Tonight, the Blues will host the Edmonton Oilers in the 2015-16 season opener for both teams at Scottrade Center. The puck drops at 7 p.m. (FSMW, KMOX).
“(Opening Night) means we don’t have to talk about last year. We can finally move forward,” Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said Wednesday. “We don’t have to watch or listen to the predictions, we can actually play hockey. We’re all going to be dug into the season and it’s game on.”
A lot has stayed the same: Vladimir Tarasenko and Alex Pietrangelo are still franchise players at their positions, David Backes still wears the ‘C’, and Brian Elliott / Jake Allen will still split time in between the pipes (at least for the first month or so). But, the offseason did bring several changes: Troy Brouwer comes to St. Louis via a trade with Washington, Kyle Brodziak signed as a free agent, and rookies Robby Fabbri, Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson made the club with great showing in training camp.
“I’m expecting a lot of good things,” said Brouwer, who will make his regular season Blues debut tonight. “The guys in here are very excited, and me personally, I’m excited. My family is going to come and wear new jerseys and have a good time cheering for blue. Edmonton has quite a revamped lineup, so it’s going to be a good test for us.”
Last season, the Blues swept the season series with Edmonton. In fact, the Blues have a 17-2-1 mark in the last 20 games with the Oilers, including a 9-1-0 mark at Scottrade Center. Tonight’s game marks the first time the Blues have ever opened a season against Edmonton.
Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins led the Oilers with 24 goals last season, while Eberle owned the overall team lead in points (63 points). New York Rangers backup Cam Talbot, who fared extremely well when Henrik Lundqvist was injured last season, has taken over in goal. But perhaps the biggest storyline from Edmonton (and perhaps the entire League) is the debut of Connor McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in 2015.
Not since Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby has a player generated as much excitement as McDavid, who had 44 goals and 76 assists (120 points) in 47 games with Erie of the OHL last season. McDavid also helped Canada to a gold medal at the IIHF World Junior Championships.
“If you think we’re going to make it easy on him, you’re crazy,” Hitchcock said.
Added Brozdiak, “I think everyone has to recognize when he’s on the ice, and make sure we’re not making any big mistakes that feed into his game. Obviously, a player like that will find a way to get the puck. When he does, we just have to positionally be smart, make the right reads on his and just try to be hard on him.”
Rookies Robby Fabbri, Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson will all make their NHL regular season debuts tonight.
It’s something I’ve been looking forward to my whole life,” Fabbri said after the morning skate. “To finally do this in front of the St. Louis fans, with Colton and Edmundson as well, it’s a pretty special moment. I’m going to make the most of it.”
“He’s a really competitive guy. He’s got quickness, he’s fearless, he’s got great hockey sense. It fits the way we play,” Hitchcock said of Fabbri. “We’re thinking he’s going to be here for the long term. He augments whatever line he plays on. He’s a young guy that looks like he’s going to have a good season for us and have a good career.”
Parayko, a big defenseman with a booming slapshot, finished second in the NHL preseason with six assists. A late bloomer, he now stands 6-foot-5 and will have a spot on the Blues’ third defense pairing tonight.
Edmundson, who played with Parayko last season with the Chicago Wolves, will be his partner. Edmundson spent two seasons with the Wolves.
“Honestly, words can’t describe it,” Edmundson of making his debut. “I’ve been looking to this moment for my whole life, and it’s a dream come true.”
RECKLESS HOCKEY DEBUTS
Since announcing he’d be returning as the team’s head coach earlier this summer, Ken Hitchcock has used the term ‘reckless’ to describe how the Blues would alter their game for the upcoming season.
According to Hitchcock, reckless hockey means checking as a five-man unit, not as three forwards and two defensemen.
“With the way we’re built and the way our defense is constructed here, we can play this way,” Hitchcock said. “We’ve got mobility back there, we’ve got guys that have great hockey sense. We had a lot of input offensively from our defenseman, and including them more by giving them opportunities to come up harder from the back end is going to make us better.”
Based on today’s morning skate, here’s what we’d expect to see tonight:
Alexander Steen - Paul Stastny - Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri - Jori Lehtera - Jaden Schwartz
Dmitrij Jaskin - David Backes - Troy Brouwer
Steve Ott - Kyle Brodziak - Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson - Kevin Shattenkirk
Colton Parayko - Joel Edmundson
Although Elliott will start in goal tonight, Jake Allen will start Saturday when the Blues meet the Minnesota Wild. According to Hitchcock, both had great training camps and will be able to compete for the No. 1 job, which he hopes to award by the end of October. Elliott has won four straight against Edmonton and has a 1.22 goals-against average and a .948 save-percentage in those games.
Tarasenko has multi-point games in four of his last five games against Edmonton (4 goals, 4 assists).
The Blues finished the preseason with a 4-2 record. Tarasenko led the club with 7 points (4 goals, 3 assists) in three games, while Elliott boasted a 0.86 goals-against average.
Fabbri, who played with McDavid at the World Junior Championships, said the two traded a few jabs over text messages last night. “We were texting about it and having some laughs,” Fabbri said. “It’s special to both be playing in our first games, so we were jabbing each other a little bit.”
Fans are encouraged to be in their seats by 6:30 p.m. for the pregame show before Opening Night. Fans will be unable to access their seats for a short period of time, as the lower bowl aisles will be used for the pregame show. To avoid being held in the concourse, the Blues ask that you be in your seats by 6:30 p.m.
The pregame rally begins at 4 p.m. at the Clark Avenue Plaza and will feature live music, prize giveaways and special guest appearances. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. All fans at tonight’s game will receive a team calendar courtesy of Dobbs Tire & Auto.