We keep moving along through the river, well to be more apt this underground garbage fire of a preview that is slowly encroaching on nuclear waste, to the forwards of the St. Louis Blues. And once you get past the first line, it gets pretty automaton, but you probably already knew that. It’s a raft of palookas and hired goons that are meant to make a bunch of sounds flashed on the screen from the Batman TV series (live-action, Pure West, not the cartoon, which I haven’t seen but am told isn’t bad). You know the plan, you know the players, it’s just a question of if the Hawks can execute the plays.
Alex Steen-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
I’ve spent so long thinking that Alex Steen is just a guy that’s taken about two years for me to pivot and finally admit that he’s a plus forward. Is he really a first liner? No, probably not. But he’s struck up an understanding with Tarasenko that’s become pretty deadly and really Steen doesn’t do anything wrong. He’s always in the right spot making the right play, he just doesn’t do it with any flash so you have to really pay attention to him.
Tarasenko is pretty much the key to this series. If the Hawks hold him in check, the Blues won’t score enough to win (and even if he does they might not). But saying that is one thing. Tarasenko pretty much shreds the Hawks, his latest two-goal performance just the newest piece of evidence. At home, Hitchcock would do well to keep him away from Hjalmarsson in Game 1 and Keith in Game 2, and the thought of him coming down TVR’s or Gustafsson’s wing should absolutely terrify any Hawks fan. He’s almost all of the Blues’ pool of creativity, one of their few forwards who can make plays at the blue line, go one-on-one, or create his own or others’ shots. He also looks like he’s probably a real asshole.
Every time Jori Lehtera comes up in conversation between me and McClure, it ends with McClure saying, “Piss on Jori Lehtera.” I don’t think I can sum it up any better. He has yet to prove he’ll do anything in the playoffs, and I wouldn’t count on it here. That’s why you might see Stastny move up to play between their top wingers.
Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer
Whatever creativity for St. Louis that isn’t Tarasenko, it’s pretty much Schwartz. He missed most of the season with a busted ankle but put up a more than respectable 22 points in just 33 games. He can make plays, and the Hawks don’t have enough d-men to keep both he and #91 on a leash if they remain on different lines. One of them is going to have to go cold.
We like to laugh at Paul Stastny and his contract here at The Lab, but it’s not like 49 points is truly awful. It’s just a tick less than what he had normally put up in Colorado. You just don’t pay $7 mildo for it. Stastny was something of a playoff performer in Denver, though with very limited sample size. He was nowhere with the rest of the team last year. He’s still playing a pretty solid two-way game, but that’s all it is. He would be the guess to draw the Toews assignment, but if that goes to Backes/Berglund then he can beat up on worse centers.
I don’t know why Hawks fans hate Troy Brouwer, and then complain that Bryan Bickell doesn’t play to his size. Well, Brouwer does and while he certainly misses his fair share of chances he’s been clocking 18-25 goals for nine seasons now and has the kind of size that the Hawks d-men struggle with. He will be heard from in this series.
Patrik Berglund-CAPTAIN!-Robby Fabbri
Both Berglund and CAPTAIN! have flipped between center and wing, but I would guess CAPTAIN! gets the nod here to either combat Toews or Anisimov. Really, this is what Backes has always been, the perfect idealization of Dave Bolland. He’s a very plus checking center who can chip in a lot of scoring, but has never been a #1 center and the Blues have finally stopped pretending.
Berglund has been breaking Blues’ fans hearts for years. He was the best even-strength player in his rookie year, and has never matched it. He has the size, hands, and brain to really be a dynamic #2 center on a really good team, and it just never, ever comes together. Lying in the weeds though here on the third line could be exactly what he needs.
Fabbri is the last of the Blues forwards that has any dash. While they’d be hesitant to count on any 20-year old, Fabbri has a chance to really light up this series with choice matchups and zone starts, assuming Berglund and CAPTAIN! don’t fuck it up. He’s got plus-plus hands and wheels, and can create for others. If he goes off, it’s all a problem.
Scottie Upshall/Magnus Pajaarvi-Kyle Brodziak-Purina Factory Dumpster Resident
You may remember Brodziak from terrorizing the Hawks in playoff series as a member of the Wild, especially in 2014 when he and Erik Haula combined to become Jari Kurri and the Silver Surfer. For a fourth line center, you can do a hell of a lot worse.
Scottie Upshall has scored 121 goals in his career and you can’t say that a single one of them matters in the least. He might get a chance to rectify that now, though Pajaarvi finally won over Hitch and is a player I’ve always found intriguing as a fourth line option.
I’ll give Reaves this, he does skate better than he did in seasons previous and for the 24 seconds per game he’s actually focused on playing hockey he can do it better than say, Man Shitter. But it’s shrouded in a whole lot of bullshit and you can be sure he’ll be aching to prove how much more GRITHEARTFAAAAAART the Blues have than the Hawks, which will result in dumb penalties giving the Hawks the power plays that are basically their key to victory. You can book it.
Dmitrij Jaskin could also see some time on either of the bottom two lines. He looks like he should be a power forward that no one can stop when he’s in the mood. He’s just never in the mood.
As you can see, it’s a really deep group, deeper than the last time these two met in the playoffs. If the Blues could keep their heads on straight, the bottom six really could be a problem because the Hawks just don’t have the defense to cope. But we know they can’t.