The St. Louis Blues have kicked off their preseason, meaning the regular season is just around the corner. With that said, it’s important to lay some ground rules for what’s expected at each position.
Play to Your Strengths
St. Louis is now and has been a defense-first minded team. They work from the defensive zone out, but it always comes back to their own zone. That philosophy has allowed for the Blues to continuously have regular season success but has arguably hindered their postseason success to an extent.
Focusing a lot of energy on one zone of the ice is too much of a good thing. The Blues have their shutdown defense tactics engraved in their game, but that style of play sends offense to the back burner.
This season, the Blues will continue to utilize their signature defense-first system. The expectation, however, will be that they work harder to fortify their offensive game in the process.
The Blues have a lot of talent on the back-end, with players of all ages and experience levels. While that isn’t a luxury of every team in the league, it can cause some discrepancies in play.
St. Louis has transitioned a few key players from years past out of the organization in order to move in a new direction. Those changes are part of what makes hockey teams so fluid, but also make finding chemistry difficult.
The Blues will need to refocus themselves on the task at hand and simplify their game if they wish to find success. This is especially true considering Jake Allen is taking sole possession of the crease because his style of play is different than former Blues goaltender Brain Elliott’s.
In Game Four of the second round of the 2016 playoffs, St. Louis defender Joel Edmundson gave away a puck to Dallas’ Radek Faksa in the defensive zone. This play could have been entirely avoided if Edmundson had slowed down and communicated with his defensive partner or a forward in the neutral zone.
Those kind of changes are seemingly easy to make, but implementing them into 82 regular season games is a challenge. Still, it’s a goal the Blues can improve.
Whether it’s being aware of the goaltender’s tendencies, or simply making the right outlet pass, the Blues will need to execute with a high level of communication to start the season on the right foot.
While it hasn’t reared its ugly head just yet, the Blues need to be cognizant of the potential for injury on defense. Hockey is a physical sport with injuries occurring often. It’s up to the Blues’ defensive core to do everything they can to stay healthy.
With that said, accidents happen. In the inevitable case that a St. Louis defender goes down to injury, it falls on the depth players and possibly call-ups from the AHL to fill the void.
Last January alone the Blues had a time in which goaltender Jake Allen and defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarson were all injured.
Allen sustained a knee injury on Jan. 9 and was placed on the injured reserve until he returned to the line-up on Feb. 22. Bouwmeester and Gunnarson were unable to play because of upper-body injuries, but the defenders returned after missing fewer than five games each.
That small period of time goes to show how quickly a team’s health can change and that’s why depth is so important in hockey. More than that, it proves why having confidence in depth players is so vital to success in the NHL.
Still, the expectation of consistency needs to remain despite the injuries the Blues may sustain throughout the season. Even if they aren’t playing with their usual roster, it’s imperative that St. Louis overcomes their health issues to play their game.
St. Louis is a defensively strong team and playing to that strength is something that will only benefit them. That doesn’t, however, mean that they should neglect the offensive side of the game.
If the Blues can add a little bit more of an offensive presence to their traditionally defensive style of play, they just might surpass their expectations.