It will be a nice change of pace when the Blues say goodbye and good luck to the Arizona Coyotes and face off against a different opponent. I mean, even in the strange times we’re living in, it’s weird to play the same team seven straight times. But I’m over my grumpiness about all of that.
Starting Friday night the Blues begin a three-game road set at Arizona before getting on with the rest of their lives. And to me, this is a chance for the Blues to get back to winning hockey. And in limited action they’ve done well on the road this season, going 4-1. The only stinker was an 8-0 clubbing by Colorado in the Blues’ second game of the season.
Not only have the Blues gone 4-1 away from STL, they’ve outscored home opponents 15-7 at even strength. The Blues’ even-strength share of total goals scored in their road games — 68.1% — is the best of any NHL team. And the Blues’ even-strength save percentage on the road (.941) ranks second in the league.
The Blues are more ordinary (3-3-2) at Enterprise Center this season. That includes the 1-2-1 stretch of frustration against the Coyotes. The Blues’ even-strength share of goals at home (56.4%) ranks 12th in the league. Their home save percentage (.903) at even strength ranks 23rd.
And while the Blues’ special teams have been awful at just about any venue, they’ve played their best hockey on the road. It’s an attitude. And it’s characteristic of Craig Berube Hockey.
After Berube replaced the dismissed Mike Yeo on Nov. 19 of 2018, the Blues began a transformation of their team personality.
Under the tough new coach Berube the Blues went 15-6-5 in their final 26 regular-season road games for a road points percentage (.673) that ranked No. 3 in the league during that time. And that was just the warm up; the relentless Blues went 10-3 on the road in their crusade for the Stanley Cup.
Since the start of the 2019-20 campaign the Blues rank 5th in the NHL in road points percentage (.622) in regular-season road games.
I’d be surprised if the Blues failed to use the next three road games in Arizona to reset and recharge their season.
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>>> Speaking to the Chicago media via Zoom the other day, Cubs GM Jed Hoyer gave his opinion on the Cardinals’ acquisition of third baseman Nolan Arenado: “I do think they’re a really good team, and Arenado makes them better,” he said. “My experience in this game, I think chasing and reacting to teams’ moves is always a bad idea. You have to make the moves that you think are right and you can make. Reacting and doing those things, I feel like I sort of learned that in Boston, watching the Yankees. Every time they made a move, everyone asked, ‘How are we going to respond?’ You can’t operate that way. But yeah, listen, did the Cardinals get better by adding Arenado? He’s a great player and star. As far as the Cardinals getting him, it’s a bitter pill. They certainly got better.”
>>> C’mon, Eric Grubman. We already know you’re a weasel. But quit being a coward. My pal BenFred nailed it in his latest column.
>>> MLB.com listed the Cardinals’ potential infield-corner slugger Jordan Walker among the 30 big-league prospects “who could be stars by 2023.” And here’s why, according to the team of writers who assembled this list: “Walker showed some of the best power in the 2020 draft before the Cardinals selected him 21st overall and signed him for $2.9 million. He should have no trouble getting to it in the pro ranks, thanks to his easy bat speed and the tremendous leverage and projectable strength in his 6-foot-5 frame.”
>>> ESPN’s Jay Bilas was a guest on my 590 The Fan KFNS radio show the day after Mizzou got thumped at Ole Miss. He offered an assessment of the Tigers’ chances to make a run in the NCAA Tournament: “Well I think they’ll be hard to beat. But I don’t think they’re great defensively. I think they’re good on certain nights but they don’t rebound as well as they should, or as consistently as you would think with their personnel. They tend to put their opponents at the free throw line a little bit too much which really hurts them, and hurts every team. And they’re not a great shooting team. They do a good job of attacking the paint, getting paint touches and they get to the line pretty well, for the most part. But they don’t stretch you that much. They’ve got three, four guys that can knock threes down. But they don’t have the guy who is going to hit four or five a game consistently — or three in a game consistently that could go to four or five. But they can play in the second weekend if they play really well. But they could be out on the first weekend without blinking.”
Bilas continued: “A lot of it’s going to depend on what happens in their bracket. If you have a team you could play with (and win) in the first round, and then somebody falls down in your path. That’s usually how teams make runs — if somebody falls down their path. Because it’s not easy. I’ve always laughed when, at the end of the year, people say ‘Well it’s all about matchups.’ Well. OK, when we get the bracket we know what the matchups are, so how come nobody can tell who’s gonna win. Nobody knows who’s gonna win these things. When you’re dealing with one-and-out situations. Really the only thing you can count on is the teams that have the most pros are the most likely to advance past the first weekend. And then if they can get to the Elite Eight or something like that, it’s usually count the pros. Can somebody squeak through and make it? Of course they can. It happens and you’ve had the occasional mid-major do it. But if you’re going to win the whole thing you’d better have pros and, and I think it’s pretty easy to spot some of the teams that have pros and the ones who don’t.”
>>> Mike Hoffman seems to be finding his game. During the four-game home set against Arizona, the Blues forward had 3 goals and 12 shots on net. And when he was on the ice at 5 on 5, the Blues controlled 57.7% of the shots on goal. In his last six games Hoffman has 3 goals 2 assists and is a +5, with 23 shots on goal.
>>> In a conversation on my KFNS show, I asked Blues’ Director of Player Recruitment Keith Tkachuk about Hoffman’s play. “Big Walt,” who had 538 NHL goals, knows a thing or two about scoring.
