St. Louis Blues Must Be Quicker, Not Necessarily Faster

St. Louis BluesMandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
St. Louis BluesMandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

Just about any time the St. Louis Blues have been knocked out of the playoffs, particularly in 2016 and 2021, the immediate reaction is that they have to get faster. The overreaction is that the league has passed them by and they are trying to play a bygone way with players who are not athletic enough to compete in today’s game.

Funny how that works when convenient, but not other times. Nobody accused the Los Angeles Kings of winning two Stanley Cups with speed.

After a disappointing loss in the conference final in 2016, just about everyone said the Blues had to get faster to stay competitive. Then, they won with brute force and dogged determination instead of speed in 2019.

Sports are not one way or the highway. Not every college football team could win with a wishbone, option style like Nebraska did for so many years. They had the defense to do it.

Similarly, not every NFL team could win by spreading out four wide receivers and also having a running back as a catching option like the 1999-00 St. Louis Rams. They had the weapons to make that work.

You figure out what your players will do best and give them every opportunity to do that at their best. You don’t try to fit square pegs into round holes.

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There is no doubt that the Blues need some upgrades. They need to add another scorer and if they could balance out their defensive and offensive abilities on the blue line, they’ll be good.

Looking purely for speed really doesn’t accomplish much. It is an easy thing to point a finger at, but not the real problem.

When the Blues added Brayden Schenn and Ryan O’Reilly, they didn’t pick up that much speed. They picked up talent and will.

When St. Louis essentially swapped Justin Faulk and Torey Krug in for Joel Edmundson and Alex Pietrangelo, you could argue they did add speed. It did not automatically make the team better right away though.

Watching the Vegas Golden Knights series against the Colorado Avalanche made me realize what the Blues need and it does not mean they need a roster overhaul or 10 younger players. They need to get quicker, not faster.

I can sense the puzzled looks on the other end of the internet. This is a bit of semantics, but it’s true and makes sense.

When talking about being fast, we discuss speed. Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid and Johnny Gaudreau have speed. Jordan Kyrou has speed on the Blues right now.

Speed doesn’t automatically mean good. Nail Yakupov had plenty of speed and made the Blues faster in his brief stint in St. Louis. He lacked the ability to play quickly though.

The 2020-21 Blues, and the 2020 playoff version of the team, lacked any ability to play quickly. They have to find that ability again.

When you look at the makeup of the team from 2017-18 to 2018-19, there was not that much difference. Adding O’Reilly made a huge impact, but not for speed. What he provided was confident play, which makes fast decisions, which leads to quicker play.

Even when Ken Hitchcock was the head coach, he repeatedly stated that the Blues look fast when they play smart. At their heaviest and slowest, the Blues could compete with anyone because they were making quick, smart decisions.

For those that watched the Golden Knights against the Avalanche, what you was was pass after pass to the right spot (at least close) and the puck was constantly moving because players were making quick decisions and going. The 2021 Blues will be remembered for their hesitation.

It was not so much they were slow, but a lack of confidence and tons of hesitation made them slow. It would be impossible to count how many times they tried to circle behind their own net, wait five to 10 seconds and then try to get out of the zone.

You can barely get away with that in the regular season. Winning teams, unless they’re ahead by a couple goals, don’t play that way in the playoffs.

The Blues invited forechecking pressure against them because they were not organized and did everything at a plodding, methodical pace.

The injuries played a part in team chemistry, not allowing players to have a sixth sense of where teammates might be. Even then, the inability to break past pressure was due to hesitation and a lack of keeping feet moving rather than lacking speed.

In the playoffs, even a burner like MacKinnon cannot simply start from a still position and blow by players. He gets by guys because he’s already one of the fastest skaters and he continues to move and get open and look three of four moves ahead.

St. Louis could have four or five guys with that kind of speed, but it would not matter due to the way the team played for much of 2021. They were not seeing the game ahead of time, so it was all reactionary. That puts you on your heels and negates any speed you might have.

The same theory actually applies to the Blues power play problems too. If you look at some of the best power plays in the league, they’re not skating faster or even necessarily have better players. They’re moving their feet and making quick, decisive passes, which makes everything look faster.

If St. Louis can restore its confidence and regain some swagger, they will immediately look faster, even if they don’t add a pure skater in the offseason. Whether it’s on the power play or just breaking out of their own zone, they need to be quicker, both with consistent footwork and decisions.

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The ability to get up ice and around defenders will come due to their strength and determination, as long as they are playing quick. Being fast doesn’t make up for being foolish.