Today’s Blues Review is a quick-and-easy exercise in stating the obvious.
I can do it seven words: stay out of the damn penalty box.
When playing at even strength this season the Blues have outscored opponents by 13 goals. Their 37 even-ice goals are tied for most in the league. When an even-strength goal is scored in a Blues game, your favorite team owns it 61 percent of the time.
The same is true of the most definitive even-strength situation, the ol’ 5-on-5. The Blues have a 32-21 edge at 5v5; they’ve scored 60.3% of the goals. And only one team, Vancouver has more 5v5 goals (35) than the Blues. Then again, the Canucks have played three more games than the Blues, so…
The Blues’ special teams are an ice-cold muddle.
- Power play: 5 goals in 44 setups, a success rate of 11.36. That ranks 28th among the 31 teams.
- Penalty killing: The Blues have been burned for 17 goals by opponents in 56 power-play opportunities. That kill rate of 69.6% ranks 29th.
Add it all up, the Blues are a minus 12 in special-teams goals (five for, 17 against.) That would be their worst deficit since a preposterous minus 37 back in the 2006-2007 season. (That team allowed 83 PP goals … how did they manage to go 34-35-13?)
The 2021 Blues also have the league’s second-worst deficit in power-play chances, at minus 12. (Washington is minus 16.)
It isn’t so much about then Blues’ failure to get a decent number of power plays; their total of 44 opps is ninth-highest in the league. The problem is the jumbo number of PP for opponents; the Blues have played short-handed 56 times … the second-highest count in the league.
Too many penalties.
Too many stupid penalties … like delay of game … or being sent to the box for a mindless infraction to wipe out your own team’s power play.
Jaden Schwartz did that in Monday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Arizona (please go home!) Coyotes. His late high-stick nullified a Blues’ PP and eventually led to a game-tying Arizona goal with less than a second left in the third period.
In the four-game series of games vs. Arizona, the Blues went 1-2-1 in large part by flunking terribly on the power play, converting only 1 of 17. The Coyotes, meanwhile, pumped in five PP goals in 15 opps. Despite having more 5v5 shots on goal (54.3%) and scoring chances (53.8) over the four games, the Blues managed only two of a potential eight points in regulation.
The latest lapse in discipline left the Blues at 7-4-2 on the season, good for 16 points. It could be worse, of course. At least the 5v5 play is good enough (but inconsistent.)
“There were two penalties in the third period and we shouldn’t have taken either one,” Blues coach Craig Berube said, referring to Schwartz’s high stick and an idiotic cross-checking minor by Zach Sanford. “You’ve got to know the situation and you’ve got to be smarter there.”
The Blues squandered their fine (if not great) overall play. “Our guys battled hard tonight,” Berube said. “I thought that we played pretty well, controlled most of the game and really competed hard. Deserved to win, but you can’t make those mistakes like that with the penalties.”
I don’t think the Blues deserved to win. They’re doing some things well, but the special teams aren’t the only weakness so far this season.
The Blues don’t get enough high-danger scoring chances — defined as shots from the low slot, crease or rebounds in front.
After Berube replaced Mike Yeo in Nov. 2918, the Blues retooled their game and got much stronger in their possession time and close-range buzzing. From the start of Jan. 2019 until the end of the regular season, the Blues led the Western Conference in high-danger chances at 5v5. And they were third in the conference in high-danger goals.
Last season the Blues fell to 24th in high-danger chances (5v5) and were 25th in high-danger goals.
This season the Blues are 22nd in high-danger chances (5v5) but rank 7th in high-danger goals. According to hockey reference, the Blues are the league’s best team this season in the percentage of high-danger chances that are converted into goals. The problem, obviously, is a shortage of those sweet-spot chances. And it takes hard work and determination to get into those high-danger areas and fight for space and rebounds.
The awful special teams are glaring. But the Blues can do a better job of playing Berube Hockey. They aren’t soft. But they can be a lot harder in the most important patches of ice.
“I just don’t think we played well enough, played hard enough,” Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly said after Monday’s loss. “Again, we didn’t out-compete them. It’s embarrassing. We just lost three in a row at home to that team (and it) just sparked them to give them that much. Four not-so-great games. It’s very disappointing. It’s embarrassing.”
There’s still plenty of time to get it going.
But it’s about time to get going.
Thanks for reading…
Listen to Bernie’s sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS, Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. Listen to the show or the show podcast on 590thefan.com