The St. Louis Blues opened their preseason with a 3-1 win over Tampa Bay Tuesday night. Overall, the team meshed well, stood up for each other, and played well at both ends of the ice. Though pre-season hockey is just that — it’s not regular season play, and consequently, not taken as entirely representative of a team’s abilities — some observations from last night’s game are pertinent…
Evgeny Grachev made his acquisition look like a steal. After being acquired in June for a 3rd round pick, Grachev stated he was excited for a change of pace and a new opportunity. Last night, he played on the top line with Backes and Langenbrunner. Grachev notched two goals (both assisted by Backes and Langenbrunner) and played well. He used his size on the puck, in the corners, and in front of the net effectively, creating space for teammates and making scoring chances happen. Originally, Grachev slotted into the top line in Peoria, but if he continues to play as well as he did last night, look for a member of the top 9 to get bumped in his favor.
Matt D’Agostini and Phil McRae were the two best players on the ice. McRae was aggressive and dominant in the faceoff circle. D’Agostini’s speed created some optimal scoring chances (and he netted the Blues’ second goal). If D’Agostini can repeat last season’s performance (or better yet, put up improved numbers), he will establish himself as a legitimate top 6 player.
Roman Polak and Brett Ponich played undisciplined and reckless hockey. To succeed this season, the Blues are going to need to exercise discipline. Taking bad penalties is the epitome of an undisciplined team and last night was no exception. Polak is a huge defenseman and likes to use his size to his advantage, but if he continues to throw hits like last night, the Blues may need to settle him down a bit.
Shattenkirk looked like a veteran puck-mover on the ice. Coming off a successful rookie campaign, Shattenkirk is slotted to be a top four defensemen on the Blues this year. Seeing how well he performed in camp, how excited he is to play the game, and his calm blueline presence on the power play in last night’s victory, Shattenkirk looks posed to take another step forward in development. Some analysts have anticipated a sophomore slump from Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo, but based on the maturity of the two, that is a fairly unlikely scenario.
The Blues head to Tampa Bay this evening for their second pre-season matchup of the season. The game starts at 6 PM CST and will be aired on St. Louis’s 1120 KMOX.