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SEASON PREVIEWS
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January 12, 2013 | 4:53pm ET
Season Preview: St. Louis
By Tab Bamford, TheFourthPeriod.com

After catching lightning in a bottle last year after an early-season coaching change, the St. Louis Blues will begin the enviable task of defending a division title. Head coach Ken Hitchcock led the Blues to 109 points, good for second in the Western Conference, and he took home the Jack Adams Award.

The Blues will bring back their two goalies -- Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott -- who surprised the world with a dominant season that concluded with the Jennings Trophy. How will the Blues repeat, or improve upon, their 2011-12 season?

Forwards

St. Louis' forwards played a physical game last year, but didn't overwhelm the box scores. Two of the Blues' top-five point producers last season were defensemen, and their best scorer, David Perron, was limited to 57 games. Perron did manage 21 goals in those games, however, which made him one of only two St. Louis players to cross the 20-goal mark (David Backes scored 24).

There is plenty of reason for confidence with a young core group of forwards, led by Perron (24) and Backes (28). T.J. Oshie (25), Chris Stewart (25), Patrik Berglund (24) and Alex Steen (28) have all shown playmaking ability and young Jaden Schwartz (20) could emerge as a bona fide top-six threat as soon as the puck is dropped.

Defense

Perhaps no defenseman in the Western Conference jumped to the forefront of the Norris conversation more than Alex Pietrangelo last year. He and Kevin Shattenkirk combined to register 94 points last season, giving St. Louis two of the more productive defensemen in the league. No team in the NHL had a pair put the puck on net more often than Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk, both of whom ranked among the top 15 defensemen last year with 202 and 178 shots on goal, respectively. Hitchcock will compliment his two young studs with veterans Barret Jackman, Carlo Colaiacovo, Roman Polak and Kris Russell.

Goalies

To say Elliott enjoyed a renaissance last season would be an understatement. Only months removed from being dealt out of Ottawa, he emerged as a Vezina candidate last season while sharing ice time with the significantly-higher-paid Halak. They were the perfect tandem for Hitchcock's approach, and both will be back in the coming season.

The biggest question in St. Louis -- and the rest of the Western Conference -- is whether or not Elliott and Halak can do it again.

Projected Outcome

With most of their roster intact from a year ago, the Blues will certainly be a contender for the Central Division crown this season. With good organizational depth and quality young players on their roster, they could be an attractive trade partner during the season as well.

The rivalry between Chicago and St. Louis that was so much fun to watch for years appears to be back after a number of physical games last year, and the similarities between the two organizations could make the Central a fun division to watch in the next decade.

3 Players to Watch
 
T.J. Oshie
The young North Dakota product left a turbulent 2010-11 season behind and emerged as the nightly highlight reel the Blues believed he could become when they selected him in the first round of the star-studded 2005 Draft.
Alex Pietrangelo
One of the better young defenseman in the game, his maturation is cause for excitement in the coming years in St. Louis. He is just beginning to scratch the surface, and has a coach that allows him to play to his strengths in Hitchcock.
Brian Elliott/Jaroslav Halak
There's a really good group of defensemen in front of them, but these two becoming arguably the best tandem in the league last year was one of the bigger storylines of the last regular season. How they perform in the follow-up season will be important for the Blues.

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