can match their physicality.

Prediction:
Trainers, get your ice packs ready. These two teams are going to throw everything they have at each other, and a Cup favorite is going to be done after the first round. I’m actually very excited about this series because it’s going to be the closest thing to legalized assault we will see in the first round. Hitchcock and Blues’ captain David Backes will not allow his team to get run over like they did last year. In the end, I like the guy between the pipes for the Kings to be the difference maker.

Plus, I look forward to the humor coming from @theroyalhalf on Twitter. If you hate the Kings, you’re REALLY going to hate that guy.

Without question, this has been the hardest series for me to make my mind up on. If there was any way both teams could lose this series, I’d be cool with that. But someone has to win. Kings in 7.

I am Ryan Thomas, and I approve this post. Follow me on Twitter @rthomas_22 so you can harass me for an opinion piece. Also, so you can tell me why it’s wrong to dislike Roman Polak. Keep in mind, I will ignore anything you try to tell me.

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2011-12 NHL Season Preview: St. Louis Blues

In Hockey on September 16, 2011 at 10:02 am

St. Louis Blues

A Look Back at 2010-11
Going in to last season, the Blues looked as if they were ready to turn the corner and not only make the playoffs, but make a deep playoff run. Early on last year, they led the league in the standings and all looked good for the Blues. The youngsters were scoring, Jaroslav Halak was playing great in goal and everything was good in the Lou. Then, David Perron ran into Joe Thornton’s shoulder and everything changed. Perron didn’t come back, TJ Oshie was on the shelf shortly after, and the Blues continued to fall victim to injury throughout the year. I would consider the season a total failure, but the fact that they robbed Colorado of Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk in exchange for Erik Johnson was a reason to be optimistic. Stewart was a beast after coming to St. Louis, and Shattenkirk matched Johnson’s offensive production after the trade. That was the only positive in a disappointing season. Grade: C-

Looking Ahead to 2011-12

Chris Stewart was an absolute monster upon his arrival from Colorado last year

Forwards
The Blues needed to get healthy over the offseason. For the most part, they are heading in to this season. Perron is still out with concussion issues, but the Blues enter the season a dangerous group up front. Stewart and David Backes need to be on a line with each other to form a nearly unstoppable duo or power forwards. Backes does everything for his teammates. He will hit, fight, score, check and cause chaos while he’s on the ice. Stewart is the same way. The two of them could cause nightmares for opposing defensemen all season. Patrik Berglund is another big body who I feel is ready to step forward as the team’s second line center behind Backes. Alex Steen and Andy McDonald are each solid two-way players. McDonald was outstanding last year when he was healthy for the Blues, and he should fit nicely on the left side of Backes and Stewart. TJ Oshie played well once he came back from injury, and he’s a human missile whenever he’s out on the ice. Matt D’Agostini came over from Montreal last year and had a productive season, scoring 21 goals. I have no idea how the Blues are going to use each of those players as far as line combinations go. Oshie, Berglund, Steen, Backes and McDonald have all played at center and on the wing, so that gives Davis Payne some flexibility as far as how he uses the combinations. As I’m sure you found out, the though of McDonald-Backes-Stewart scares the hell out of me as far as what I think the three of them can do together. Once (if) Perron comes back, he slides on to a line with Berglund and Oshie. That would drop Steen (who had 20 goals last year) and D’Agostini to the third line. That’s crazy scoring depth. Oh, and they brought in Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner to bring some veteran stability to the bottom two lines. Now, I know the two of them are well past their primes, but they could each prove to be the single reason the Blues make the playoffs. Arnott will center the third line and probably see some power-play time, while Langenbrunner will likely see time as a checker. However, the two are great leaders and have each been winners in the past. What they will bring to the team’s young forwards in the locker room is their biggest contribution to the team. Now, if the Blues need to lean on the two of them to play top-line minutes and score, they’re in deep trouble. But I loved the signings of these two for what they’ll be able to pass along to the young forwards. Vladimir Sobotka, BJ Crombeen and Scotty Nichol will likely see time on the fourth line with Chris Porter, Phil McRae and Ryan Reaves providing depth and energy when they get a chance to play. If they can avoid any significant injuries and get Perron back at some point, look the hell out because this team will be scary. Vladimir Tarasenko, Stefan Della Rovere and Evgeny Grachev are the team’s top prospects down in Peoria, waiting for their chance. Asking for a clean bill of health for the Blues always seems to be a lot to ask for, so I remain skeptical based on their string of bad luck. Grade: B (It’s all about health for these guys. It is absolutely imperative for them this year if they want to compete.)

