1. Score More Individual-Effort Goals
To have a realistic shot at a Cup, you need a few guys who can put the team on their back when things gets rough. Crashing the net, rebounds, grit, teamwork, etc. are all good and great. But, occasionally, you need a guy to just step up and be the hero. Like so:
In the playoffs against the Kings and the Blackhawks the last two years, the Blues were HORRIBLE at this. They had to “manufacture” goals, not score them. No one person stepped up to be the difference. Actually, that’s not entirely true. There was this:
Tarasenko ripped a laser from the top of the circle and tied the game in the waning seconds of regulation in Game 2. THAT IS HOW IT IS SUPPOSED TO WORK. You don’t have to get molested in front of the net searching for a rebound every time a goal is needed.
Unfortunately, Vladimir Tarasenko is probably one of only two Blues right now who are regularly capable of this type of play. T.J. Oshie, while he doesn’t have the same dynamite shot, can wine and dine his way around defenders and score from difficult angles and positions:
The Blues need more of this, consistently. Guys just have to score, on their own, without looking to anybody else. Whether it be a snap-shot from the circle, a one-timer ripped top-shelf, or a meticulous de-pantsing of a couple defenders and a goalie, I don’t care. Sometimes, a guy just has to put the team on his back and the game in his hands.
2. Consistent & Reliable Power Play Production
I hated this lazy defense of a terrible power play from Coach Hitchcock after the Blues were knocked out of the playoffs by the Blackhawks last season:
[Game 6] was tied going into the third period on the road. I don’t care what the score was, 1-1, 2-2, 4-4, doesn’t matter. . . . it’s tied and if you’re a road team, that’s exactly where you want it . . . Yeah we would have liked to score on the power play and we would have liked to be better and all that stuff, but at the end of the day, we made two big errors to give it to 3-1.
So, to paraphrase here, the lack of production on the power play wasn’t a problem, because the score was tied going into the third period, which is good enough on the road. Um, WTF? The Blues went 2 for 29 on the power play against the Blackhawks. That’s a 6.9 percent conversion rate. And with their entire season on the line, the Blues went 0 for 6 in Game 6, with ALL of those power plays coming in the first two periods.
That, my friends, is how you lose a hockey game. The Blues outplayed the Blackhawks, had 6 freaking power plays, and came away with nothing but a tie going into the third period. That is not good enough, Coach. Not nearly.
The Blues gotta get their act together on the power play this year. They hired Assistant Coach Muller to help address the problem. Let’s hope he does something, because the team had no answers last year.
3. Exert Constant Defensive Pressure
This still pisses me off:
What are you doing, Jackman!? Pressure the guy in your zone! Agh. No grudges. I must move on. I’m sure we won’t make that mistake again . . .
Dammit. Patrick Kane had a leisurely Sunday morning stroll through the offensive zone with the puck. That, in case you were wondering, was a mistake. You CANNOT give people time to make decisions with the puck in this league — especially guys like Kane — because they will burn you.
The lesson here is to make it as difficult as possible for the puck-carrier to make a play. He should face immediate and constant physical pressure, forcing him into a quick decision, with limited options available. He is far more likely to give the puck away or do something stupid with it.
Hitch picked up on this watching the better teams in the playoffs. He’s made high-tempo checking and defense a priority. Let’s hope the Blues pick up on it, too, because they’re not going anywhere in the postseason with pressure-free defending like this.
Jeff Herman is a Blues fan, hockey nut, fantasy guru, family man, and attorney. He lives and works in St. Louis.