The Blues are all over the map, and I’m not referring to last week’s trip into Canadian territory.
The recent trend is … volatile.
There was the 6-2 home loss to Arizona, followed by a fine 4-2 win over visiting Pittsburgh.
The itinerary in Canada started with a 4-2 loss at Winnipeg, then an impressive 3-0 shutout of Calgary, and finally a pathetic 5-0 dunking by Vancouver.
This upset coach Craig Berube who is changing lines again. These maneuvers always get the locals excited. I don’t get it. This isn’t like Fred Shero thinking about breaking up the line of Reggie Leach, Bobby Clarke and Bill Barber when the Philadelphia Flyers were contending for Stanley Cups in the 1970s. Berube’s choices are limited. Really limited.
I said this on my radio show late last week: mixing the lines is akin to taking a bowl of M&Ms and separating the mini candy pucks by color. Why the hell does it matter? They’re all M&Ms and taste the same. The green M&Ms don’t have a different flavor than the red ones.
For the Blues, the shuffling of line assignments may produce a quick upturn for a bit – but won’t last. And that means more scrambling, more body exchanges, and more hyperventilating over the moves.
Changing the lines doesn’t mean much of anything unless the Blues change the way they’re playing hockey.
Their 3-3-1 record is actually pretty good considering the relative futility of this team’s performance in controlling the puck, and the shots, and the scoring chances at 5-on-5.
It’s really hard to win this way;
* The Blues are 32nd (last in the NHL) in percentage of total shot attempts.
* They are 32nd in the percentage (40%) of shots on goal.
* They’re 31st with a scoring-chance percentage of 42.14%.
* They’re 30th in the percentage of high-danger chances (43.1%) during their competitions.
* All of this adds up to an expected 5-on-5 goals-scored share of 42 percent – which ranks 31st.
* It’s no surprise to see the Blues wallowing with an average of 1.61 goals scored per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. That’s the fourth-worst production on the NHL circuit.
The good news – I suppose – is that the goaltending and general defending have shown improvement … but only to an extent. The inconsistency is troubling.
But for what it’s worth the Blues have the 12th lowest average of goals yielded per 60 minutes at 2.14. Goaltenders Jordan Binnington and Joel Hofer have combined for a .938 save percentage at 5-on-5; collectively that ranks ninth among the league’s 32 goaltending committees.
And while it’s true that the Blues have (slightly) reduced the number of high-danger shot attempts against them this season compared to last season – it doesn’t amount to that bowl of M&Ms.
Why? Because the new dance craze that’s sweeping through the NHL – The Zone Defense – has reduced high-danger shots in general. So far this season the Blues rank 24th in high-danger shot attempts against them per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. Last season they ranked 23rd in the same category. (The writer shrugs.)
Brandon Saad leads The Note with two goals.
Eleven other Blues are tied with one goal apiece including the recently enriched Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas.
(And I’m supposed to be displeased or disgusted with Jakub Vrana? When benching him becomes a local point of controversy, then your team is probably in for a long season. Sad.)
It’s damn difficult to score if you don’t have the puck, and that’s the No. 1 predicament facing the Blues.
Per NHL Edge, here’s how NHL Central teams are shaping up, in order, for the percentage of time spent in the offensive zone at even strength. The league average is 40.8 percent.
Colorado, 43.1 percent
St. Louis, 36.6%
The Blues’ offensive zone-time percentage also means they’re patrolling the defensive zone 44.4 percent of the time. They’ve occupied neutral-zone ice 19 percent of the time.
Anyway you want to look at that, the conclusion is obvious. The Blues are doing a poor job of hunting for goals, because the zone-time deficit is putting them at a huge disadvantage. In that context, a 3-3-1 start to the season is about as good as we can possibly expect.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
Stats used here were sourced from Natural Stat Trick, Evolving-Hockey, and Hockey Reference unless otherwise noted.