KMOX, ST. LOUIS – One of the best days of an off-season for a sports fan is the day the schedule for next season comes out. Yesterday the NHL released its 2011-2012 schedule and Blues fans all over started dissecting. There are plenty of good match-ups to plan on and once again the Blues will be home the day after Thanksgiving and the day after Christmas. The Penguins, Bruins, Rangers, Maple Leafs and Lightning come to town. At first glance, it also looks like the most balanced divisional schedule the Blues have had in a while. Last season the Blues played five of their six games against Nashville by Thanksgiving. This season they are more spread out as it should be in a divisional heavy format.
But once you get past the match-ups, a stark reality faces the Blues. The road! Eight of their first 11 games are on the road, and nine of last their last 13 are on the road. In March, the Blues are gone for seven straight. This season’s schedule mandates strong road play for the Blues, if a trip to the playoffs is on tap, and that means avoiding a repeat of recent history.
Dating back to 1990 (21 years), the Stanley Cup Champion has ranked 7th or higher in road success 19 times. The only two, not ranked 7th or higher were Pittsburgh in ’09 (10th with a road record of 20-15-6) and New Jersey in the strike shortened year of ’94-’95 (17th with a road record of 8-14-2). The St. Louis Blues have been in the top 10 in the NHL in road success just two times in the last 10 years. When they made the playoffs in ’09 -’10, they ranked 6th and in ’02-’03 they were 9th.
The only way the Blues can have a strong start to the season is winning on the road. They open with 8 of 11 away from home. Then eyeing the playoffs, that road play becomes even more critical in late February and March. You would think by having so many road games up front the back end would present a better home schedule. It didn’t. The Scottrade Center is once again busy in March with NCAA Wrestling and the Missouri Valley Basketball Tournament and that will keep the Blues away for a while at a critical point in the season. From Feb 23rd through March 25th, the Blues will play 13 of 16 games on the road. From March 11th through March 25th, it will be seven straight away from home against Columbus, Chicago, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Anaheim, Los Angeles and Phoenix. Reality is simple. If the Blues become a better road team, that one-month stretch is less daunting. If they remain inconsistent on the road, that stretch may once again mean the playoffs or bust.
In the world of multi-use buildings and ever growing needs for different revenue streams, it’s hard if not impossible to turn down successful events like the ones that fill the Scottrade Center each March. They are not only important to an ownership group, but also to the city and region. But the reality is those events evict the Blues during a critical time at the end of the season. To overcome that challenge, they must win on the road. The Blues don’t have to be the best road team in the NHL, but as history shows us, if you want the Stanley Cup, you need to be darn good.