The St. Louis Blues are a team that has had their fair share of adversity this season. With rookie sensation Vladimir Tarasenko out of the lineup to be evaluated after suffering a hit to the head in Colorado, the Blues are in need of something to wake them up and help them get back on track. While Watching the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets it looked like the Blues could not make a single quality pass or capitalize on the many chances they had around the net. While those were some of the major issues, the Blues also managed to cough up the puck in their own zone more than once giving way to odd man rushes. So what do the Blues need to do going forward to keep winning games?
Last season many St. Louis Blues fans began to favor the play of Brian Elliott. Fans of the Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche watched as Elliott’s play was the best of his career, but they all knew what little St. Louis fans wanted to admit, it would come to an end. Elliott has been a streaky goalie in the past and once again showed that his play last season was most likely due to the excellent defensive play of the St. Louis Blues. While the Blues have had some great defense this season, during a rough patch for the note it seemed like the defense was waiting for the play to come to them and showed little to be happy about.
While the Blues defense seems to be mostly back in order there are still glaring holes in the St. Louis Blues game. So if the Blues want to keep winning games, they need big saves from netminder Jaroslav Halak. Since returning from injury, Halak has looked good in net, but has not been a superstar. If the defense can play around him well, look for Halak to be more than competent, just look at how the game ended on Saturday night to know the potential that Halak has:
David Perron is a very skilled player, but he has yet to be the player he can be. While so far he has managed to net six goals and seven assists this season, Perron looks like he is trying to do too much on his own. For the Blues to be a truly successful team, they are going to need Perron to be on top of his game and willing to move the puck to his teammates when they are open. If he tries to be fancy or do too much on a play, the defense will take full advantage of it as they have so far this season.
Crash the Net
The St. Louis Blues are a score by committee team, pure and simple. To beat any team in the league the team needs to throw everything they can on net and crash the net hard. When the Blues have won this season it has been because they are scoring. With big guys like Chris Stewart, David Backes, and even Ryan Reaves, the Blues need to get in front of the net and screen the netminder. When they have managed to do this, they score goals in key situations, just look at their poweplay numbers. It has been a long time since St. Louis had the best powerplay in the league.
The St. Louis Blues defense is great at stepping into plays and keeping the puck in the offensive zone, but far too often this season we have seen the blueliners take a step back and let the play move into the neutral zone creating odd man rushes the other way down the ice. Last season Coach Ken Hitchcock said that he thought the Blues allowed too many odd man rushes, but at that time they had the goaltending to make up for it. This season is a different story.
With Kevin Shattenkirk or Alex Pietrangelo on the ice the Blues seem to do a great job of keeping the puck in the offensive zone. The problem seems to be more with Kris Russell, Roman Polak, and Barret Jackman. These players have the tendency to step back and get into a defensive minded game rather than attacking the puck and fighting to keep it in the zone. While Polak and Jackman are both defensive defenseman, Russell has the speed and ability to step into the play and make something happen. When Russell first arrived in St. Louis he showed flashes of brilliance, but has not been the same all season. If the Blues want to capitalize on their size and strength they are going to need to go hard to work in the offensive zone and keep a strong forecheck going for a full 60 minutes.
The Blues have all of the pieces that they need on defense, but they need the veteran presence to step up and share some insight. The pick up of Wade Redden seemed like a good idea if for nothing but the chance for Redden to mentor Pietrangelo. The Blues need Redden and Jackman to talk to the younger guys and teach them how to maintain their composure. Ian Cole is the greenest of the Blues defenseman, but he has the ability to be an NHL guy. The veterans on this team really need to take him under their wing and give him the confidence that he needs to be on his game night in and night out. For some reason Ken Hitchcock and Doug Armstrong do not feel that Cole is ready for full time NHL Duty. Whatever that reason may be, it shows that the veterans are going to need to play their part in helping the youngster along. While I don’t think that they aren’t doing an okay job of this, I feel they could be doing more. One of the reasons this team is so great when they are playing well is the comradery off the ice. Look for Redden and Jackman to do just this though as the season moves on.
The bottom line for this St. Louis Blues team is pretty simple, they have all of the pieces in place to be one of the best teams in the league, but that takes a buy in from everyone on the ice. The confidence that the team had last year was due to them buying into Hitchcock’s method. The chemistry the team had was in place on the ice but was developed even more so off the ice. I believe that the Blues will make the playoffs this season, and while they may not be the Central Division champions again, they should be a tight unit by the time the offseason hits. Growing pains happen for all young teams and the Blues are learning how to lose and recover early in this season which should help them as the difficulty of the shortened season is only going to get more tasking.
Let’s hope the Blues can continue to be the team they are capable of being. Long Live the Note.
LET’S GO BLUES!