Chicago Blackhawks Versus The Central Division: Part IV
By Shane Crosby
The NHL’s toughest division continues to build more elite teams while the Chicago Blackhawks struggle to regain their footing. Headed into the 2018-19 season, the Blackhawks could be in trouble.
By now it should be clear where this string of posts is going. The past three teams we’ve looked at has provided a taste of optimism for the Chicago Blackhawks. However, the NHL’s Central Division is nothing to overlook or simply define.
The Central Division is uncomfortable. Six other teams have their eyes on the top seat, where the Blackhawks once stood. Three of them have already been written about. The Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild join the Blackhawks on the path of uncertainty. All have their strengths but counter these strengths with weaknesses.
We now head into the top three teams lurking near the surface of the Central Division. The lesser of the three evils finds itself relying on a goaltender to show his reliability in net while their fearsome, elite forward depth goes to work on the opposing goal.
It’s a scary time to hate the St. Louis Blues. But there is no doubt that this coming season could see Blackhawks fans hating the Blues on a whole other level.
St. Louis Blues (Blackhawks 1-3 against last season)
Where do we even begin with this offense? The St. Louis Blues had one hell of an offseason.
They reinforced their center depth by trading a few pieces for star center Ryan O’Reilly. The 2014 Lady Byng winner tallied 61 points with the Buffalo Sabres last season. On top of that, he won 60 percent of his even-strength faceoff battles.
Da Windy City
The Blues signed Tyler Bozak for three years, totaling $15M. All of this faceoff power lines up behind their go-to guy, Brayden Schenn. Schenn led the Blues with 70 points last season and centered Jaden Schwartz (59 points) and Vladimir Tarasenko (66 points).
Winning faceoffs against the Blues will be tough. Shutting down their powerplay will be tough. Simply put, the St. Louis Blues’ offense is going to be really tough. There really is no other way to say it.
On the other end, the St. Louis Blues need their defensive units to step up. The Blues have defensive star Alex Pietrangelo on their top pairing. Colton Parayko sets up on the second line.
Pietrangelo led the Blues defensemen with 54 points. Parayko finished second with 35 points. A strong offensive presence, sure. But that was not enough to to bail out their goaltender.
The Blues’ defense will have to prove itself early on. A shaky Jake Allen needs to pad his win column if the Blues intend to run deep into the playoffs.
Allen finished ninth in losses among goaltenders last season. Allen ended the season with 25 losses after starting 56 games. His win percentage was above .500 last season, but only just.
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Backing Allen up last season was Carter Hutton. It was no mystery that Hutton was destined for a starting position. Hutton topped all goaltenders with a SV% of .931 and a GAA of 2.09.
These are great numbers, yes. They are also the result of only 26 games started out of the 82-game season. But in Hutton’s defense, a 17-7 record as a backup goalie is quite the accomplishment.
Hutton deserves that starting position in Buffalo while Allen needs to show that the Blues are still his team. The goaltending might just be the weakest area of the 2018-19 St. Louis Blues and the Central Division.
Taking over for Ken Hitchcock in the 2016-17 season, Mike Yeo would direct the Blues to a 22-8-2 record to finish the regular season. Last season, Yeo led the Blues to a 44-32-6 finish and missing the playoffs by only one point.
The Colorado Avalanche, who I believe will have a great 2018-19 season, defeated the Blues to keep them out of the playoffs. Yeo’s winning records need to translate into playoff appearances. To win the Central Division, how he addresses the goaltending could make or break their odds.
What’s worse than the St. Louis Blues? A scary, talented St. Louis Blues. Like I stated earlier, Blackhawks fans may resent the Blues at a whole other level. The offense will be tough to suppress. They’re going to be firing on all cylinders.
In contrast, Allen has to prove he has the ability to hold the starting goaltender position. With his contract, the Blues’ front office as well as the fans have to be expecting the same from Allen.
Closer and closer we inch to the peak of the Central Division. Stellar goaltending, impenetrable defensive units and offense that seems to find every weakness in the opposing team. Stay tuned.