The St. Louis Blues won again last night, this time 3-0 over the Nashville Predators. It was another shutout for Brian Elliott, giving him a franchise-record nine shutouts this season. They're leading the race for the Presidents Trophy and the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, and continuing to push because Ken Hitchcock is determined not to have his team coast into the postseason.
St. Louis has been one of the best team-focused stories in the NHL this season, but as the awards debate starts to heat up, Blues players aren't at the forefront of the conversation. The one award lock should be Hitchcock and the Jack Adams, but few players are getting the same level of attention.
"We're the sum of parts," Hitchcock said when we chatted on Monday. "That would be the best way to describe us."
So in fairness to the spectacular season Blues players are having, I gave Hitchcock the opportunity to make the case for his guys, and there's some pretty compelling arguments.
The St. Louis candidate: Alex Pietrangelo (12 goals, 37 assists)
Hitchcock's case: "The thing that's relevant for him, if you're describing a defenseman, you're talking about a guy who collects points, plays against the other team's best players and kill penalties. That's what he does. He QBs the No. 1 unit on the power play, plays against the other teams' best players. He kills a minute-plus of every penalty kill. What more can you ask for? He does that. He's not protected. Nobody protects him. That's what he does. If you're looking for a legitimate defenseman, then to me, that's what this guy is. He's the word 'defenseman.' He's not an 'offenseman.' He's a complete player."
The St. Louis candidates: Brian Elliott (23-9-3, 1.48 GAA, .943) or Jaroslav Halak (25-11-6, 1.90 GAA, .927)
Hitchcock's case: "I don't think you can [pick between Elliott or Halak]. The reality is that you can't. This is a group dynamic by both guys. This is two guys that have been on top of their game for an extended period of time. I don't think you can put that on one guy. The reason we have the goals-against average we do as a team, quite frankly, is because our goalies have been really good. It's not like we're playing great defense. We're learning to play that way. We make mistakes just like everybody else does. Our goalies sweep up a lot of messes for us."
GM of the Year
The favorites: St. Louis' Doug Armstrong, Nashville's David Poile, Pittsburgh Penguins' Ray Shero
The St. Louis candidate: Armstrong
Hitchcock's case: "For me, this is the perfect example of when you get a bunch of good hockey people around -- lifers. People who have been around forever, understand what it takes to play, know the endgame with the players, know where the players are going to be in a certain time frame. They make the right analyzation of where players are going to be. It's Doug, Larry Pleau, [John Davidson], Dave Taylor, Al MacInnis -- this is what happens when you get together a bunch of people who have been in the NHL as players and as upper-management people for years. They know where the endgame is."
The St. Louis candidate: Backes
Hitchcock's case: "I'd like to see who beats him out. We put a lot of heat on David -- he leads our team in scoring, leads our team in checking. He plays 20 heavy minutes a night. That's a tough challenge. We've gone through very significant injuries to top players. He's had to carry a role that is a little bit different. It's been very challenging for him and he's really done a hell of a job for us. Talk about the description of what the award is supposed to be -- he fits."