The St. Louis Blues have been playing their brand of hockey so far this season. They have even topped league power rankings multiple times, and currently sit 5th overall in the 30 team show, mostly because of their 35 games played (versus 37 and 38 of others ahead of them). The overall team play the Notes exhibit game-in and game-out is the reason they sit 2nd in the Central Division, and why they are looking forward to a long playoff run. Here we look at 5 characteristics of this year’s team, and how they have contributed to Blues’ success in 2013.
This may be the single most important aspect contributing to the Blues’ team play successes so far this season. Crisp, tape-to-tape passing has led to increased scoring chances, and has given the Blues an advantage in almost every single game this year. The work with the puck has been great, but finding the open man and gaining more time, and a different angle, has generated some of the highest average scoring in Blues history, and has produced a ton of highlight reel goals (such as the video below from Saturday’s 6-0 win over Edmonton).
Defensive Zone Play
Evidence of this can also be seen in the beginning of the above video, but is regularly noted throughout each game the Blues play. Their coverage does have some gaps, but the overall in-zone teamwork has been a major reason teams are finding it difficult to light the lamp against the Blues this season. Blocking shots, sacrificing the body for the play (and for the team), and a never give up attitude all underwrite the team’s philosophies which have led them to a 6th best goals against per game mark of 2.29. Making sure everyone stays accountable for their job in the defensive zone is no easy task, but top blueliner Alex Pietrangelo has been an effective communicator so far.
I would be remiss to overlook the play of St. Louis Blues goaltender’s Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott while speaking about the stellar defensive zone team play. So far the tandem has looked more like the Jenning’s Trophy version of themselves, stopping high quality shots in all situations so far this year. Halak has been a great starter giving the chance to win every night, and Elliott has been able to come in hot as of late backstopping the team to a 3-0-1 record in his last 4 starts.
Overall Ice Awareness
This may be the secret ingredient in the Blues team play successes in 2013, but it is quickly overtaking the spotlight. The team’s awareness of what is going on around them has been a joy to watch so far, and it influences all of the categories listed here (obviously including this category named after it). The Blues have been able to find each other breaking through zones, and crossing passing lanes giving the team plenty of options to make the right play at the right time. The way the defensemen read the play as they break out of the zone is where it starts, but the forwards ability to continue the play is why the Blues have scored the second most goals in the league (122), and why they are averaging more goals per game than any team except division rival Chicago (the Blues average 3.49 goals/game, while Chicago averages 3.58). The bottom line is if you know where to put the puck before you get it, no defense can stand a chance.
The final piece to the Blues’ puzzle of success so far this season has been their relentless forecheck, and ability to put the puck in the net. In year’s past the Blues have generated chances in front, but have been unable to capitalize in key situations. Overall that problem seems to be one of the past as the Blues have created many highlight reel goals from outstanding forechecking in the offensive zone, translating to a lot of different players finding the back of the net. The balanced scoring has been a thing of beauty for fans this season, and comes as a relief to the team’s skeptics. The Blues team play truly shines through when you look at their stats, with 13 players over 10 points, 9 over 20, and 3 who already have more than 30. With numbers like this it’s no wonder the team has such a great record (24-7-4).
The bottom line is that the Blues’ team play has generated more goals, more defense, and more points in the standings than most years past. This is a trend that the Blues will look forward to continuing post Christmas, and why the organization is already excited for the playoffs. Speaking of the organization and Christmas, here’s a great greeting from the Blues just in time for this holiday season.
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) December 17, 2013
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Mike has covered the St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning in depth for The Hockey Writers since 2013. He is also a contributing writer for KSDK News Channel 5, the St. Louis area NBC affiliate, and has been a credentialed media member of the Blues since 2014. Follow him on Twitter @pep30.