Any time there is change within an organization, especially on the roster, it takes time for players to adjust. However, if the old saying is these aren’t your father’s St. Louis Blues, that would only apply if you are two years old.
While only three games into the 2021 NHL season, this Blues squad is monumentally different than the last two years when it comes to the defensive aspect of the game. There have been roster changes, but that’s not a good enough excuse.
There is no doubt that the Blues lost a good amount of defensive prowess this offseason. Say what you will about Alex Pietrangelo, but he was a well-rounded player.
Pietrangelo ate up high-intensity minutes and was often paired against the opponents’ best scorers. There were always detractors on the internet, but when you’re playing against the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid or Patrick Kane on a nightly basis, you’re going to get beaten. The difference was we did not notice how many times Pietrangelo thwarted their offense because he made the small plays that just added up over the course of a game and a season.
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The same can be said of Jay Bouwmeester. Big Bouw was the whipping boy of the online community for years. Even when he was injured and not 100%, we can now see what a void he left from a defensive aspect.
Bouwmeester was not a rock you in the corner and leave you seeing stars defender. He had good positioning and a long reach, which denied countless numbers of passes. That’s not sexy and when you don’t have the highlight plays, it’s easy to only focus on the times he was out of position.
Now, we are seeing what the Blues are missing with those two gone. Even when they were split up, the Blues still had at least one shut-down pair of defenders, whether it was Petro with Bouwmeester or Bouwmeester with Colton Parayko.
St. Louis lacks that true shut-down pair with their current combinations. As discussed on the 101 ESPN pregame show, it would not be surprising if the Blues put Parayko back with Marco Scandella for the high powered offensive opponents, simply because those two defended quite well in 2020.
Regardless of who is playing with whom, or who is gone from the lineup, the problems the Blues are currently having just make no sense. It’s more being unaware of your surroundings rather than anything else.
The Blues became much more offensive minded on the blue line with the addition of Torey Krug and Justin Faulk. In 2021, the offensive jump from defenders has not really factored into the defensive issues.
It would be one thing if you could say the defenders were leaving the zone too early and getting caught up ice. That has not been the case on the majority of goals the Blues have given up.
A lot of it is getting caught puck watching. The Blues have left the back door open far too often, whether they got scored on or not.
Making matters worse the vast majority of goals St. Louis has conceded have been while short handed. It is harder to defend while down a man, but your sole focus is defending. Players are not worried about the transition game, so the focus should only be on clogging open spaces and denying passes and shots.
The calls against the Blues, and many other teams, have been extremely weak thus far. The penalty kill will have to figure out how to defend if that continues to be the case.
The Blues have been scored on in seven of their last 10 penalty kills. They have the worst PK in the league.
Jordan Binnington has actually been quite good in his first three games. His stats look bad though because the defense is not helping him out as much as the Blues are used to.
Hopefully they will clean things up. It’s not a lack of grit because very few goals against have been dirty goals, where the Blues failed to sweep out a rebound.
St. Louis does need to get tougher on clearing the zone, but it’s still about zone awareness. You can’t have open players in the slot or the back door.
You won’t be able to get in everyone’s face. Players need to know who is around and find a way to be between them and the goal so shots are not so easy though.
It’s easy for fans to say as we sit at home and yell at our TV’s. 12 goals allowed in two games is just not good enough though. Even if you spread that out to 13 goals in three games, the average is just far too high.
Craig Berube cannot be happy and the players have to know they need to fix it. With little practice time, it will essentially become a mental thing where each individual will have to improve. Let’s hope they do. The Blues have lost some important players, but the ones left over are still better than what we have seen from this unit.