Mile High Sports: For those uninformed, tell us what this Saint Louis Blues team is all about. Not a lot of household names, but they have dominated opponents on a nightly basis.
Tyler Atwood: Yes, it’s true, the Blues do not have a lot of household names, but they’re able to overpower teams with a system that preaches defense, physicality and a scoring-by-committee approach. This has been a hallmark of the franchise from its’ earliest days and one that resonates with the city more than any other. It also doesn’t hurt to have a top line of David Backes centering TJ Oshie and Alexander Steen that has put up some unreal numbers this season.
MHS: TJ Oshie became a bit of a phenomenon out in Sochi with Team USA during their shoot-out win over Russia, what kind of NHL player is he?
TA: One thing I noted on Twitter after the shootout madness of that Russia game is that people are going to be disappointed that Oshie is actually more of a two-way check-first forward whose offense has only recently come to full form. He’s always had the shootout move (and those that read Scott Burnside’s piece back on New Year’s Day probably recall the brass talking about that in the piece), but when he burst onto the scene in St. Louis back in ’08-’09, he did so mostly because of some big hits . . . particularly a couple huge ones on Rick Nash in consecutive Columbus games. He’s an excellent defensive forward who is not afraid of contact and has incredibly slick hands.
MHS: How do you feel the Blues match-up against the Colorado Avalanche?
TA: Based on the first two matchups with the Avs and the makeup of the two teams now compared to then, I feel excellent about this game, though fully in mind is what happened after the last matchup (the little verbal tiff between Ken Hitchcock and Patrick Roy through the media, no less right ahead of Thanksgiving). One of the principal players in the tiff, Chris Stewart, is no longer around (which is okay by us, by the way, as he didn’t seem to fit into Hitchcock’s system), but that doesn’t mean Roy doesn’t have some extra tricks in the bag for this game. Roy wants a rivalry with the Blues, and the Blues are more than happy to give it to them . . . or possibly feed it to them, as they did in the first two games. Anything is possible, but it’s hard to see the Blues not being able to win this one.
MHS: What has impressed you most about what the Avs have been able to accomplish this season?
TA: There are so many amazing aspects to how the Avs have over-performed expectations this season, but what may be the most striking to me is how Nathan MacKinnon has sprung forward and become a bonafide NHL player so quickly. While I’m still of the mind that the Avs made a huge mistake–long-term, anyway–in passing on Seth Jones in favor of MacKinnon, Nate’s play this year has temporarily made me forget that he’s even a rookie at times. There’s no doubt he will be a force to reckon with for the next decade and beyond.
MHS: Most sports work in cycles, but could you see the Blues, Blackhawks and Avs battling atop the Central Division for the next few years?
TA: I do, mostly because the three teams have something the other four teams in the Central Division don’t seem to have: young veteran cores with players that are not yet past their prime. Dallas, Minnesota, Nashville and Winnipeg all have talent, but Chicago, Colorado and St. Louis all have players that have played together for long periods of time and all play a system of hockey that has proven successful in the NHL. It’s hard to imagine these three teams not leading the way for at least the next several years. Of the other four teams, only Dallas scares me as far as a future division pest.
MHS: Prediction time: Which team comes out a couple months down the road as the champion of this division?
TA: Until the Blackhawks prove they CAN’T lead this division, I will refuse to believe they WON’T lead this division at the end of this season. That said, the Blues are arguably the most complete team in the Central right now and have played like it pretty much all season. Ultimately, I believe the Blues win this division, though it’s not going to be by much. I just hope, though, that they don’t draw a wild card from the Pacific Division, because that will not end well.
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