Monday, November 05, 2007


The Blues from St. Louis

Whenever you run into a team with a hot goaltender, you always have mixed feelings. You know you need to bury your chances whenever they arise, but you also have doubts that you will be able to sneak one by him (or her, as the case may be!).

Pascal Leclaire of the Columbus Blue Jackets is not simply hot. He is sizzling. He has five shutouts in his first nine games, his Goals Against Average is a miniscule 1.12, and his save percentage is .957. If he keeps it up, he will be in the Hall of Fame before his thirtieth birthday! As long as they use the trap!

Last Sunday night, the St. Louis Blues were his latest victims. He stoned them 3-0.

The Blues are brimming with confidence this year. For the first time in a while, they are gunning for a playoff berth; once the post season games begin, anything can happen. They have two brilliant rookies in Johnson and Perron. They are getting good goaltending. They are strong on defence.

Above all, they locked up one of the premier playmakers in the game today during contract negotiations last summer. His name is Paul Kariya, and he is currently playing on a line with veteran Keith Tkachuk, and a well-travelled youngster named Brad Boyes.

That would be the same Brad Boyes that the Leafs drafted in the first round a few years ago. He was then dealt to Boston, then to San Jose. He landed in St. Louis at the trade deadline last season. Naturally, he has had a few stops in minor league cities along the way.

When he first stepped on the ice at the Scottrade Centre in St. Louis, he would have noticed the retired sweater numbers adorning the rafters: Bob Gassof, Al MacInnis, Barclay Plager and his brother Bob, Brian Sutter, Brett Hull, Bernie Federko, Doug Wickenheiser, and one for announcer Dan Kelly.

More than 16 000 fans brought their energy to the rink a couple of weeks ago, and Boyes rose to the occasion. He added his eighth and ninth goals of the season in the Blues’ victory over the Washington Capitals. (Yes, the same Capitals who flew to Toronto after the game and laid a 7-1 pasting on the Leafs.)

Boyes is currently in fine company in the scoring race. His fellow scoring leaders include the amazing Zetterberg from the Wings, Cammelleri from the Kings, and a few other household names: Iginla, Kovalchuk, Nash, Ovechkin, the Hurricanes’ Staal, and Daniel Alfredsson.

After the game, he summed up the team’s efforts; “We need these points. Fortunately, we got some timely goals.” He also appreciated the crowd’s participation. “We should play all our games at home. It helps a lot.”

On a personal note, he is thrilled to play with Tkachuk and Kariya. When I asked him about that opportunity, he smiled at me and added “Who wouldn’t? I can hide in the weeds a little bit while we are on the ice. Then when I get a chance, I can use a screen to take a shot.”

After 12 games, Boyes had scored on 33% of his chances, more than twice the average.

Boyes also has uncovered a well-kept secret about St. Louis. There is a box in the rafters reserved for retired players. Bob Plager, Bernie Federko, Bruce Affleck and the like wander in and out of the suite during the game. In fact there are about forty retired players who have stayed in St. Louis. He told the Canadian Press; “I really do enjoy it here. Just right away when I got here last year, Andy Murray gave me that confidence. It’s been great. It’s all about getting the chance.”

True to some extent, but one still has to bury those chances.

Blues president John Davidson told me he is pleased with the Blues thus far this year. With regard to Boyes, he added: “There is that little bit of chemistry between Boyes and Kariya that you look for.”

The organization hopes that it has the ingredients for success. There have been experiments over the years---even involving the Great One and Brett Hull. To no avail. The Blues have yet to raise Lord Stanley’s mug, and there are a few faithful fans who would like to see that happen this year.

The season has just begun. The signs are good. A trip to the playoffs would be an important first step. From 1979 to 2005, the Blues played in the post season. The past two seasons, they have been shut out.

A victory parade under the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Arch would be a welcome sight in the Gateway to the West.

James Hurst

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