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http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=480018

STATE OF THE UNION

There were more than a few moments frozen in time for the St. Louis Blues during their NHL-best second-half record of 25-9-7 that led to their first playoff berth since 2004. But you won't hear coach Andy Murray talking about riding the wave of that emotional stretch run or any kind of carryover from last season.

"I don't believe in momentum," Murray said. "You don't play well in the next game or next season because of something in the past. It's all about hard work -- and playing in the moment."

But, believing in "Old Mo" or not, the Blues' performance down the stretch from last place in the Western Conference late in the third period of a Jan. 19 matinee in Boston -- when the Bruins were first overall in the East -- was fun to watch.

"The coach is right when he talks down the theory of momentum. No one gives you anything in this League. You have to be ready and on your toes every night," David Backes said after batting a puck out of mid-air to tie the contest in Boston with .8 seconds remaining and T.J. Oshie won it 4-3 in a shootout. "Still, I'm convinced we all felt a confidence in that win in Boston that helped bring us together."

Added goaltender Chris Mason, "It's a battle out there every night and, whether it was the energy of the kids or the experience of the veterans, veterans and kids alike learned that you only get what you work for and how important it is to stand up with the guys next to you and fight to win every battle."


For this season, the Blues expect Mason to continue make a series of saves in nearly every game as he did in the final 33 games last season, as he posted an impressive 24-8-6 record down the stretch with five shutouts, a .924 save percentage and a 2.08 goals-against average. It's no secret that management expects the tandem of Mason and Ty Conklin, the Blues' only real free-agent acquisition, to keep St. Louis in every game. Conklin had a 25-11-2 record with Detroit last season.

What makes last year's electric run a potential precursor of even better things is that the Blues accomplished it without Erik Johnson, their most talented defenseman who was out for the season following pre-training camp knee injury,
"When I see Erik Johnson wind up and then rip one into the net now, I realize even more what we were missing last season and what we accomplished without him. You don't just assume that things are going to be better, but how can they now be with us getting Erik, Paul (Kariya) and Eric (Brewer) back this season?" -- Blues President John Davidson,
Paul Kariya, a seven-time All-Star who saw his season cut to just 11 games before having surgery on both hips, plus captain/defenseman Eric Brewer, whose surgically repaired back ended his season Dec. 11 after just 28 games.

"When I see Erik Johnson wind up and then rip one into the net now, I realize even more what we were missing last season and what we accomplished without him," Blues President John Davidson said. "You don't just assume that things are going to be better, but how can they not be with us getting Erik, Paul (Kariya) and Eric (Brewer) back this season?"

"I think we're going to see a fired-up Paul Kariya," added Murray. "I'm convinced, with his pride as a player, he's going to come back very determined."

"The way we look at it is adding Kariya, Johnson and Brewer to your lineup is almost like gaining a few free agents," Davidson explained. "Plus, the extension of Andy McDonald's contract was a key, since he would have become a free agent."

The team's only losses free agent-wise were defensemen Jay McKee and Jeff Woywitka. But, with the return of Johnson and Brewer re-joining Barret Jackman to gobble up big minutes, there is every reason to believe there will be no falloff. The key here is the experience gained last season by Roman Polak, Carlo Colaiacovo, Mike Weaver and Tyson Strachan because of injuries. Plus, Alex Pietrangelo, the Blues' first-round pick in 2008 who played in nine NHL games before returning to juniors, is brimming with confidence and looks the part of an NHL player this time around. And in case Brewer is not ready to play at the start of the season, Brendan Bell was brought in from Ottawa for insurance.

Up front, the Blues had 33 goals from Brad Boyes (down from 43 in 2008-09), 31 by Backes, 25 by Keith Tkachuk and 21 by rookie Patrik Berglund. It's easy to envision four or five players reaching 25 or more goals this season if veterans Kariya, McDonald, Keith Tkachuk and Boyes stay healthy and Berglund or David Perron (who had 15 goals in his second NHL season) or Oshie (who had 14 as a rookie) makes the kind of quantum leap like Backes did from 13 goals to 31.

Bottom line: There are too many emerging in-the-moment youngsters in St. Louis to count out the Blues for 2009-10.

