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Rivals scout the Blues

Opposing coaches, scouts, players dissect St. Louis

Updated: March 29, 2012, 5:53 PM ET
By Craig Custance | ESPN Insider

One guy has nine shutouts, the other six. One guy has a .927 save percentage, the other guy is at .943. Neither Blues goalie has a goals-against average over 2.00. Coach Ken Hitchcock gets a lot of credit for the turnaround, and then the runaway success, in St. Louis, and rightly so. But he points to goalies Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak as the major reason the Blues are closing in on a Presidents' Trophy and a Central Division title.

Now he just has to pick one.

How do you sit down either Elliott and Halak before the start of the playoffs and tell one of them that he'll be wearing a ballcap and watching from the bench?

"I don't want to say I'm scared, but I'm kind of holding off," Hitchcock said.

Can you blame him? Both goalies have earned the opportunity. Elliott is the All-Star. Halak is the guy who once carried the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference finals, winning over the entire city of Montreal to the point where it was hard for him to go out for a sandwich without being mobbed.

Surely that playoff run will factor in Hitchcock's decision. Right?

"I don't know," Hitchcock said. "His play was such a positive level of determination that it kind of dragged everybody in the fight. I don't believe you can do that year in and year out. You start counting on that, you're in big trouble."

Goaltending isn't the only question in St. Louis. The Blues have been riding a wave of success while overcoming a slew of injuries. They activated Alex Steen (concussion) this week while Matt D'Agostini (concussion) and Andy McDonald (shoulder) are close to returning. GM Doug Armstrong did a fantastic job last summer of adding depth up front so this group could survive the injuries that have become a yearly occurrence in St. Louis. But suddenly, everybody is healthy. For the first time all season, Hitchcock will have his entire forward arsenal at his disposal.

It's a nice luxury, but it also means Hitchcock will still be experimenting with combinations as the playoffs arrive.

"I don't know who is going to be in and who is going to be out," he said. "I don't really know. "

BLUES PLAYOFF SCOUTING REPORT

To prepare for the playoffs, Craig Custance checked in with a number of NHL coaches, players and scouts to get their take on the pivotal elements of every playoff team, starting with the St. Louis Blues.

Key strength: St. Louis has a relentless group of forwards. "When they have their 12 forwards, they are probably the top 12 forwards in the West. All the lines can score, they can all check," said former Columbus coach Scott Arniel. "That's a real solid group there. There's no weak links when they have all their bodies in play." David Backes is a two-way threat and a physical presence, and he leads the Blues in scoring (23 goals). David Perron brings the skill, with 38 points in 52 games after coming back from his concussion. Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner are the playoff veterans who provide the necessary presence a young team like St. Louis needs once the postseason begins. "When they're healthy, they have as much talent as anybody -- not just the forwards, but their defense too," said a Western Conference scout. "They play physical, can score goals, and they're getting goaltending. All the things you need as a team to go deep in the playoffs."

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