Bernie on the Blues: With Craig Berube As Coach, The Blues Are Cracking Down On Home-Ice Invasions

The Blues have transformed themselves as a hockey team in a number of ways.

It’s a lengthy list, but let’s focus in on a couple of specific areas.

1. Home-ice advantage in regular-season play.

2. Premium-ice advantage in front of the net.

And coach Craig Berube has a lot to do with it. His emphasis on heavy hockey, cultivating depth, winning physical battles to control possession and pushing the offense closer to the goal have made the Blues a very difficult team to beat at Enterprise Center.

In Mike Yeo’s final season (2017-18) as coach, the Blues went 24-17 at home, ranking 19th in the NHL in points (48) on home ice. Early in 2018-2019 — before Yeo was sacked and replaced by Berube — the Blues had a losing record (5-6-1) at Enterprise Center. On several occasions The men of The Note got booed off their ice by disgusted fans.

In his final full season plus the first 11 home games last season, Yeo’s Blues had a 29-23-1 ledger at Enterprise Center.

Berube has changed the environment. Since he took over as coach the Blues have played 53 regular-season home games, and their record is a strong 36-13-4 for a .717 points-earned percentage that ranks first in the Western Conference and third overall.

This season the Blues are 17-4-3 at Enterprise Center for a .771 points percentage that ranks second overall and No. 1 in the West. On Wednesday evening the Blues will stalk the visiting Philadelphia Flyers with the opportunity to win a 10th consecutive home game for a new franchise record.

In winning nine straight home games the Blues have a plus-21 goal differential including a huge 27-11 edge in goals during 5-on-5 play.

This isn’t just a random hot streak.

It isn’t just the routine dominance of a defending Stanley Cup champion; that can never be expected. It must be earned.

This is a choice of style, a purposeful roster composition, and a consistent plan. The Blues are fearsome at home because they were designed to excel — and have the determination to carry it out.

The Blues are tough to budge on home ice, where they lead the NHL in home wins this season. If the Blues can clamp down on the Flyers, they’ll skate away with their first 5-0 home stand in franchise history.

Berube puts an emphasis on owning territory, especially in the money areas in front of the goal, the slot and the crease. The Blues keep trespassing to a minimum. They’ve made a habit of barging onto the opponent’s front doorstep. They are winning the space that matters most.

Here’s what I’m talking about — based on 5-on-5 play on home ice … with most of the statistics culled from Natural Stat Trick.

Since Berube became coach:

+ Among the 31 NHL teams the Blues have allowed the eighth fewest scoring chances on home ice.

+ The Blues have given up the second-lowest volume of high-danger scoring chances at home.

+ The Blues lead the NHL over this time in the percentage of scoring chances converted into goals at home (60%)

+ The Blues have 57-43 edge in scoring-chance percentage at home; that ranks fifth overall.

+ They’ve produced 60.2 percent of the high-danger-zone goals scored at Enterprise Center (5v5) over the last 53 regular-season games. That ranks third in the NHL.

+ A big part of this is goaltending; over their last 53 regular-season goals the Blues rank sixth in the league in high-danger save percentage at home (.851) at 5v5.

+ This season the Blues have the league’s No. 2 save percentage (.877) on high-danger shots at home.

This matters.

According to the Washington Post scoring is up again across the NHL this season, with teams collectively averaging 3.1 goals per game for the first time since 2005-06. And the improvement is taking place at even-strength scenarios.

Neil Greenberg of the WashPo writes that the percentage goals being scored via power play has dropped significantly in 2019-20.

In 2005-06, NHL teams scored one out of every three goals on the power play. This season teams have scored one out of every five goals on the power play. Or to put it another way: NHL teams averaged 1.0 PP goals per game in ‘05-06. This season, NHL squads are averaging 0.6 extra-man goals per contest.

More from Greenberg: “At even strength, teams are converting more than 18 percent of their scoring chances from the slot or the crease, the highest rate since 2008-09.”

With fewer penalties per game being called, coaches and players must find ways to generate more steam at even strength.

Teams, including St. Louis, are moving closer to the net. Through Tuesday the average distance of NHL goals scored was 24.5 feet. That’s the shortest average distance on goals scored since the 2013-2014 season.

Though the STL power play work is more than adequate — the Blues rank 5th in the NHL with a 22.1 success rate — Berube’s boys have adapted to become more formidable at 5-on-5. Not so much with their own scoring at 5-on-5; this is about the Blues’ combined superiority at both ends of the rink.

Scoring more doesn’t matter if you’re also conceding more goals. In the dangerous areas, the Blues are scoring enough — but also cracking down on the number of goals allowed.

“We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing,” Berube told reporters after Wednesday’s morning skate. “It doesn’t really change. We’ve been playing really good 200-foot hockey and defensively we’ve been solid at home and I think the north-south game at home, before we were playing too much of an east-west game at home compared to the road. But I think that’s changed and we’ve played the north-south game at home, and a more direct game at home, and the result of it is we’ve had more wins.”

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie