Bettman and Stillman

Despite new ownership, Blues face challenges

If you didn’t hear, it’s St. Louis Blues day on PHT. (Fireworks show to follow.) As part of our look at the surprise team of the 2011-12 season, we’d be remiss to overlook its new ownership group.

In May, a collection of local investors led by former minority owner Tom Stillman was formally announced as proprietors, thus closing the book on a tenuous time in franchise history.

“We know the future is extraordinarily bright,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman at the announcement. “The balance sheet looks much, much better, much, much stronger.”

But a better-looking balance sheet isn’t expected to turn the small-market Blues into big spenders.

“I don’t see us being a cap team any time soon, but we definitely can compete,” Stillman told the St. Louis Dispatch recently. “If I thought we couldn’t put a contending team on the ice, I wouldn’t have done this.”

Perhaps the Blues can get closer to the cap if the new CBA includes more revenue-sharing, i.e. big-market teams increasing their subsidies to small-market teams.

However, there will always be a divide of a certain size between rich and poor in the NHL.

Not that the Blues are poor – cost-conscious is probably a better way to put it.

St. Louis reportedly pursued defensemen Jason Garrison and Matt Carle in free agency, but was unable to sign either. Whether money played a part in that, we don’t know. There were certainly other factors at play. For example, Garrison took a hometown discount to join the Canucks.

Another challenge for management in its pursuit of free agents is location. There’s nothing wrong with St. Louis, but if a player want to live the glamorous life, it’s hard to compete with New York City. If he wants to be recognized on every street corner, a Canadian city is the place to go. And if he doesn’t like freezing in the winter, there are warmer places than eastern Missouri.

Ken Hitchcock’s conservative coaching style may also be a deterrent, particularly for players with an offensive bent.

But that’s not Stillman’s responsibility.

“My responsibility is to the franchise and its health today and its stability long-term,” he said. “I have to make decisions based on that. That shouldn’t be read to mean that we’re not doing anything because we’ve got to be safe. Part of those considerations are ‘What do we have to do to put a competitive, contending team on the ice?’ But I believe we have provided a budget level to the hockey guys that enables them to put a competitive, contending team on the ice. At the same time, as (Blues GM Doug Armstrong) always says, we’re always looking for ways to improve our team and we will continue to do that. But we are in a good position.”

Backes scores OT goal on his birthday, Blues even up series with Stars

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The St. Louis Blues won’t be thrilled with the way they played in the third period, but in the end, they did just enough to come away with a 4-3 overtime win over the Dallas Stars in Game 2. The Blues’ win means that the series will head to St. Louis tied 1-1.

The Stars opened the scoring in the first period, but the Blues responded by scoring three unanswered goals (Patrik Berglund, Joel Edmundson, Troy Brouwer) on five shots. Stars coach Lindy Ruff had seen enough from starter Kari Lehtonen at that point. He yanked Lehtonen in favor of Antti Niemi at the start of the second period.

Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the second period, but things got crazy in the third.

With his team still trailing 3-1, Mattias Janmark split Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko before scoring a great goal.

Moments after Janmark’s goal, Brian Elliott took a Jason Spezza blast off the mask. Elliott was shaken up on the play (he even lost one of his contact lenses), but he did stay in the game.

Stars captain Jamie Benn (surprise, surprise) leveled the score by burying a goal by Brian Elliott with under three minutes in regulation.

Like they did during their first round series against Chicago, the Blues took some time to regroup before finding a way to get the job done.

The Blues’ power play went back to work after Antoine Roussel took his third penalty of the game. That’s when the birthday boy, David Backes, came through.

That’s a nice way to celebrate your 32nd birthday.

Game 3 goes Tuesday night in St. Louis.

 

Jamie Benn’s late goal sends Game 2 to overtime

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This definitely wasn’t the way the St. Louis Blues drew it up.

The Blues entered the third period of Game 2 with a 3-1 lead. Unfortunately for them, they weren’t able to shut the game down on the road.

St. Louis jumped ahead 3-1 after 20 minutes before Dallas decided to pull Kari Lehtonen in favor of Antti Niemi. The move didn’t provide any results in the middle frame, but something certainly sparked the Stars in the third period.

Mattias Janmark cut the deficit to 3-2 with this beauty (notice how he split Colton Parayko and Alex Pietrangelo).

With less than three minutes remaining in regulation, Stars captain Jamie Benn tied it up (top).

It’s safe to say this wasn’t a memorable third period for the Blues.

Video: Brian Elliott takes a blast off the mask, stays in the game

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A bit of a scary moment in the third period of Game 2 between the Stars and Blues.

Less than five minutes into the third period, Jason Spezza took a shot that caught Blues goalie Brian Elliott square in the mask. Play was halted as Elliott remained down. It appears as though the shot to the mask also made Elliott lose one of his contacts.

Thankfully, Elliott wasn’t seriously injured on the play. After being examined by the team doctor, he was allowed to stay into the game. He did need a new mask though (he got his original one back a few minutes later).

You can watch the play by clicking the video at the top of the page.

The Blues currently lead 3-2 late in the third period.

Here’s some Twitter reaction:

 

Lehtonen only lasts one period in Game 2

Lehtonen
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Kari Lehtonen might have been more hit than miss in the playoffs going into today’s action, but Game 2 against St. Louis was certainly a start he’d like to forget.

Dallas outshot St. Louis 10-5 in the first frame, but the Blues still managed to take a 3-1 lead. Antti Niemi replaced Lehtonen for the second period which means, barring another goalie change, Lehtonen will actually end up with a sub-.500 save percentage this afternoon.

The numbers obviously look bad and it’s hard not to blame Lehtonen in the face of that, but the Blues deserve a lot of the credit for those goals. Patrik Berglund had a great shot on goal for the first marker, Joel Edmundson‘s first career playoff goal came after a nice setup by Troy Brouwer, and when Brouwer collected his own goal it was off of a rebound during a power play.

So to an extent, you could say Lehtonen looked bad due to circumstances that were very unfavorable to him. Nevertheless, the Stars needed to shake things up after what was unquestionably a bad period for them.