Blues GM breaks down reasons for the team's late-season hot stretch

News-DemocratApril 29, 2013 

— During his tenure as general manager of the St. Louis Blues, Doug Armstrong has never shied away from making the type of big, bold moves that can leave a lasting impact on the franchise.

He traded former first overall pick Erik Johnson to Colorado as part of a package that brought two of the current team's top players in winger Chris Stewart and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

He fired former Blues coach Davis Payne 13 games into last season and replaced him with veteran coach Ken Hitchcock.

Armstrong dealt former No. 1 draft picks Lars Eller and David Rundblad as part of trade packages that brought the Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak and rookie winger Vladimir Tarasenko in return.

But Armstrong might have pulled off one of his best transactions --and changed the late-season course for the current squad -- with a pair of trades that brought in veteran defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold.

The Blues are 12-3 since the moves were made and the play of goaltender Brian Elliott and the entire team defensive approach improved overnight.

Armstrong sat down with the News-Democrat on Sunday to talk about the moves and the team's playoff outlook:

Q. You were able to add two veteran defensemen without losing one player off the current roster. How did you pull that off?

A. "We gave up first-round and second-round picks, so we were expecting some positive returns. I think they're both experienced players that really are bigger bodies and can play a lot of minutes. We thought they were going to have a positive impact for sure."

Q. What are the biggest and best attributes of Bouwmeester?

A. "He does a lot of the subtle things really well. His play in the corners, his ability to get his stick on pucks, his ability to break up plays before they start down low are real positives, as well as his skating."

Q. The Blues went 12-3 in their last 15 games and Elliott won 11 of his final 13 starts. Isn't that a dramatic turnaround considering his struggles earlier this season?

A. "That's a combination of the (new) players coming in, but I also think we were at that point as an organization of committing a lot more to a 200-foot game and putting a lot more into defending well. Then the goaltending really started to play well. So I think it was a combination of everything, but a lot of it has to do with the commitment of the forwards and the rest of the team to really want to defend hard."

Q. Have you ever seen a goaltending turnaround like Elliott's performance down the stretch?

A. "No, not really. I think a lot of it was more of a reflection of our team game than it was his game. We didn't play very well there for a while, we were giving up way too many (chances).

"Our shot total may not have indicated it but the level of opportunities were so great...in Chicago we gave up a 4-on-0. I haven't seen a 4-on-0 in hockey in a long time. His good play is a product of our team's good play."

Q. The Blues got the No. 4 seed and home-ice advantage, but even the late hot streak didn't create much separation from teams that were in or out of the playoffs.

A. "You're still only two wins away from being ninth. We ended up with 60 points and 55 missed the playoffs. It just shows the parity in the Western Conference and how many good teams there are."

Q. The Kings won the Stanley Cup championship last season as a No. 8 playoff seed. How do you see the Western Conference playoffs shaking out this spring?

A. "I think the only upset in the West is if Chicago losses and that's not a reflection on Minnesota, it's more a reflection on how Chicago has basically been a a dominant team from start to finish. Other than that I don't think there's any upsets in the West. I think it's very wide open."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or on Twitter @NormSanders

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