The St. Louis Blues are not playing clean, consistent, hard-nosed defense. We’ll get that statement out of the way before things get muddied and the message gets lost.
There is no doubt that this team could be doing more to keep pucks out of the net. The six players guarding the blue line have made mistakes and those mistakes sometimes end up in the back of the net.
However, over social media and even on professional talk radio, there is this narrative about how the Blues need to add a big, strong defender in the offseason. If the team does that, so be it, but it will not solve the problems they currently have.
Defense, in and of itself, is not the problem with the 2021 St. Louis Blues. You have problems with individuals, I certainly have problems with certain individuals on the blue line, but the fact is that defense is not the biggest issue.
The job of the defensive unit, as well as the goaltender, is to keep pucks out of their own net. It is true the Blues have allowed more than their share of goals, but as of April 23, they’ve allowed 139 goals.
The Washington Capitals have allowed more goals and sit in first place in their division. The Pittsburgh Penguins have only allowed six fewer goals than the Blues and they are 19 points better on the season. The reason is because they score goals.
Defense wins in the playoffs, but offense gets you through the regular season. The Nashville Predators have allowed 137 goals and they are in fourth place in their division, mainly because Dallas has not been consistent enough on either side to challenge them.
You can make the case both those teams are better than the Blues for points in the standings, but neither are better off in terms of the internal problems. If defense is so important, why does it not mean everything?
Arizona is a bad defensive team, allowing 150 goals to this point, but they’re above the Blues. The main reason for that is due to head-to-head games, but not because they’re better defensively or more phyiscal.
The Los Angeles Kings have allowed fewer goals than the Blues, so in this construct, they should be ahead of both the Blues and Coyotes. They are not.
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The problem is scoring. St. Louis has more talent than they’re showing, but we don’t want to blame the forwards because they try hard (or so we say).
We don’t want to call out guys like Brayden Schenn or Jaden Schwartz because they’re the heart and soul, according to so many. People do call out Vladimir Tarasenko, and he could do more, but the onus is put too much on his shoulders while giving other forwards a break. Few talk about Jordan Kyrou, but he’s fallen off the map since Tarasenko’s return and somehow that’s Tarasenko’s problem. Kyrou is a big boy and he needs to shoot the thing.
St. Louis is a blue collar town, even though it has its share of snobs. Maybe that’s the reason everyone whines about not having guys like Pat Maroon, Ryan Reaves and the like.
Those guys were great character players and their loss did leave a void. However, similar to the defensive issue, it’s all just a mask. The Blues don’t score enough goals.
If the playoffs began today and St. Louis got in based on points percentage, they would have the fewest goals scored out of any playoff team in the entire league. No matter how well your defense plays, you do have to outscore your opponents.
This idea that a big bodied defenseman will solve something is ludicrous. You can put both Scott Stevens and Zdeno Chara on this team to give it grit and size and they might have won two or three extra games. The problem would still remain that they don’t score enough.
On Twitter, someone made a point that a true-number one defenseman would help with zone exits. Clearing the puck is the problem, not just exiting your zone with possession.
As much, if not more, of that falls in the laps of the forwards. Zach Sanford’s inability to clear the puck from his zone cost the Blues a goal in the first period of their April 22 game against the Avalanche and almost another in the second.
Yes, the Blues are smaller now, but they should be shiftier and have more speed. Bringing back Joel Edmundson just to add 20 lbs to the lineup won’t help them clear the puck from their own corners because the players are panicking. It’s not that they aren’t winning the battles. More often than not, the Blues have the puck but they’re not getting it out. You can be 5’9 or 6’5 and it doesn’t matter if you’re not getting it over the blue line when you have to.
Again, the Blues could be cleaner on defense and maybe they should only have allowed 128 or 130 goals. When you’ve only scored 126, it does not matter. Not only are they not scoring, but they don’t shoot either. St. Louis has 71 fewer shots taken than the league average. Think about that.
Maybe a big defender kept out a few more goals, somehow, under this theory. What then?
In March, the Blues had 12 losses. They scored two or fewer goals in 10 of those games and one or fewer goals in seven.
You cannot win games 1-0 or 2-1 with consistency in today’s NHL.
Most Blues fans would concede that the Mike Hoffman experiment has not been a success. However, they ignore the fact that he’s currently tied for second on the team in goals scored with 13.
Couple that with Ryan O’Reilly, who is not a pure goal scorer, leading the team with 17 goals and you should have an indicator that offense is the problem. Yet, we talk about getting another defender.
Add all the defenders you want. Put Alex Pietrangelo on this team or have the entire 2018-19 squad back together.
If the offense was performing the exact same way as it is right now, the team would not be significantly better off. That’s the truth.