The St. Louis Blues' 9-1-2 start was a great story for a small-market team with a lot of fervent fans and a modest budget.
Since that peak on Nov. 7, injuries to key players have had them singing the blues — with a lowercase "b." Unable to fill holes in their lineup, they won only five of their next 16 games and fell back into the tight pack in the Western Conference.
"When we're healthy, we're a good team," Blues President John Davidson said by phone a few days ago.
But when they lose more than one or two players, they lack the depth to compensate, a common problem for small-market teams. They've lost defenseman Roman Polak, who underwent surgery to repair a tendon in his wrist, forwards David Perron ( concussion on Nov. 4) and T.J. Oshie (fractured ankle) and first-line center Andy McDonald, who recently suffered a concussion.
"You try really to spread your team out, but when you get hit like this, there isn't much you can do. It's so hard because they're long-term injuries," Davidson said. "We're just trying to tread water."
No easy task for a team that can't spend to the cap limit. The Blues have had to rely heavily on goaltender Jaroslav Halak, whom they acquired in a trade with Montreal in June, and he has responded with a 2.24 goals-against average and .916 save percentage.
"He was a perfect fit for us," said Davidson, a former NHL goalie. "He's an extremely intelligent goaltender. Very little wasted energy or movement. He's not all over the place and on his butt, like I was."
Davidson, whose team will begin a three-game homestand Thursday against the Kings, said the Blues are intent on keeping ticket prices affordable and remaining in the lower third of the league in average price. "We also want to have revenue to compete," he said, and that's not easy.
He also said his payroll — among the NHL's lowest at about $50 million — has not been affected by an announcement last May that the club's largest investor, TowerBrook Capital Partners, planned to sell its 75% stake in the club and the Scottrade Center. Davidson said the franchise is stable and that Blues Chairman Dave Checketts has been busy lining up new investors.
"This is a great hockey city and a great city to live in," Davidson said. "We just have to go about our business and build a winning team."
Memo to Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Dan Ellis, who ripped Edmonton's Linus Omark for using a spinorama move to beat him during a shootout last week: Get over yourself.
Omark brought some pizzazz when he spun at the blue line, deked and fired a blistering shot through Ellis' pads. The shootout is a contrived skill contest and Omark had every right to use his skills to succeed.
"It's embarrassing for him," Ellis told the St. Petersburg Times. "You come into a league, a respectful league like this, and you try a little move like that. It's not a very classy thing. That's just the kind of person he is."
A respectful league? The one in which Sean Avery, Todd Bertuzzi, Chris (suspended eight times) Pronger play and in which players hit one another from behind and in the head?
It was entertaining, and that's part of every team's mission. Don't like it? Stop the shot. That would have said more than his whining did.
The Glendale (Ariz.) City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a new, 30-year-lease for the Coyotes, the last significant hurdle to Chicago financier Matthew Hulsizer's effort to buy the franchise. …Former San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov was released by his Russian team SKA St. Petersburg for "family reasons." Look for him to return to the NHL soon…. The NHL's holiday trade freeze will take effect at midnight local time on Dec. 19 in each respective city and will run through midnight local time on Dec. 27. The ban applies to waivers, trades and loans, with a few exceptions.