With all the Blues moves during the off-season to fortify their offense…acquiring the highest payroll in the NHL in the process…they started training camp with the same philosophy they employed under former coach Ken Hitchcock; to score first, possess the puck, and keep the opposition’s goals down. While the offense has been fortified, scoring the fourth most goals per game in the NHL, the defense and goaltending has been nothing short of awful.
The Blues have the second worst goals against average in the NHL at 3.92. The only team worse is Ottawa; a franchise that spent the summer showing themselves to be completely inept. What makes that goals against even more alarming is that the Blues are in the middle of the pack in the league, at nineteenth, in allowing 32.3 shots per game. So, Jake Allen’s save percentage is a horrific .879…which is 58th in the NHL. Including Chad Johnson, the Blues .882 save percentage is worst in the NHL.
It’s easy to put this on the defense…and it was especially easy early in the season…but according to NaturalStatTrick.com, the Blues have improved in the ranking of high danger chances against. Early in the season, they were in the bottom five. Through Sunday, their high danger chances against stood at 107, which was ninth best in the league.
We often talk about how a goalie must steal a game. Well, the Blues have the lowest save percentage against high danger shots at 72.2. They’ve allowed the most goals on high danger shots with 25…which is four more than the team with the next most. So, Jake isn’t stealing much. In eleven games this season, Allen has allowed fewer than three goals one time…in an impressive 4-1 win at Toronto on October 20. By comparison, the central division leading Predators have allowed less than three goals nine times in fourteen games.
The Blues have played the fewest games in the NHL’s western conference, but they need to turn things around quickly. They’re already six points behind Colorado and San Jose for the last wild card spot in the west. Because things can spiral downward so quickly, we’re all wondering what the Blues should do. Here are some ideas, in order of impact on the organization…
1) Bench Jay Bouwmeester. He’s a -7 so far, and just looks like he’s lost steps. His giveaways are inexcusable for a veteran player, and he’s a complete liability offensively. Bouwmeester was once an effective defensive defenseman, but injury and age have taken away his abilities. The Blues would be much better off sitting Bouwmeester and getting a younger set of legs into the defensive rotation.
2) Give Jordan Binnington some NHL minutes, and give Allen a break. I know it’s early for Allen’s break, but now is as good a time as any. Binnington has been hot with the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage. Ville Husso is 1-7 with a save percentage nearly as bad as Allen’s in the NHL. In five games, Binnington has a 1.78 GAA and a .941 save percentage. A 3rd round draft pick in 2011, the Blues might as well find out if Binnington has NHL ability. He can be as bad as Allen has, but not much worse.
3) Cut the minutes for Vladimir Tarasenko and Alex Pietrangelo. Those two are supposedly the Blues best forward and defenseman, respectively. Take the plus/minus statistic with a grain of salt, especially noting the goaltending situation described above, but only two players in the NHL have a worse plus/minus that Pietrangelo’s minus-9, and only five players (just one of those being a forward) have a worse plus/minus than Tarasenko’s minus-8. Patrick Maroon is also a minus-8, and he was relegated to the fourth line on Saturday. Pietrangelo leads the Blues in minutes played and is thirteenth in the league at 24:57 per game. Tarasenko is second among Blues forwards at 18:51 per game. Perhaps it would make sense to cut back on the minutes of Pietrangelo and Tarasenko and get more defensively conscious players more minutes.
4) Adapt the mantra “the future is now.” The Blues are going nowhere right now, correct? And they love their young players. Why not put together a line of Rob Thomas flanked by Robbie Fabbri and Zach Sanford? Let’s see what that youthful energy can do.
5) Blues players admit that they get outworked on a regular basis. They did again Saturday as they allowed 45 shots against Minnesota in a 5-1 loss. Unfortunately, that’s a direct reflection on their coach. As much as the players say they feel like Mike Yeo is the right guy for the job, they don’t respect him enough to try hard for him. It didn’t take long for the Kings to toss John Stevens overboard. The Blues (and Doug Armstrong) dumped Davis Payne after thirteen games in 2011. The Blackhawks fired Denis Savard four games into the 2009-2010 season. Three years ago, the Penguins fired Mike Johnston and won the Stanley Cup under Mike Sullivan. Seven years ago, the Kings fired Terry Murray and won a Cup with Darryl Sutter at the helm. Hockey disposes of coaches more quickly than any other sport. Everyone agrees that Blues players are physically gifted enough to win with. If they won’t respond to Yeo, then the franchise needs to have someone behind the bench that they respect enough (because clearly they don’t respect themselves) to show up and work for.
Nobody thought this season would start this way, but changes are necessary. If the Blues don’t make changes soon, they’re going to be on the outside of the playoffs looking in, and doing so with the highest payroll in the NHL.