St. Louis Blues Armor Up Defense For Stanley Cup Run

St. Louis Blues Armor Up Defense For Stanley Cup Run
Pavel Kofman

They weren’t the most flashy moves at the NHL Trade Deadline, but the St. Louis Blues have revamped their defensive unit, loading up for a deep playoff run.

Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong acquired two defensemen. Zbynek Michalek from Arizona and Robert Bortuzzo from Pittsburgh. The team was looking to add depth and experience at the deadline and they succeeded with some extra positives.

The biggest new piece is Michalek. The 32-year-old is a gritty and skilled defenseman who provides the intangibles needed in the playoffs. He’s willing to do what it takes to win, as shown by the number of shots he blocks, leading the NHL since 2005.

Ask any NHL team and they’d say one of the most frustrating things in a game is not getting shots through traffic. Blues broadcaster Darren Pang said it best on deadline day. “Blues need to defend their goaltender.” Michalek is an elite shot blocker who will protect the Blues goaltender first and foremost.

There is a slight concern with Michalek’s health, but the Blues don’t appear concerned. He’s been out since Feb 14 with a concussion, but Michalek says he may be cleared to skate again in the next few days. In the meantime, the Blues have Chris Butler and Petteri Lindbohm covering the blue line, Lindbohm emerging as a bright young star with toughness.

Speaking of toughness, Doug Armstrong flipped defenseman Ian Cole to Pittsburgh for Robert Bortuzzo and a 6th round draft pick.

Both teams got exactly what they wanted. The Penguins get the skilled and experienced Cole, while the Blues get another guy who will protect the goaltender and hit everything in sight.

The two additions to the Blues back line show that they are addressing a critical problem that has sent them home early from the playoffs the last three years.

In their playoff exits to Los Angeles and Chicago, the Blues defensemen faced immense pressure and forechecking. That led to countless turnovers in their own end, many resulting in critical scoring chances and goals. The two trades made on Monday show the Blues are done being pushed around in the playoffs, instead they’ll be the ones doing the pushing. That’s something desperately needed to survive the brutal Western Conference.

Assuming Michalek is healthy for the start of the playoffs, all three defensive pairings are versatile and tough. Coach Ken Hitchcock will have the luxury of using each pairing in a different role when needed.

It looks like the Team Canada pairing of Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester will be reunited for the playoffs. Hitchcock split up the duo two weeks ago trying to spark some chemistry on the blue line in the absence of Kevin Shattenkirk. With Michalek coming in and Shattenkirk projected to be back for the playoffs, the gold medal duo will be back together.

In the offseason the Blues acquired Carl Gunnarsson, a left-handed shot to play on the other side with righty Kevin Shattenkirk. That theory will be tested in the postseason once Shattenkirk returns from an abdominal injury. He is clearly the star of the unit and is a power play specialist. Shattenkirk has emerged as the most critical piece of the entire defensive unit. His absence exposed several weaknesses to the Blues back line, which resulted in the moves made at the trade deadline.

The third defensive pairing is a sleeping giant. Good luck trying to get a shot through traffic on Barret Jackman and Michalek. Both guys are physical and block a ton of shots. This is a pairing that will showcase just how tough the new and improved Blues are on defense.

The Blues will most likely carry two extra defensemen in the playoffs, getting the call if the Blues dress seven defensemen or if there’s an injury. Robert Bortuzzo and Chris Butler will be the two guys. Those wondering about Petteri Lindbohm, the Blues made a procedural move on Monday making sure he’ll be on the Chicago Wolves’ playoff roster, hinting that he’ll be sent back to the AHL affiliate soon, perhaps once Michalek or Shattenkirk are activated.

Bottom line, the new and improved Blues defense is in better shape for a playoff run than they were before the NHL Trade Deadline. They’re tougher and will defend their goaltender. The Blues goaltenders have unfairly taken a lot of heat in the past few years following early playoff exits. This year it must be a different story.

Pavel Kofman

Pavel Kofman is a writer based in St. Louis, Missouri. He has written and covered various sports teams including the St. Louis Blues, Green Bay Packers, and Michigan State Spartans. But his one true passion is covering the NHL. Pavel has worked in the media for 10 years writing for Scout.com, ChatSports and more recently in sports radio and TV news. Carrying a true hockey name, Pavel was born in Moscow and speaks fluent Russian.

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