Alex Pietrangelo's play made the loss of Erik Johnson easier on the Blues

Defense
The Blues will have a leg up on many teams in the league, as they have two defensemen that produce lots of offense in Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk. The reason the Blues felt that they could trade Johnson and be just fine was because of the way Pietrangelo performed last year. He improved his game in his own end and saw his offensive number climb. The Blues could have one of the league’s future elite defensemen taking the ice for them each night, and that’s a nice thing for a team that has lacked a franchise defensemen since Chris Pronger was traded. Shattenkirk was what made the trade with Colorado a win for the Blues. Shattenkirk produced for both teams he played for last year and should team with Pietrangelo on the first powerplay unit for what should be a scary five no matter what. Carlo Colaiacovo has always had a good first-pass, but he has had trouble staying healthy throughout his career. He’s a nice option for the Blues to have as a thrid puck-moving defenseman. Roman Polak has become a very good, young shut-down defender for the Blues in the last couple of years. You can pair Polak with either Pietrangelo or Shattenkirk and count on him to play against the opposition’s top forwards. Barret Jackman returns as the team’s elder statesman and most experienced defender. He brings plenty of sandpaper in his own zone, but won’t be counted on to provide much offense.  Kent Huskins comes over from San Jose (Thank God) and will battle with Nikita Nikitin for the final spot on the Blues blue line. Ian Cole, Brock Beukeboom and Danny Syvret will all play in the minors this year, with Cole and Beukeboom on the rise within the system. I feel that they need another defenseman to be serious contenders, but this group will have to do for now. Grade: B-

Jaroslav Halak enters his second season as the Blues' top netminder

Goaltending
Jaroslav Halak was very good early last year, picking up where he left off when he was still in Montreal. But as the season progressed, Halak regressed in his performance in the same way that his teammates did. I personally think it’s because of the workload that Halak was expected to assume last year. It was his first full season as a starter and they couldn’t turn to Ty Conklin or Ben Bishop last year because they were both AWFUL. Now that Halak has a better idea on how to keep himself sharp for an entire season, I expect for him to post better number than he did last year, which weren’t too bad.  The Blues will turn to Bishop and Brian Elliott this year as Halak’s backups, and how they each play is a bigger factor to the team’s success than you might think. If the Blues have to use Halak the same way Carolina used Cam Ward last year, they’re doomed because of the lack of trust in their backup. I think Elliott will end up with the job and have a solid year. He was awful for Ottawa and Colorado last year, but he also played for two of the league’s worst defensive teams. He comes into a different situation in St. Louis, where the squad in front of him will be better than the two teams he played for last year combined. If he can play 25-30 games for the Blues, Halak will have a chance to rest and that’s a dangerous thought for anyone that meets the Blues in the playoffs. Oops, I think I just gave away my prediction… Grade: B

Prediction
I thought the Blues were primed to make the playoffs last year, and I was wrong because of how bad they were decimated by injury. They’re a deeper squad this year, and I think they’ll have better luck with health this year as well. If everyone up front performs the way that I think they should, which is at a high level with three lines that can score at any time, then the Blues will be right back in the playoffs. Worst case scenario is exactly what happens last year. One team’s luck can’t possibly be that bad two years in a row. 4th in Central, 7th in West.