The St. Louis Blues are off to a fantastic start to 2017-18 if you only look at their record. However, there are some underlying issues that threaten to be cracks in the team’s foundation once the spring hits.
Nine games into the St. Louis Blues 2017-18 season, if you’d told anyone the team would be 6-2-1, they would be crazy not to take that. The record by itself is good enough, but the team is also in first place in a very tough division.
They have picked up points without some key injured players and kept a decent gap between them and the teams people expect to be good but have had slow starts. How much can we complain, really?
In terms of end result, we cannot complain too much without coming off as ungrateful or expecting too much. However, there are things bubbling under the surface that threaten the team’s long-term success this season.
One of the most notable things is the team’s black hole of a third line. It has been a dark void of nothingness in terms of production and just noticeable good play.
Some of that line’s problems are the injury issues. If you have a fully healthy lineup, some of the players currently on the third line would likely be healthy scratches sitting in the press box. Instead, they are playing night in and out.
If you have a healthier lineup, even the guys that stayed would be played with better players or in more comfortable situations. Instead, they are having to actually step up their game and, so far, that seems beyond them.
The fourth line shoulders some burden in this aspect too, but the third line is a really glaring absence of anything positive right now. The Blues are literally getting nothing from it.
A look at the stats bears out that statement. St. Louis currently has three points from their third line. Even if you want to cheat and include Vladimir Sobotka, you only have nine points from that line.
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You really can’t cheat in that aspect because at least five of Sobotka’s six points came on the second or first line, if memory serves. So, you’re back to three points in nine games (maybe even two).
Oskar Sundqvist finally got his first point with an assist on a strong move behind the net. Dmitrij Jaskin also has a helper, but with him going up and down between the second and third line it is hard to say he scored that assist with the third line. The lone goal comes from a tap-in by Magnus Paajarvi on that Sundqvist move.
That is just not good enough. If you’re going to play those guys ahead of players with more potential, then they have to produce.
You cannot simply have postgame interviews with coaches saying they liked the intangibles or they liked this guy’s hustle. They have to be a threat to opponents to score.
Right now, the third line is the Carl Gunnarsson of forward lines. You often would not even know they had played if you did not hear the announcers say their name. Given how well he has played to start, that actually might be an unfair comparison for Gunnarsson.
Clearly, you cannot simply base everything on production. If that were the case, you’d have to be upset that Alexander Steen has no points in three games since he’s been playing with the team’s top line.
However, the third line just is not getting much done even away from the puck. All the third liners, except Jaskin who has moved up and down, are even or minus-players in plus/minus.
None of them have a positive offensive point share. They are all either negative or even when it comes to defensive point shares too. For those not as in tune with more analytical numbers, like myself, point shares are an estimate of the number of points contributed by a player’s offensive or defensive play.
To put things in perspective, Carter Hutton has a 0.7 total point share. Kyle Brodziak has a 0.2. Nobody from the third line is higher than 0.0 and many are negative. In simplest terms, that means they are more likely to contribute to the other team scoring than their own.
The Blues have other, perhaps more pressing items on their list. The power play is atrocious from a finishing perspective. The penalty kill has suddenly forgotten how to keep teams from scoring.
Overall, the team’s five-on-five play has been great. The even strength dominance made the Chicago Blackhawks look silly in their October 18 matchup. They simply must get more from this third line.
Nobody is asking these guys to transform into 30 goal scorers. 12-15 each would be fine.
Except that strong move that led to the assist, we’ve seen nothing from Sudqvist to make us believe he should be on this team. Paajarvi is Paajarvi and unfortunately he has not shown the energy we saw at the end of last season. The other winger has been a revolving door spot, but each of those players needs to find something.
Maybe Beau Bennett will show us something. Maybe he will be the answer. Right now he already seems to be the best from a potential perspective.
That’s not exactly saying much, but the bar has to be set somewhere. Hopefully St. Louis gets their full roster back to a point where they can comfortably roll out three or four lines.
They have to be an entire team. Otherwise, they are no different than a baseball team with two good hitters that you can just easily pitch around an entire game.