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ST. LOUIS — They were arguably the NHL’s busiest team during the off-season, undergoing an extreme makeover after missing the playoffs by one miserable point last season.
Now, they’ll get to see whether this new-look group has what it takes in the beastly Central Division, beginning with a pivotal matchup right out of the gate against the high-flying Winnipeg Jets tonight at Enterprise Center.
Yes, expectations are high in St. Louis, with many pundits believing the Blues may be one of the most improved outfits in the league.
But much like the message coming out of Winnipeg’s dressing room these days, all that talk is cheap. It’s what happens on the ice over the next six months that counts.
“We all have the same goal. You know what? So do 30 other teams in the league right now. Everyone’s coming in right and everybody feels good about their team and their game. Everyone’s had good training camps. It starts right now. And that’s what it comes down to,” St. Louis head coach Mike Yeo told reporters Wednesday on the eve of his squad’s season opener.
The Blues revamped their forward group, bringing in Ryan O’Reilly, Patrick Maroon, David Perron and Tyler Bozak to join a solid core that includes Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz. They should have no trouble putting up offence.
“We believe, very much, in what we’re capable of this year. Very, very exciting, very, very motivating because of that. But there’s a lot of work to be done,” Yeo said.
Jake Allen will get the majority of the work in net, with new backup Chad Johnson taking the place of Carter Hutton. Allen faltered at times last season and will be under an intense spotlight.
Tonight is the first of four head-to-head meetings between the Blues and Jets this season. They split their four games against each other last season. Each team won once at home and once on the road.
The Blues are a bit banged up to start the year, especially on the blue line. Defenceman Carl Gunnarson is out until November with an ACL injury, while Joel Edmundson is questionable for the season opener.
Forward Oskar Sundqvist is also out indefinitely with a concussion and shoulder injury following a blindside hit by Washington Capitals winger Tom Wilson in their final pre-season game last weekend. Forwards Robby Fabbri and Nikita Soshnikov are also sidelined.
Former Jets forward Chris Thorburn did not make the club out of camp and has been sent to the AHL.
“I like the makeup of this team, having young players that are going to push. I think the depth of our team now is strong… it’s a competitive group and a deep group,” general manager Doug Armstrong said.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.