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Insider

St. Louis Blues heating up at right time

4/12/2013

We'll cut straight to the point and get to your letters, but please be sure to check out the latest news and my follow-up blog on the You Can Play Project, which marks a big stride toward fighting homophobia in sports.

Now, on to the Friday mailbag:

Craig, what do you make of the Blues' recent winning streak? Sign of peaking at the right time?

Kody, St. Louis

Kody, absolutely. I asked Alex Pietrangelo essentially the same question earlier this week, and he said the team is finally back to playing the brand of hockey that earned it all the success last season.

"Starting in Minny, it's the way we wanted to play all year. It's tough hockey, it's not always pretty, but we're getting the job done," he said. "The biggest thing for us is not worrying about who is on the score sheet. We're having guys on four lines contributing and on the back end. That's where we're at our best."

I also loved the additions of Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold, a couple guys who can skate the Blues out of trouble. I'd put the pair of Bouwmeester and Pietrangelo in the same class as Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook out west. And of course, you can't overlook Brian Elliott. It took him a while to regain his form, but he's back. I'd want no part of the Blues in the playoffs.

When will it be enough for Brendan Shanahan to be relieved of his duties or at least have someone making decisions alongside him? I know it's an incredibly hard job, but how does the [Anton] Volchenkov elbow get four games and the [Taylor] Hall two-handed slash to the calf fly under the radar? Hall even admitted it was intentional. Golden opportunity to show that even star players must show responsibility, a golden opportunity blown by the league.
Awade, Phoenix

First, I don't see Shanahan being relieved of his job anytime soon. LIke you noted, his job is incredibly hard, probably the hardest job in hockey. Whether you agree with his decisions or not, he's brought an element of transparency and explanation to that position we haven't had before. I've seen first-hand the thought that goes into every single decision, nobody can ever accuse Shanahan of spinning the wheel of justice. And Awade, the mistake you're making, that I think a lot of fans make, is comparing two incidences that aren't similar. Every single hit has to be measured on its own merits; no two are really the same. Yes, Hall's slash was ugly and could have easily been a fine. But the more dangerous hit is the hit to the head, like Volchenkov on Brad Marchand. The league is focused on reducing concussions in hockey and has to crack down on those type of plays.

Everyone thinks the Islanders are a two-man team: John Tavares and Evgeni Nabokov. Can you please educate the rest of the world about [Josh] Bailey, [Frans] Nielsen, [Kyle] Okposo, [Michael] Grabner, etc. Because no one is going to want to face us in three weeks. Thanks.

Barry, Wilkes-Barre, Penn.

Barry, last night's win over the Bruins might have been one of their most impressive, and it's a great example of what you're saying. Bailey scores twice and probably could have had a third. Bailey now has seven points in his past six games. The realization that the Islanders are a playoff team is setting in, but last night's win over the Bruins is a message that they could also win some games once they get in. It's about playing well at this time of year and things are clicking for the Islanders, who seem to gain confidence with each game.

Thanks for the mailbag! If there were an All-Star game this year, who would be your captains? Who gets picked first?
John, Chicago

Thanks for the question, John! Since the game was supposed to be in Columbus this year, I'd pick Rick Nash as one of the captains. Throughout the entire process of being traded, he was always very respectful of the Blue Jackets' organization and its fans. I think it would be a great way to honor his time in Columbus. My other captain would be Teemu Selanne --because it's Teemu Selanne.

Can you please explain to all my moronic friends how valuable and coveted around the league Phil Kessel is? These are the same people who argued that Jake Gardiner was ready to play in the Toronto Maple Leafs' top pairing just two months ago.

Jeff, Toronto

Phil Kessel has four 30-goal seasons, a silver medal and is a big part of Toronto's return to the playoffs. The last time he was in the postseason, he had 11 points in 11 games for the Bruins, and that same production for the Leafs this spring should wipe out the last of his doubters. The thing that everybody forgets about Kessel is that he's just 25 years old. Cory Conacher is making a Calder push and he's just two years younger than Kessel. Kessel is going to blow past 200 career goals next season at 26 years old. It's hard to score in the NHL right now, so a guy who produces like that is more valuable than ever.

Let's just pretend for a second the NHL players will be in the Olympics. Who do you think gets the start in net for Team USA? Good candidates with Jimmy Howard, Ryan Miller, Jonathan Quick and Cory Schneider.

Greg Clarkin, Amherst, Mass.

For future reference, this is a guaranteed way to get in the mailbag. Ask me Team USA Olympic hypotheticals and you're in.

This is the position of strength the Americans have over every other country in the world. There's going to be a goalie who doesn't make Team USA who probably would be in position to start for Team Canada. Right now, it's a tough call. If you're forcing me to pick at this moment, I'm going Quick, Miller and Schneider. But I think this postseason is going to go a long way in determining who gets a shot. Schneider has the best opportunity to improve his standing. He's on a good team, capable of making a long run, and if he wins a Stanley Cup, he emerges as the Team USA favorite heading into next season. The only way the Red Wings win a round or two is if Jimmy Howard is brilliant, which he's capable of being. If that happens, he's definitely in the mix. This is a big spring for the Team USA goalie battle, which has to be frustrating for Miller, stuck in Buffalo.