While catching up with James Patrick the other day, the conversation turned to Ryan Miller joining the Blues. The disappointment was obvious.
The Dallas assistant coach and longtime member of the Sabres knows St. Louis is basically a team without flaws. Patrick praised the Blues’ offense, saying its depth has exceeded Boston’s acclaimed forwards. Their strong defensive unit is so tight that it even has the ideal mix of right- and left-handed shots. Now they have Miller in goal.
Listening to Patrick speak, it was clear why so many people have St. Louis as the favorite to win the Stanley Cup.
“But,” Patrick said, life finally returning to his face, “that’s why we play the games.”
Indeed, anything can happen once the playoffs start. Injuries can crop up. Slumps can strike at the worst possible time. Plus, with the Western Conference being so competitive, there’s no guarantee the Blues will even escape the first round.
They should win the opening series, though. They should win the next one, and the one after that. They should win them all.
St. Louis has never won the Cup. The Blues haven’t appeared in the final since 1970. Those droughts should end this spring.
“I get a kick out of people saying, ‘You guys are loading up and looking for a run,’ ” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We’re loading up for the next five years, not the next five days, five weeks or the next five months.
“We’re in the winning business right now, and we think our players that everybody has watched grow, mature and go through really tough times are in a position to have the combination of maturity and experience to win. It might happen. It might not. But we’re going to stay in this window for a few years.”
Led by forwards Alexander Steen, T.J. Oshie, Jaden Schwartz and David Backes, the Blues entered the weekend second in the NHL at 3.21 goals per game. The power play ranked tied for fifth at 20.9 percent.
St. Louis is equally adept at keeping pucks out, ranking third in the league at 2.24 goals allowed per outing. The Blues were giving up just 26.4 shots per game, second only to the 25.3 given up by New Jersey.
Miller’s save percentage this season is .924. If he stays close to that and St. Louis maintains its pace for shots allowed, Miller should give up just two goals per appearance. The Blues’ offense can overcome that low total nearly every night.
Miller’s biggest obstacle will be ramping up his mind-set. The Blues have been dreaming of the Cup all season. Miller has been dodging pucks and ducking the low bar set in Buffalo.
“It takes a little getting used to, catching up to the mind-set these guys have,” the goalie said. “It’s a great attitude here. I’m just trying to fall in line and blend into this team. They have a good thing going.
“You’re shifting gears completely here. ... In Buffalo, we were going the other direction the last two or three years, at least, but it’s not going to be too hard to catch up here. They’re pretty inspirational. You want to do your part.”
The Blues assume he will. Plenty of people assume that means the Cup will find a new home in St. Louis.
“I’ve liked our team since training camp,” General Manager Doug Armstrong said. “They’ve played well all year long, and now we just have to close these last five weeks out and put ourselves in a good frame of mind for the playoffs. The time for talking is soon going to be behind us, and the time for action upon us.”
Murray earns praise
After his first trade deadline as GM, the Sabres’ Tim Murray broke out of character with smiles and jokes. He had good reason to feel good, according to two of his trade partners.
“He was very decisive,” Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi said. “Sometimes you’re not sure, but he has a tremendous amount of background in personnel and he recognized the same thing” regarding the needs for both teams.
“He was tough,” said Chuck Fletcher, the Minnesota GM who has long been friends with Murray, “but fortunately I have some good background information on him that he doesn’t want revealed. No, Timmy did a great job. He picked up some picks and some prospects, and that team will turn around quickly. He knew what he was doing.”
Snow taken to cleaners
“Snow must go” can be said all across the country, but it’s more than just a snappy phrase on Long Island. It’s the truth.
Garth Snow took fans’ minds off the Sabres’ troubles with his horrible trade deadline. The Islanders’ general manager got next to nothing for Thomas Vanek, which has New Yorkers once again chanting for his firing.
Snow took a calculated gamble back in October when he acquired Vanek from the Sabres for Matt Moulson and first- and second-round picks. Having watched Vanek and Moulson up close, there is a definite talent disparity. It made sense that if Moulson could score 30 times next to John Tavares, Vanek should be able to get 40 and help the Isles succeed.
Instead, everything fell apart. New York is fourth from the bottom in the NHL, so Snow had no choice but to move Vanek, a pending unrestricted free agent who turned down a $50 million contract extension.
Snow’s long wait essentially resulted in speedy, undersized prospect Sebastian Collberg, who is playing in Sweden. It’s a terrible deal on its own. Compared to the packages Buffalo got for Vanek and Moulson, the deal is a fireable offense.
On the fly
• Lombardi on defenseman Brayden McNabb, acquired from the Sabres for forwards Hudson Fasching and Nicolas Deslauriers: “He’s still green. His skating needs to improve. He’s got to work some on his fundamentals and his reads, but he has a lot of the attributes that we value and has a chance to be a top-four guy. And with that, he’s got some snarl, so this is a guy we had highlighted.”
• The Canucks kept forward Ryan Kesler, but a summertime trade seems inevitable. “We’ll talk about the summer when the season’s over,” GM Mike Gillis said.
• Goalie Roberto Luongo, 34, on his trade from Vancouver to Florida: “A lot of people think I want to come here and ride into the sunset. I’m here to win, to bring this team back to the playoffs.”