“There’s an adjustment,” Tkachuk said. “Hoffman obviously is a streaky kind of player who was built for offense. A perimeter type shooter. But we play a different style here. You look at our star players, our top players. (Ryan) O’Reilly, (David) Perron, (Braden) Schenn, (Jaden) Schwartz. These guys play hard on the inside. Hoffman’s going to have to figure that out if he wants to play under the Berube style. We know he can shoot, there’s no question about that. But the style that won us a Stanley Cup was hard-nosed hockey, and a combination with skill. There’s no doubt in my mind if he can do those things, he can score in those areas. Because he’s going to get the puck from great centermen. And he’s got a lot to play for, going into next year being an unrestricted free agent. He’s a goal-scorer and a game-breaker and I think he’ll do that.”
>>> The Cardinals made a decent depth pickup Friday by acquiring catcher Ali Sanchez, 24, from the Mets in exchange for cash considerations. Sanchez has only had 10 MLB plate appearances, all in 2020. But he’s rated above-average defensively and has a caught-stealing rate of 44% in six minor-league seasons. As a hitter Sanchez makes excellent contact but doesn’t hit the ball hard or far. His 14% strikeout rate in the minors is impressively low, but a career .330 minor-league slugging percentage is abysmal. The Cardinals have Andrew Knizner as the No. 2 catcher behind Yadier Molina but Knizner is still a work in progress defensively. If nothing else, Sanchez could provide quality defense should the Cardinals have a problem with an injury to Molina or Knizner. And who knows? Knizner doesn’t figure to play much if Molina remains healthy. The Cardinals may want to get Knizner some at-bats in Triple A Memphis. And Knizner does have one minor-league option remaining. And: taxi-squad! Teams must carry three catchers, with one designated as a taxi-squad guy. Here he is.
>>> Back to Keith Tkachuk: I asked him about the Blues and Berube Hockey. They’ve gotten away from playing to their core strength on a consistent basis and must improve. Going into the weekend the Blues already have played 23 percent of their 56-game regular season schedule.
“Chief is an emotional guy. That’s the way he played, and he played a hard game,” Tkachuk said. “I think the problem with any coach in this league is, you can’t afford to have a bad week or two weeks or three weeks. It’s a shortened season so things can really crumble quickly, and then you can be out of the playoffs. There’s a lot of stressful times right now to make sure we get a little bit better.
“But I think we’ve played better, as we’ve shown on the road, for whatever reason. It just feels like we play simple hockey, and we get the best of all four lines. You look at the Cup-winning team. The unsung heroes were Ivan Barbashev, (Alex) Steen and (Oskar) Sundqvist. Those guys played a direct, hard game and they found ways to produce as well. So we just need a little more of less-fancy plays.
“I like the way the Schwartz, Schenn and (Jordan) Kyrou line have played this year. As a whole we just need more. We have the players that can do it, and there’s no doubt we can do it. I’m not really worried about that, but I understand Chiefs’s frustration at times. Because there’s no wiggle room to have a bad two weeks. You can’t do it.”
>>> More praise for rookie Cards outfielder Dylan Carlson, this time from Jim Bowden at The Athletic: “Carlson will be my pick for NL rookie position player of the year in 2021. I absolutely love this kid and his potential,” … Bowden pointed out three positive indicators in Carlson’s offensive profile: “He had an average exit velocity of 87.4 mph, a hard-hit percentage of 32.1 and a sweet-spot percentage of 40.8. Those numbers clearly show his potential.”
>>> When defenseman Torey Krug is paired with Justin Faulk, the Blues have outscored opponents 8-0 this season at 5v5. In the 100+ minutes of 5v5 time with the Faulk-Krug pairing on the ice, the Blues have 57.4% of the shots, 60% of the scoring chances and 59% of the high-danger shots. The pairing of Krug and Colton Parayko isn’t nearly as effective, and here’s a hint: it ain’t because of Krug.
>>> Krug will get better on the power play; he needs to be more aggressive by shooting more frequently. But Blues GM Doug Armstrong told me that he thinks Krug is pressing — which is hardly unusual when a high-profile player signs a big free-agent contract and switches teams.
“He’s trying to find his footing,” Armstrong said. “I think he’s probably putting — easy for me to say — too much pressure on himself. But he’s going to be here for a long time and we’re excited. If we can just get the power play going I think everyone’s going to breathe a little bit easier, and he’ll be the first one. When you come to a new team and you want to have success and the one area where you’re very confident in having success, you’re probably putting too much pressure on. He’s putting way too much pressure on himself than we are. He’s a helluva player and we know our power play is going to get on track and he’ll be a big part of it.
“I was talking to him a little today and the one thing is, if he wasn’t so upset then I would be upset. He genuinely cares and he wants to do well and he knows he’s going to do well. That’s just the type of character guy that he is. He wants to be a difference maker for our team. No matter how many times you say don’t worry about it — that’s what makes these guys elite athletes, because they do.”
Krug has a goal and 7 assists so far this season with a handsome +11.
>>> When Faulk is on the ice this season at 5v5 with any partner, the Blues have outscored opponents 18-4 and have a 55.4% of the shot attempts. When Krug is out there at 5v% (with any partner) the Blues have outscored opponents 15-7 and have 54.4% of the shot attempts. When Parayko is on the ice at 5v5, the Blues have only a 44.4% share of shot attempts and have a one-goal margin (10-9) over opponents.
Thanks for reading and have a wonderful weekend…
Please check out Bernie’s sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and on Friday from 4-6 p.m. Or listen to the show or the show podcast online at 590thefan.com … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.