The St. Louis Blues knew they had some good players on the blueline before the World Cup began. Now, given recent developments, the Blues have even more options back there.
With the NHL season within reach, most people thought they knew what the defensive pairings were going to be for the St. Louis Blues. Conventional thinking suggested they would be exactly what we saw to close the 2015-16 season.
The Blues allowed the third-fewest goals of any Western Conference playoff team. There seemed to be no reason to change things up.
The lineup helped carry the Blues all the way to the Western Conference Finals. How could you improve?
Well, players get older. Players show an ability to do something you had not expected.
Freedom to get creative depending on your opponent is always a plus. The Blues seem to have that freedom now.
Now we know he is versatile. Team Canada played him on the left side of the defense several times in the round robin portion of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
The Blues are now thinking about doing the same thing. The presents some very interesting combinations when you slide the pieces around.
Instead of the all but penned in combination of Jay Bouwmeester and Pietrangelo, the Blues now have a bevy of options if they follow through with Ken Hitchcock’s statement.
You can alter your combinations depending on your opponent. The Blues could also just run with a certain combination if it works.
Jay Bouwmeester has had a fine tournament with Team Canada thus far. His time on the ice has regularly been one of the highest on the team. He’s even contributed on the offensive end.
That’s all stuff the Blues want and need. However, it is one thing to do it over a handful of games and another over the course of a season.
Perhaps Bouwmeester uses this good form to have a great NHL season. Even if he does, we don’t know that he’s not a better fit with any other Blues defenseman because we have not seen him with anyone else much.
Colton Parayko had a great rookie campaign and seems poised to improve on it. Like Bouwmeester and Pietrangelo, he has had a great tournament, briefly leading the tournament in points when he had three assists.
Parayko is already looking like the complete package. He has great speed for his size, he’s got strength without being just a bruiser and if he can hone his shot, he’ll be feared around the league. Oh, he can stick handle like a forward too.
We’ve all seen what Kevin Shattenkirk can provide. His defensive skills lapse every now and then, but when he is on, he is a competitor and a great mover of the puck to escape the zone.
Options, options, who wants some options? The Blues apparently do if they really are considering taking Bouwmeester off the top line.
I won’t speak for Bouwmeester, but it shouldn’t be considered a demotion either. If you can move Pietrangelo to the left and bump up Shattenkirk or Parayko, there’s no reason not to do it, if they click.
Bouwmeester and Pietrangelo are both good players, but their strengths and weaknesses are too close. They don’t help each other out in ways to cover the other’s bad plays.
Both are quick north and south, but a bit flat footed around the net at times. Both are good in-zone offensively, but don’t always make the stretch pass on a dime.
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You put Parayko with Pietrangelo and suddenly, the offense opens up for Petro. Parayko will handle more of the physical stuff and is quick enough to make up for any mistakes by his partner.
Shattenkirk also presents favorable yin/yang to Pietrangelo. He’s better as a pure passer. He’s a bit faster too, so can get back to cover if Pietrangelo gets caught up.
Shattenkirk has some defensive miscues, but Pietrangelo is a good enough defender to make up for those too.
Additionally, it presents good options for Bouwmeester as a second pairing defenseman. The puck moving ability of a Bouwmeester/Shattenkirk combo is potentially fantastic. Or, Parayko gives you the big bomber on the point to accent the passer in Bouwmeester.
Time will tell. It would be a shame to let your third defensive pairing dictate who you have paired together with the top four though.
None of this is to say Bouwmeester might not still be with Pietrangelo some of the time. If you can cause your opponent mismatches with certain pairings for certain games, it would be silly not to at least try.
Hitchcock has prided himself on being open to new things. Fans may debate whether he follows through on that premise, but he says he is always learning as a coach.
He needs to try this. Not just for a preseason game and not just for a week or two.
The Blues need to see if these sorts of combinations will work going forward. A team that knows how to play with everyone is much harder to defend and/or attack against.