Five Minutes For Scribing:
In Wednesday’s 3-2 victory at Anaheim, the Blues reaffirmed the significance of the power play.
As you know, all three St. Louis goals came on the PP. And while power-play goals are always helpful, the Blues really needed this eruption.
After controlling play for much of the first 20 minutes, the Blues were badly outplayed by the Ducks at even strength over the final two periods.
When at even strength during the second and third periods, the Blues were outscored 2-0, had only 35% of the overall shot attempts, 40.6% of the shots on goal, 38% of the scoring chances and 35% of the high-danger shots.
“I didn’t think that we were great with the puck tonight,” coach Craig Berube said via Zoom postgame. “I thought that Anaheim probably had the puck more than us at times. We had some good o-zone time, but not enough, not consistently enough. We had to be good defensively because they had the puck a lot.”
If the Blues power play didn’t show up, this would have been a nauseous night — a loss to an Anaheim team that’s 6-12-5 and ranked 29th among the 31 NHL teams in points percentage (..370.)
Thankfully for the Blues (13-8-2) their dormant power play materialized instantaneously and was easily the No. 1 reason for the Blues’ third straight victory.
In their first 21 games the Blues had only 8 power play goals in 64 setups for a hideous success rate of 12.5 percent.
In two wins at Anaheim this week, the Blues scored half as many PP goals (converting 4 of 6 chances) as they’d scored during their first 21.
Sanford scored on the power play in Monday’s 5-4 win. On Wednesday the PP goals came from Oskar Sundqvist, Brayden Schenn and Sanford, with defenseman Torey Krug assisting on two of the scores.
How important is the success or failure of the Blues’ power play?
— This season the Blues are 8-0-1 overall when they score at least one PP goal in a game.
— With no PP goals in a game, the Blues are 5-8-1.
— Blues at home: 2-0-1 with a PP goal; 2-6-1 with no PP goal.
— Blues on the road: 6-0 with a PP goal; 3-2 without one.
Not that this is a surprise for the Blues — or any NHL team for that matter.
In the previous two seasons the Blues had a 48-16-2 record when scoring a power play goal in a game. When failing to bag a PP goal the record wasn’t bad — 39-31-7 — but not nearly as good.
The 2018-19 and 2019-20 Blues teams had a stronger foundation to lean on. They didn’t have to be lethal on the power play. They weren’t ripped apart by a cruel blast of multiple, critical injuries. (This one is.)
The previous two Blues teams were burly and sturdy at 5-on-5 play. They had heavyweights to seize control of the space in front of the net. This year’s team isn’t as rugged at 5-on-5, and struggles to own the high-danger areas. It’s more middleweight than heavy.
And while the Blues’ depth has suffered serious erosion because of injuries, they can put plenty of talented and healthy players on the ice for the power play: forwards Ryan O’Reilly, Schenn, David Perron, Mike Hoffman, Jordan Kyrou, Sundqvist — and, when he’s in the mood to compete, Zach Sanford. Plus defensemen Torey Krug, Vince Dunn and Justin Faulk.
The same applies to penalty killing; the Blues blanked Anaheim’s PP on all three opportunities last night.
Krug was an essential component in Boston’s successful power play. And his likely impact on the point was a significant part of the appeal when the Blues signed him to a 7-year, $45.5 million free-agent contract in early October.
The transition hasn’t been seamless.
When Krug contributed two power-play assists in Wednesday’s win, it matched his entire PP assist total from the first 22 games. Before this 3-2 victory, Krug had only one PP assist since the seventh game of the season (played Jan. 26.)
Here’s a look at Krug’s power-play rates in several categories — last season in Boston compared to this season in STL:
- Power play points per 60 minutes: 7.13 Boston, 4.55 STL.
- PP assists per 60: 6.62 Boston, 3.64 STL
- First assist on PP goals per 60: 4.07 Boston … 2.73 STL.
- PP shots per 60: 11.2 Boston, 7.3 STL.
- PP goals per 60: 0.51 Boston, 0.91 STL
As an ignitor on the Bruins power play last season, Krug had two goals and 26 assists in 61 games. In the Blues’ first 23 games Krug has 1 goal and 4 assists on the power play.
The Blues were more aggressive with their power-play approach in Wednesday’s three-goal splurge.
“I think it was just our attack mentality was a lot better, get the puck on and off your stick,” Krug said postgame via Zoom. “If we know where the puck’s going towards the net, then we can converge, that’s just been the key, just switching up our mentality a little bit. Nothing really X’s and O’s wise. No special plays or anything, just a mentality.”
Is this a breakthrough? Too soon to know. But the more assertive power-play philosophy seemed like the smart thing to do, the right thing to do. An unhealthy Blues team needs to have healthy power play.
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