The St. Louis Blues are the hottest team in the NHL, having won six games in a row coming into tonight’s contest with the New Jersey Devils at the Scottrade Center. However, as KSDK’s Mike Poepping revealed in an excellent column yesterday, looks can be deceiving. Wins and losses govern the direction that a team’s season can take, but the underlying worries always exist. Are the Blues moving the puck? Are their special teams working well? Are the Blues scoring enough goals?
Sure, it’s nice to see Vladimir Tarsenko singlehandedly win two games in a row against the Rangers and Devils on the road, but not too hot to be playing such close games in a row. Hockey isn’t exactly a sport where blowouts are common, but the Blues are playing these games extremely close to the chest. Let’s take a look under the hood.
Are they scoring enough goals?
Small sample size alert. It’s 12 games. I get it so feel free to not point that out as I continue here. The Blues are ranked 24th in goals per game at 2.33. Taking into consideration that Paul Stastny and T.J. Oshie have missed a considerable amount of time, this can be viewed on a curve. However, guys like David Backes and Patrik Berglund(owner of a 3 million dollar contract) need to step up and pick up the slack for missing comrades. Without Tarasenko’s production, the record could be a little less than stellar. Going forward, the offensive zone time needs to be more sharp.
How is the power play doing?
The Blues rank 8th in the league with a 22.2 percent efficiency rating on the power play, which is pretty solid. Why do I have a feeling they aren’t as sharp as their stat infers? If you watched them on the power play the other night against New Jersey, you would think you were seeing a team fumble around in practice. The Blues couldn’t get set or put a decent shot on Cory Schneider in a pair of power plays early in the game. The Devils were able to choke away any chance of a clear path to the net. Stats tell me one thing and the eyes tell me another. Power play looks sharp but could be more consistent. Why is it bad? The Devils rank second to last in penalty killing.
Are they killing penalties?
The Blues are among the worst in the league in penalty kills, 24th in the league at 77 %. However, watching them the other night in New York and New Jersey, the unit looked a lot better. The Devils were never able to get set up in their own zone and the Blues forwards aren’t letting the defense sneak passes down in front of the net. Like the power play, the stats could be misleading because the past week, the Blues are looking better on the kill.
Are they getting enough shots on goal?
With an average of 31 shots per game, the Blues are 8th in the league. They are peppering the other team with shots and keeping the pucks centered towards the right areas of the ice. With the heavy amount of shots, it’s only a matter of time before the goals per game average starts to heat up.
The Blues are also very good with a lead. Their win percentage when leading after the 1st and 2nd periods are perfect. When they score first, they win. The defense can put a stranglehold on opposing teams and shut down the middle of the ice and control the blue on the ice. This was witnessed in New York and New Jersey. The Blues got a lead and started to control the tempo. While they weren’t exactly getting their fair share of shots on goal, their puck possession was strong. If the Blues get a lead, the chances are strong so far in 2014-15 that the victory is in hand.
The Blues have to work on certain areas. The odd man rushes from the opposing teams are way too frequent. That’s a poker game right there, with the Blues being the risky gambler throwing too many chips on the wrong side of the table. The defense is a strong suit of this team, especially 5 on 5, but there are some leaks being displayed. If those are shored up, the sky is the limit for this team.
If the Blues can win 6 in a row by close scores without their big producers coming through, imagine what happens when Stastny and Backes along with Jaden Schwartz start to lock in. Teams won’t be happy with a Blues team that is already built on speed and aggression.
The strongest suit of this team is the goaltending. Brian Elliott is anchoring the lead spot with Jake Allen getting his second consecutive start tonight after his shutout in New Jersey. He gets the same group tonight on his home ice. The kid’s confidence and aggressiveness in net is impressive, but for me it’s his ability to recognize a certain shot ad be ready for it. Elliott is shining in his first lead role job, at least to start a season. He waited and got it. The Blues goals allowed per game and shots allowed per game are strong due to the defensive front but the goalies are making big saves early and late. Allen sprawled out and made a key stop against the Devils along with other key picks. Together, the Blues have a formidable 1-2 punch in net. That is a very encouraging sign.
I don’t think the best Blues’ performance has occurred just yet. It is coming. Stastny returns tonight and the Blues gun for #7. Inside their winning streak, the Blues have went from 4th place in the division to 1st place.
What can they do when everything clicks? Just don’t tell the other teams the best is yet to come.
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