OFFSEASON ACTIVITY

Arrivals: Ty Conklin, G, Detroit; Brendan Bell, D, Ottawa; Barry Tallackson, W, New Jersey; Adam Cracknell, W, Calgary; Bryce Lampman, D, N.Y. Rangers.

Departures: Jay McKee, D, Pittsburgh; Jeff Woywitka, D, Dallas.

Remaining free agents: Dan Hinote, C-W: Chris Holt, G; Manny Legace, G; Steve Regier, LW; Marek Schwarz, G; Jonathan Filewich, RW; Charles Linglet, LW; Matt Foy, RW.

Last year, Backes had a breakout season for the Blues with 31 goals. Berglund added 21, Perron 15 and Oshie 14 and Roman Polak was a standout defensively. The Blues love to promote their list of homegrown players. The Blues' Grade A crop of assets allowed them to trade Lee Stempniak to Toronto for two former first-round picks -- winger Steen and defenseman Colaiacovo -- players who made St. Louis better. A similar trade of prospects for a big name could be in the offing with the number of prospects St. Louis has accumulated.

PROSPECT ROUNDUP

Here's a look at the five biggest prospects on the horizon for the Blues:

Alex Pietrangelo -- He played in nine games with the Blues last season before returning to Niagara. Bigger, stronger and more confident after being fourth pick in 2008 Entry Draft, he has a spot on St. Louis defense this season.

Lars Eller -- Shoulder surgery in April may keep him from making the Blues out of training camp, but this first-rounder (11th overall in 2007) has all the moves and instincts to be in St. Louis at some point this season after playing last two seasons against men in the Swedish Elite League.

Ian Cole -- The Blues thought he could have made the NHL this season, but he chose to return to play on defense at Notre Dame. Big. Strong. Skilled offensively. He'll work at getting better one-on-one defensively and could make it to St. Louis after NCAA playoffs in March.

Ben Bishop -- Management is counting on him to star in goal at the American Hockey League level in Peoria after finishing last season in St. Louis and working one-on-one with goalie coach Rick Wamsley.

Philip McRae -- McRae was sent back to junior again. But not until the center/wing wowed Blues execs with his goal-scoring touch at the team's recent development camp.

DRAFT RECAP

Jarmo Kekalainen's scouting staff has made the most of eight first-round picks and seven second-round picks in the last five years -- starting with first-rounders T.J. Oshie in 2005, followed by Erik Johnson and Patrik Berglund in 2006, Lars Eller, Ian Cole and Perron in 2007, Pietrangelo in 2008 and David Rundblad this year.
"Upside is still the goal," Kekalainen explained, raising his eyes every time he talked about the size of one of the team's six latest picks. "We always try to get good players and if they're big, I think that's a bonus.

"We weren't trying to build a basketball team."

Here is a quick look at the six selections the Blues made in Montreal this June:

David Rundblad -- He's 6-2, 189 pounds and the Blues think, because he's never really been on a training program, he could fill out at about 215-220 pounds in a couple of years. He's already got the offensive skills of a power-play quarterback -- being named the best defenseman at the under-18 Four Nations tournament in Russia. Kekalainen confidently said, "He's already a talented hockey player. Now, with the help of our training staff, we expect to make him a great athlete as well."

Brett Ponich -- At 6-5 3/4 and growing, Blues management was pleasantly surprised at how light he was on his feet at a prospects camp in July after taking a power-skating program in Portland recently. Ponich is a candidate to be captain of the Winterhawks, where the Blues feel his skills at handling the puck will make a quantum leap from one goal and 17 assists last season.

Sergei Andronov -- He's a third round late bloomer, who already went through the draft twice without being picked. He's played two years in the Russian Elite League and played on first line for Russia at World Junior Tournament.

Tyler Shattock -- At 6-3, 190 pounds, he is already bigger at this point and a better skater than power forward David Backes was after the 2003 Draft. Shattuck goes to the net with abandon and loves to hit. Should get more than the 30 goals he had at Kelowna last season.

David Shields -- A 6-3, 216-pound defensive defenseman whose hockey instincts and steady play were big reason for Erie's solid finish this past season.

