The Blues are off to an unexpected 2-0 start and already have the lead in the NHL Central Division. While there isn’t much to go on in terms of trends, here are five reasons the Blues were able to come out on top in their first couple of games…
1. Jake Allen: In two games, Allen has faced 73 shots and made 67 saves, and we can argue that he hasn’t allowed a goal that he’s had a chance on. It’s way too early to look at goalie stats, so that .918 save percentage and 2.87 GAA are irrelevant right now.
What does matter is the two wins. Against two of the most offensively talented teams in the NHL, Pittsburgh and Dallas, Allen has turned them away and given the Blues chances to win both games, and they have.
2. Defensemen scoring: One of the things Mike Yeo wants his defensemen to do is get more involved in the offensive end. Captain Alex Pietrangelo leads the team with eleven shots on goal, and only one NHL defensemen (Kris Letang of Pittsburgh) has more. Petro leads the Blues with two goals, but Colton Parayko, Joel Edmundson and Carl Gunnarsson each have goals too. In a league in which scoring from the blue line has become more prevalent and more important, the Blues are focusing on it and succeeding at it.
That’s a trend that, if maintained throughout the season, would provide the Blues a huge benefit. Especially with injuries to top-nine forwards Robby Fabbri, Alexander Steen and Patrik Berglund, the more scoring from the defense, the better.
3. Balance: Number one sniper Vladimir Tarasenko didn’t score a goal until he tallied the team’s ninth of the season, the clincher in a 4-2 win over Dallas on Saturday night. But he’s getting help. In addition to the five from the defense, Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Paul Stastny. The third line has yet to contribute offensively, but rookie Tage Thompson has shown some flashes of offense.
The worry with Fabbri out is that the offense will be concentrated exclusively on the first line. It looks like Schwartz, Schenn and Dmitrij Jaskin have some chemistry, and at some point that fourth line is going to contribute, too. The Blues are desperate for Schwartz and Schenn to play at a high level, and so far they have.
4. Kids not killing them: Vince Dunn wouldn’t be in St. Louis if Jay Bouwmeester was healthy, and Thompson wouldn’t be here if Fabbri, Steen, Zach Sanford OR Berglund were healthy. Despite the fact that they’ve been pressed into service before their scheduled ETA, both have been fine in the first two games. Neither has a point, but Thompson has had a couple of opportunities. And both are simplifying the game by concentrating on whey they need to do defensively.
When they can get to the dressing room after a game and ask themselves “did I do anything to cause my team to lose,” and answer no, they’re doing fine. The offense will come from both, but at this point, allowing Dunn and Thompson to concentrate on playing a simple game and focusing on defense is perfect for them.
5. Special teams: Once again, small sample size, but the Blues are 2-for-6 so far on the Power Play. Schenn, who was one of the best power play performers in the NHL last year, and been the same guy so far with the Blues. And on the PK, only three teams that have played two or more games have allowed fewer than the Blues six power plays against.
The Blues have allowed two power play goals, but one of those was a 5-on-3 where Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby scored (that’s going to happen), and the other was by Dallas in the third period on Saturday. If the Blues can keep that combined PP/PK percentage at a total of 110, they’ll be in great shape all season long.
It’s VERY early, but if the Blues can maintain the positives they’ve achieved in the first week of the season, this team has a chance to be better than many people, myself included, thought they would be.