After their dismal and disappointing effort against the Arizona Coyotes in a 5-2 loss at Scottrade Center on Saturday night, St. Louis Blues head coach Mike Yeo decided to put his players through an extra-strenuous workout the next morning. In a scene reminiscent of the film Miracle featuring Kurt Russell as the late 1980 US Olympic Gold Medal coach Herb Brooks, Yeo ran the boys ragged with the notorious “bag skate”. It’s a torturous exercise and is essentially the hockey equivalent of running wind sprints in track. The move apparently paid dividends for the time being as the Blues responded with a solid all-around effort on Tuesday in a 3-0 shutout win over the visiting Ottawa Senators.
More Needed From the St. Louis Blues Role Players
Even though the rebound victory provided a most welcome result, it is worth noting that two of the three Blues tallies came from their top two forwards, Vladimir Tarasenko and Brayden Schenn. Although it’s always good to see a team’s top players deliver, it is also indicative of a trend that has been seen far too often with this team this season. It is imperative that the Blues obtain more secondary scoring if they hope to make any sort of serious playoff run this season.
Through Tuesday’s game and excepting goals from defensemen, the top three forwards (Tarasenko, Schenn and Jaden Schwartz) were responsible for 49% of the team’s goals. Add in the fact that Schwartz has been on the injury list with a broken ankle since December 10th and this statistic becomes even more telling. Skaters like Paul Stastny, Alexander Steen, Vladimir Sobotka, Patrick Berglund, Magnus Paajarvi, Oskar Sundqvist, and Dmitrij Jaskin have simply got to become more involved in the offence if this team is to have a chance to compete on a par with the rest of the teams in the Western Conference. Of the group mentioned, only Stastny has recorded double-digit goals with a total of 10. Through 30 appearances, third-line centre Sundqvist has netted a measly three assists and has yet to score his first goal as a Blue. It’s become apparent that depth at forward is not a strength this team possesses.
This lack of depth is exemplified no better than by the Blues woeful offensive numbers on the power play, currently ranked 27th out of 32 teams with a 15.2% conversion rate. Even the dreadful Coyotes are better than the Blues with the man advantage. Opposing teams know that if they shut down Tarasenko, Schenn and Schwartz, they have little to fear from the rest of the Blues power-play unit. Yeo has tried shaking up line combinations, changed breakout strategies and even placed Tarasenko as the point man with little to show for it. Moreover, the Blues got off to a hot start this year when they were getting more goals from their defensemen. This, too, has trailed off and so have the goals per game along with it. They must find a way to improve these numbers.
Barring a change in personnel, there are a few things that Yeo can try that might yield better results from the offence. Rookie Tage Thompson has looked good thus far but has some polish to add before he can become a significant contributor. Also, it would be good if Colton Parayko would shoot more often. He has an absolute cannon for a shot and it seems that good things often happen when he lets it go. Additionally, the Blues tend to stick to a perimeter attack with many shots coming from beyond the faceoff dots and outside the slot area. This makes for a “one-and-done” scenario all too frequently once the goalie makes the initial save. The Blues could likely capitalize on more rebounds and perhaps net a few more mucker-style goals if their forwards would crash the net more often.
The Blues continue the current homestand against their Central Division rivals, the streaking Colorado Avalanche, on Thursday night. They are entering the stretch run of the season where other Western Conference foes will be battling the Blues for playoff position and points will be at a premium. The competitive nature of the Western Conference is so intense that, if they don’t somehow find a way to get their role players to step up and start scoring a bigger share of goals, and soon, they may indeed find themselves on the outside looking in come April.
SAN JOSE, CA – MARCH 16: Patrik Berglund #21 of the St. Louis Blues looks on during the game against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on March 16, 2017, in San Jose, California. (Photo by Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images)