The St. Louis Blues had a disappointing 2017-18 season as they missed the playoffs by just a single point. Despite ranking near the top of the league in defensive stats, the Blues had a series of issues that cost them a playoff spot. This year, in order for them to be successful and get back into the postseason, they will need to start, stop and repeat the following.
Start Scoring Power-Play Goals
The Blues need to start scoring more goals, especially on the power play. Last season, they finished with the second-worst power-play percentage in the league at just 15.4 percent, just 0.8 percent better than the last place Edmonton Oilers. Part of being a good team is taking advantage and capitalizing on your chances and the Blues did not do that well enough.
There are a ton of options for head coach Mike Yeo to use on the top power-play unit. He could stick with the familiar faces of Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Steen and Alex Pietrangelo to start the season, but he will likely replace Steen with newcomer Ryan O’Reilly.
Putting O’Reilly on the first unit could be the boost the power play needs as he scored 15 of his 24 goals on the man advantage last season with the Buffalo Sabres. Schwartz was also effective with 11 points but could be replaced by the ultimate playmaker, David Perron, who had 18 power-play points last year. Robby Fabbri could be another option for the top power-play unit along with Patrick Marron, Vince Dunn and Colton Parayko.
— NHL (@NHL) August 29, 2018
The Blues’ second unit could consist of Schwartz and/or Perron, with Tyler Bozak, Robert Thomas, Parayko and Steen. Thomas, who has a very good chance to make the Blues this year, could earn time on the second unit as he is a natural playmaker with excellent vision, who could run a power play from the half-wall. Regardless of how Yeo draws it up, the Blues can still plug in Fabbri, Maroon and Dunn, which gives them a ton of depth.
Start Getting Secondary Scoring
Last season the Blues struggled with their secondary scoring. The absence of Fabbri did not help but last year, but the team’s three main scorers were on the first line. The Blues scored 226 goals for, and the top line of Schwartz, Scheen and Tarasenko combined for 85 of them (37 percent). Sure, you want your top line to be the primary scorers but good teams get support from the rest of their nine forwards and the Blues simply did not get that.
The secondary scorers were Steen, Paul Stastny, Patrik Berglund, Kyle Brodziak and Vladimir Sobotka. Although they each tallied at least 10 goals, none of them reached 20 goals and only Berglund mustered more than 15 goals. This summer, general manager Doug Armstrong made it his priority to improve the Blues’ secondary scoring and got rid of four of the five players mentioned above while adding a group of scorers to compliment Schenn, Tarasenko and Schwartz.
The additions of Bozak, who had 11 goals last season, Marron, who had 17, O’Reilly, who had 24 and Perron, who had 16, gives the Blues a considerable upgrade to their depth scoring. Plus, the return of Fabbri, a bounce-back season from Ivan Barbashev and prospects like Jordan Kyrou, Thomas and Samuel Blais could give the Blues a ton of scoring options this season.
Stop Giving Points Away to the Central Division
In order for the Blues to be successful this year, they will need to stop giving away points to teams in their own division. In fairness, the Central Division was a powerhouse last year with the Winnipeg Jets, Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars, but in order to be a playoff team, you need to beat and take points away from your division rivals.
The Blues won just 42 percent of their games against Central Division teams and their overall record was 11-12-3, which is not good enough to get you into the playoffs. The Avalanche beat out the Blues by a single point to make the playoffs and their record against division rivals was a winning one at 13-10-3.
This season is not going to get any easier. Both the Jets and the Predators should be at the top again. The Wild and the Stars should be playoff teams, the Avalanche is young and coming off of a great season and you still have the Chicago Blackhawks, who could have a bounce-back season. That said, the Blues improved the most within the division, so they should be primed for success. Even Joel Edmundson thinks the Blues are a top-tier team:
“We think we’re top-five in the NHL right now….We want to come into camp and from camp on, we want to be one of the top teams in the league. We were middle of the pack last season, but with the team we have and the confidence we have, we’re excited to come to camp with a new team, new look.”
If the Blues can get their win total above 50 percent against Central Division teams, they should be in a good position to get back into the playoffs.
Repeat Last Season’s Defensive Performance
The Blues’ defence was a bright spot last season. They ranked sixth in the NHL in goals-against per game and also ranked third in shots-against per game. Management made no changes to their defensive core this offseason which shows that they are content with what they have.
The Blues have an incredibly strong and deep defensive core with Pietrangelo, Edmundson, Paryako, Dunn, a hopefully healthy Jay Bouwmeester and Robert Bortuzzo. They also have veteran Carl Gunnarsson and prospects Jordan Schmaltz, who does not have a contract, and Jake Walman as backup options.
Furthermore, adding, arguably, one of the best face-off and two-way centres in the league in O’Reilly and a trusted two-way centre in Bozak should also help the Blues’ possession numbers and overall defensive play. Last but not least, they will rely on Jake Allen to again be solid between the pipes; he is the key to their success but the Blues’ defensive core has all the tools to return to the top 10.