ST. LOUIS -- Thirteen games in, another St. Louis Blues youth movement was foundering. Even after fortifying the roster with a smattering of seasoned playoff veterans, they were just 6-7.
Once and for all, the front office needed to know if it was on the right track hoping that a collection of high draft picks could make a run at the top tier of the NHL.
"We just had too many young players we weren't sure about," team president John Davidson said. "Somewhere along the line, you've got to rely on those guys. It was time to show us something."
In early November, the Blues replaced one of the youngest coaches in the league with the most experienced hand on the market. They've been an elite team since the day Ken Hitchcock, pushing 60, replaced 41-year-old Davis Payne and took charge.
A franchise that had missed the playoffs five of the previous six seasons was the first to qualify this season. The first to clinch its division, too.
The Blues had a shot at the President's Trophy and wound up second in the Western Conference despite a so-so finish. It's their first playoff berth since 2008-09, when they were a No. 6 seed and made a quick exit.
The offense lacks a bonafide scoring threat or a line that'll scare you, with only David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Alex Pietrangelo topping 50 points. So it relies instead on a relentless attacking style to wear down the opposition. Veterans Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner and Scott Nichol, all signed last summer, add seasoning.
What makes this team really click is the league's best goaltending tandem. Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak have combined for an NHL-record 15 shutouts, tying the mark set by the Chicago Blackhawks in 1969-70. Elliott leads the NHL with a 1.49 goals-against average and has nine of the shutouts. Halak, who had seven more starts than Elliott, was fifth in the league with a 1.97 goals-against average.
When the playoffs start, Hitchcock probably will have to choose between them.
"Don't go there," Hitchcock said. "I'll go there next week."
This is Hitchcock's sixth division champion and 10th playoff team in 15 seasons.