Sunday, January 21, 2007

Miracle Worker

Not since Annie Sullivan woke Helen Keller to the outside world have we seen anything like it. The age of enlightenment has arrived. The light bulb has been invented. The dark ages are in the past. Cave man discovered the wheel. The Wright Brothers have taken flight. Tranquility Base has been established.

Yes, Andy Murray must be hockey's version of Vince Lombardi...or Ghandi...or Patton...or (fill in the blank with the leader-of-men of your choice) the way the Blues have reinvented themselves in the last month-and-a-half. Saturday night's 1-0 win over San Jose was the icing on the turnaround cake. In the last game before the all-star break, the Blues outskated the hottest team in the Western Conference on their own ice. Suddenly, there's no team in hockey that the Blues aren't capable of skating with, and beating. Bill Guerin's goal, lucky though it may have been, was the only score the team needed to subdue the "mean fish" at the Shark Tank.

So many players on the team are skating with an energy and ability that we've never seen before that it's hard to believe when you watch. Keith Tkachuk is a kid again. Doug Weight is flying instead of skating. Bill Guerin is his old very dangerous self. (He only had 13 goals in Dallas all season last year). Radek Dvorak is ten times the player he was in November. Manny Legace has gone from screen door to brick wall. Barret Jackman is playing like an all-star, no longer the "lost soul" of before. Dallas Drake, who had looked like a beleagured veteran ready for the scrap heap, has changed into a fresh-faced--well maybe that's a stretch--kid. The man the fans loved to hate, Eric Brewer, is suddenly the player the Blues thought they were getting in the Pronger deal. By the way, Pronger is hurt and not playing for Anaheim.

Some of the youngsters...led by Lee Stempniak...who appears to be a star in the making...have suddenly turned into solid pros. David Backes, Dennis Wideman, Jay McClement et al. Even Peter Sejna, who flamed out a couple of years ago and appeared to be a career minor-leaguer is suddenly re-energized and worthy of an NHL sweater. The more I write, the more excited I get.

I've said it before, it's hard to believe you're watching the same bunch of players who were so pitiful in pre-December games. Can you believe that a man can come in, put in a different set of rules, values, and pracitce habits and get this bunch of professional players to morph from the worst team in pro sports into a Stanley Cup contender? I hate to even mention The Cup because they're still several points out of a playoff spot. But, you've seen the same thing I've seen. These guys are now one of the best teams in hockey. You legitimately expect them to win...or at least be every game. Amazing!

The thing that now will be very interesting is how the management, John Davidson, Larry Pleau, Dave Checketts, Jarmo Kekalainen... et al, decide to approach the upcoming trade deadline. My feeling is that if they honestly believe they will make the playoffs and do some damage they will keep the team largely intact. If, on the other hand, they get the idea that they might make the playoffs, but flame out early, then they could be inclined to sell off a few veterans for the sake of future draft picks and prospects. I think that decision will be based largely on how they perform against Detroit and Nashville this coming Friday and Saturday. Those two teams are not only at the top of the Central division, they represent the type of teams that the Blues would have to do well against in the playoffs to create any post-season excitement. With the recent success we should expect large crowds at Scottrade Center for these games and with most of the squad well-rested after the all-star break, there should be no excuses for poor effort.

Keep your eyes on those two games. Is this team capable of going deep into the playoffs? Or have we been enjoying the water at a mirage? I tend to think they can compete. But I also think it's more important to stock up for future cup runs. Big decisions to be made in the next few weeks.

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