Let’s begin with some good news about your St. Louis Blues. As someone who breaks seasons down into segments as I do, after the first tenth of their season the Blues are in good shape.
I have several mileposts, with “mini seasons” of eight games (the Blues have played nine), twenty, which is the quarter pole, and 41, the halfway mark. A game into their second eight game segment of the season, the Blues have twelve points, with a record of 5-2-2, a .667 winning percentage. That’s good for second in the Central division and sixth in the NHL.
That winning percentage, by the way, is right in line with the Blues’ league-best .666 winning percentage since Ken Hitchcock took over Nov. 8, 2011.
One other fun fact about the Blues under Hitchcock; Jake Allen’s shutout of Los Angeles on Saturday was the team’s fifty-first in his five years. The Kings have the second most in that span with 49. And this year, the Blues are again doing a great job of keeping the puck out of their own net.
They have a 2.22 goals against average, which is sixth in the NHL, and Allen’s 1.83 GAA is seventh in the league.
Oh, and the penalty kill has allowed two goals in 33 shorthanded situations, so the defensive part of the game is locked down for the Blues.
Now, the bad news.
Despite having numerous highly regarded and highly paid offensive players, the Blues are just 23rd in the NHL with 2.44 goals per game. What’s more, after scoring eleven goals in their first three games, the Blues have scored eleven in their subsequent six games, five of which they scored just one.
As they embark on a road trip taking them to New York to face the Rangers Tuesday night and Dallas Thursday, the Blues have some individuals that need to pick up the pace. Like everyone.
After scoring four goals in the first four games, Vladimir Tarasenko hasn’t scored in the last five. Robby Fabbri, who had eighteen goals last season, and Jori Lehtera, who had nine, have both been shut out so far. Jaden Schwartz, who like Lehtera missed time early, scored his first of the season on Saturday. Paul Stastny has one goal in his last six games. David Perron has scored in one game, his hat trick in Calgary, through the last six. And newcomer Nail Yakupov has scored once in his last seven, just like Alexander Steen has.
While those numbers are concerning, they aren’t alarming.
We can assume that Tarasenko is going to turn it on and get to his usual vicinity of 40 goals. Fabbri turned it on in the second half last year, scoring just four goals in October and November. Lehtera suffered an early concussion that he’s still coming back from and Schwartz is rounding into form.
Steen has a track record to fall back on, so Hitchcock and the Blues must hope that Stastny, Perron and Yakupov will perform like the top six forwards they’re expected to be.
There’s no doubt the skill is there for the Blues to be better than 23rd in the league in scoring, even though last year they were fifteenth at 2.67. Hitchcock and his new coaching staff have implemented a new system that relies more on speed than weight, and before the season he said to ask him after twenty games whether or not it was working.
It worked for the first three games, and at least offensively it hasn’t for the last six. Hitchcock talks about the Blues being a team that is built to grab the lead and then smother the opposition. So far this year, the Blues have been outshot by 28 shots in 5-on-5 situations when leading. What they need to do, and they talk about it all the time, is play for sixty minutes. When they’re behind, they’ve outshot the opposition by twenty shots.
The other peripheral numbers are good. The Blues are ninth in the NHL in takeaways, they have the fewest giveaways in the league with just 47. Their overall special teams percentage of 113 (power play plus penalty kill) is well over the accepted 110 to be great. They hit the net with almost 53% of their shots, which is sixth in the league. But they’re 21st in shooting percentage at 7.04%. The top six teams in the NHL are all over eight percent. The Blues need their sharpshooters to start hitting their spots, and they’ll be OK.
This team is close to being great. Like last year, the concern is putting the biscuit in the basket. If Schwartz, Lehtera, Tarasenko, Stastny, Fabbri, Steen, and Yakupov start cooking offensively, the system and the team will be as good as any in the NHL.