Max Tardy -- Blues Minnesota-based scout Mike Antonovich wanted this 6-foot, 168-pound skilled forward from Duluth East High School so much that he convinced management to acquire a seventh-round pick to select him. Great hands. Had 28 goals in 25 games last season.

FIVE GAMES NOT TO MISS

Oct. 2-3, 2009 vs. Detroit in Stockholm, Sweden -- The Blues, fresh off their first playoff trip since 2004, would like nothing better than to start the season with a couple of wins against the arch-rival Red Wings to show the hockey world they are for real.

Oct. 8, 2009 vs. Atlanta -- Home schedule begins against the dynamic skills of Ilya Kovalchuk and the Thrashers.

Oct. 20, 2009 at Pittsburgh -- Measuring-stick game for the young Blues against the defending Stanley Cup champs.

Jan. 2, 2010 vs. Chicago -- Blues don't play Blackhawks on the road until Dec. 16 and at home for the first time on this night.

Feb. 13, 2010 vs. Washington -- It's a chance to see two-time MVP Alex Ovechkin and St. Louis fans last chance to see the Blues before a two-week Olympic break that is followed by a six-game trip that follows the Olympics.
Character and work ethic plus skill and upside have been the blueprint at the draft table. However, management asked Kekalainen and his staff to add a touch of size and grit in the 2009 Entry Draft. And the Blues got size galore.
 

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http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/sports/stories.nsf/blues/story/3A03FB18D5E606548625762E001256F9?OpenDocument

10 questions for the St. Louis Blues
BY JEREMY RUTHERFORD
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
09/11/2009

It will begin quietly with training camp physicals on Saturday, but the Blues hope it will end loudly, with a Stanley Cup parade down Market Street.

The Blues’ 2009-10 season is about to get under way, and while the city’s first National Hockey League championship might be a pipe dream this season, players and fans are as excited about the club as they’ve been in years.

The regular season opens in Sweden against the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 2. Erik Johnson is back and so is Paul Kariya. Patrik Berglund is bigger, D.J. King has some pent-up frustration and Chris Mason is ready to start growing his beard again.



It’s time for some hockey at Scottrade Center and to kick off the season, we’ve prepared the top 10 questions facing the Blues:


1. How will Erik Johnson respond after a year off?

When Johnson suits up in the season opener, 544 days will have passed since he played his last NHL game. After a productive rookie season (33 points in 69 games), the No. 1 overall pick in 2006 missed the ’08-09 season with a torn knee ligament. His absence was extremely noticeable, but Johnson says the time off wasn’t a complete waste. He’s reshaped his 6-foot-4 frame into 235 pounds of solid mass. Skeptics say that Johnson will be facing layers of rust once the season begins, but the defenseman is eager to prove them wrong.

2. Will two hip surgeries turn back the clock for Paul Kariya?

Kariya has 80 points in 93 career games with the Blues, but that covers only 11 games from last season. Kariya missed the rest of the year with a left hip injury, which required surgery in January. A month later, he needed surgery on his right hip. After the surgeries, Kariya claims to feel as good as he has felt in years, but whether that means he can produce as he did earlier in his career remains to be seen. Entering the final year of his contract, he’ll turn 35 on Oct. 16.

3. Can Chris Mason prove he’s a No. 1 goaltender?

Mason looked the part in the second half of last season, when he supplanted Manny Legace and posted a record of 20-7-4 with 2.26 goals-against average and a .917 save-percentage. But now Mason enters a new season as the starting goalie, a role he struggled with in 2007-08 when he won the No. 1 job in Nashville. Mason finished that season 18-22-6 and was replaced by backup Dan Ellis before being traded to St. Louis. Mason has made improvements to his game with the Blues, but no one in the organization is guaranteeing that he’ll thrive as a starter.


4. Do the Blues have enough talent on defense to overcome Eric Brewer’s absence?

The Blues were 12-13-3 with Brewer in the lineup last season and 29-18-7 after he left with a back injury. But those records have as much to do with improved goaltending in the second half as they do Brewer’s performance. He was leading the team in ice time (25:07) when he went out in December, forcing Barret Jackman (below) and Roman Polak into bigger roles. Those roles won’t be quite as large this year, with Johnson returning, but Jackman and Polak will still see significant ice time. With Jay McKee’s release, the Blues need another group effort until Brewer, who is currently rehabbing from back and knee surgeries, returns.

5. Can the Blues be better five on five, taking some of the pressure off the power-play and penalty-kill units?

The Blues were a playoff team last season, but it wasn’t because of their five-on-five play. The club scored 133 goals playing five on five, which ranked 23rd in the NHL. The Blues’ success came on the special teams, where they ranked eighth on the power play and third on the penalty kill, finishing as one of only four clubs with both special-teams units in the top 10. The Blues’ playoff failure, however, illustrated how much they were counting on special teams. They were swept by Vancouver in the first round, going one for 24 on the power play and surrendering four power-play goals on 18 attempts.

6. How will T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund perform in their sophomore season?

The two broke onto the scene last year and proved that their skill level is legitimate, yet both had their ups and downs. Oshie’s were mostly injury-related, missing 24 games with a high-ankle sprain. He returned and netted 12 goals and 35 points in his last 45 games, but he didn’t have a point in the playoffs. Berglund had 21 goals, but 12 of those came in his first 29 games. He netted only nine goals in his last 40 games, leading to a demotion to the fourth line. Berglund’s conditioning was an issue, but he’s put on seven pounds and feels energized.

7. What are the chances that Alex Pietrangelo plays the full season with St. Louis?

The odds appear to be 50-50 at this point. Pietrangelo will have some stiff competition in training camp with the signing of Brendan Bell and with Darryl Sydor attending camp on a tryout basis. Pietrangelo, who was the fourth overall pick in 2008, played eight games in the NHL last season, averaging 16:31 of ice time. He had no goals, one assist and an even plus-minus rating before the Blues returned him to his junior hockey team. Pietrangelo must make the Blues’ roster out of camp, or he can be sent back to juniors. At 19, he’s not eligible to play in the American Hockey League.

8. Who will be the Blues’ enforcer: Cam Janssen, D.J. King, or both?

It looks as if both Janssen and King will be on the opening-day roster. That doesn’t mean Janssen and King, or either one, will be in the lineup opening night against Detroit. It appears that Andy Murray will have a nightly decision on whom to play, but it’s doubtful that both will be in the lineup together. Janssen showed last season that he could handle the job. King is coming off shoulder surgery, so the team will have to make sure he’s healthy enough. But on nights when neither is in the lineup, the Blues feel they have enough team toughness.

9. Is this the season that the Blues package some prospects and make a trade that could turn them into legitimate contenders?

In the past few years, the Blues have had prospects scattered all across the globe. But now guys like Aaron Palushaj, Lars Eller and Alex Pietrangelo (left) are in the fold. Team president John Davidson has said that the club won’t be able to put all their prospects in a Blues uniform, so perhaps this is the year that the club’s quality drafting can be turned into an impact player who can help the club compete in the postseason. The NHL trading deadline is March 3 this season, which comes after the Blues play only one game following the three-week Olympic break.

10. How does Andy Murray take this team to the next level?

With Kariya and Johnson returning and Andy McDonald and Oshie healthy again, Murray (left) has more skill to work with, which should make his job easier. But the Blues won’t be a better club unless they cling to the ideals that made them successful last season, which is working harder than the opponent and putting the last game behind them. The Blues are done rebuilding and are now equipped to take the next step. If they don’t, Murray should shoulder the blame, along with a locker room full of players.
I think working out our 5 on 5 will take this team light years ahead of the pace. Too many times last season, we relyed on the Power Play, you can't go out and expect you PP to carry you all the time. However, even without Brewer, I feel our young defense will be alot more than advertisied once they all get the time to gel together. Also, as much as i hate to see some of our incredible young talent leave, I really think trading some in the right deal, could definely bring this team from up and coming to actual stanley cup contenders overnight. Looking at what we did last season, now our young guys have actual NHL experence and we get back erik johnson, QB of our Power play. Paul karyia at half of his full pontential is quite a weapon, so if he's fully healed, look out. and mason and Conklin creating stability in net, not mention Ben bishop starting to knock at the door for the blues net. I think this team has nowhere but up from here. Let's Go Blues!!
 

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They will have lot's of confidence coming into the season.
 
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