By Nick Fathergill
After a 25-game absence and countless groans from fantasy hockey participants, Kevin Shattenkirk made his long-anticipated return to the St. Louis Blues Saturday.
In the contest – which was against the Columbus Blue Jackets – Shattenkirk played 21 shifts, took 4 shots, and left with a -1 rating (nhl.com). The output from the 2007 Entry Draft’s 14th overall pick was less than extraordinary, given the numbers he was consistently putting up before his injury (8 goals/32 assists/+18 rating in 49 games, nhl.com).Embed from Getty Images
We must take into account, however, that Shattenkirk has only played two games since returning from abdominal surgery. Even though the Blues held their position in the Central Division, remaining within a point of the Nashville Predators throughout most of his time off, Shatty’s return is essential for a Blues playoff run.
An early candidate for the Norris Trophy, the 26-year-old New York native averaged just under 23 minutes and a point per game before being sidelined against the Washington Capitals on February 1st. On a defense usually headlined by Alex Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk was the standout early this year.
Since losing the stud blueliner, the Blues somehow managed to keep the puck out of the net effectively, giving up an average of 2.4 goals/game compared to a season average of 2.45 (nhl.com). St. Louis was able to cushion the blow by acquiring Zybnek Michalek and Robert Bortuzzo from the Arizona Coyotes and Pittsburgh Penguins, respectively (games.espn.com).
Replacing Shatty’s offense was a much more difficult problem, one that went largely unsolved. The Blues’ season average of 2.90 goals/game dipped to 2.68 in Shattenkirk’s absence (nhl.com).
None of these statistics matter, though, once the first puck of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs is dropped. All 16 participants will have a clean slate. An 8-seed has every chance to take down a 1-seed, regardless of regular season brilliance, or lack thereof.
And it is a fact that Kevin Shattenkirk makes the St. Louis Blues a better hockey team, one better equipped to handle the NHL’s best.Embed from Getty Images
According to the NHL’s official twitter, the St. Louis Blues would be hosting their division rival, the Chicago Blackhawks, in the first round (if the season ended today).
The Hawks boast one of the league’s most potent defensive corps, one that allows only 2.28 goals/game, 2nd in the NHL (nhl.com). On the other end of the ice, they rank 14th with a meager 2.74 goals/game (nhl.com).
Anybody who knows hockey, though, knows the Blackhawks are as dangerous a playoff team as any. Stone cold captain Jonathan Toews spearheaded Stanley Cup Champion teams in 2010 and 2013, which featured similar rosters to the 2014-15 Hawks. Patrick Kane is slated to return either during the playoffs or shortly before, providing a gigantic boost in offense. Veteran d-men Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson compose a defensive unit that is as stingy as any in the league, and goalie Corey Crawford has held his own this year with a .923 save percentage (nhl.com).Embed from Getty Images
Need any proof that this would be a round for the ages? Look back to last year, when the Blackhawks overcame a two games to none deficit to beat the Blues 4-2 in the first round.
To go against a team of this caliber and come out victorious, the Blues need to have all of their best men healthy. Enter Shattenkirk. A possible Norris finalist and someone who can shore up the D while providing a scoring push, Shatty is essential to his team’s success in April and May.
Here come the Stanley Cup Playoffs, full of legend and glory. And here comes Kevin Shattenkirk, eager to earn his St. Louis Blues a spot in hockey history. It’s gonna be a fun ride.