The Blues were able to pull out a big win over a powerful Tampa Bay Lightning squad on Tuesday, but a larger problem still loomed. Though Robby Fabbri shined in his first game back from a concussion, and Jake Allen earned the shutout during a great overall team game, the Blues were still unable to convert on the power play. Over their last 5 games the Note only have 1 power play goal in 21 tries (4.8%), which is a real problem.
The Big Problem
It would be one thing if the Blues were getting set up in the offensive zone and had quality passes that led to some chances while up a man. It’s quite another thing to see a power play that looks lost on the ice, and like every player is trying to force plays and seem clueless as to a general game plan. Though there were glimpses of hope early this year with the man advantage, most of the opportunities have left fans wondering what’s going on. The Blues power play is currently t-23rd in the NHL at a measly 12.5%, and has only converted 4 times total (on 32 chances) throughout the 2015-16 season thus far.
Since it’s early in the year, and the Blues still have a very favorable record, obviously this isn’t the end of the world by any means. However if the coaches and players can’t figure something out soon games will inevitably slip from their fingers, and the playoff picture will get murky. Due to the Central Division being so packed with talent, every team needs to have success while up a man to stay in contention throughout the season.
It’s no secret that the Blues want to get Vladimir Tarasenko open so he can fire pucks past opposing goaltenders, but that being said, every team in the league also expects that. What gives Washington (and specifically Ovechkin) continued success on the power play year after year, is that they keep their feet and the puck moving to create time and space to get the biscuit to Ovi in a high scoring area, then let him do the rest (finish).
Right now the Blues are trying to get the puck to Tarasenko, but they are not keeping their feet moving and forcing opposing defenders to move out of position to give Taro the space he needs. This problem does extend to Vladi himself as well, as he is beginning to over think things and is taking just a split second too long to release his shot, causing more blocks and deflections against him. When every player on the other team is gunning for you it is tough to find that space and make those split-second decisions in stride, but he’ll bounce back just fine soon enough.
If the Note can manage to cycle the puck around (and through) the zone, and be patient yet opportunistic with it, they should be able to start capitalizing on their power play chances and get out of this early season funk. It will help once young guns like Robby Fabbri and Colton Parayko get used to the NHL pace while up a man, and will be even more helpful when the Blues’ PP quarterback Kevin Shattenkirk is healthy (not to mention when Paul Stastny and Jaden Schwartz return as well).
He was dangerous all night. -Ken Hitchcock on Robby Fabbri’s first game back
There is Hope on the Horizon
Yes the struggle is real, and yes it needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later, but at the end of the day the Blues have a respectable 6-2-1 record with a plethora of key injuries, which is all fans can ask for at this point in the season. Their goalies are both looking great, their veterans (new and old) are beginning to mesh really well, and the young prospects are living up to their hype. All of this spells good things moving forward, so hopefully in a month or two fans will be signing the power play’s praises.
Rookies Stepping Up
Whether it’s Joel Edmundson’s physical play, Fabbri’s speed and high hockey IQ, or Parayko’s booming shot and impressive reach the Blues young stars have been a joy to watch so far this season. With Parayko and Fabbri already starting to see power play time it shows that management is trying everything to get over this hump as soon as possible. In Tuesday night’s affair against Tampa Fabbri was electric on and off the power play, and put his high hockey sense on display. Parayko was also impressive, and continued his early season dominance by registering a helper on Scott Gomez’ deflection tally (his 1st as a Blue). Here’s what Gomez had to say about the Blues’ rookies on Tuesday night:
The kid (Parayko) put the puck in the right place. He saw me in front and got it through and I was able to beat Bishop, which is no easy task. Give the kid credit though, he saw it, saw me get in that spot, and got it on net.
You can see why he’s going to be a special one (Fabbri), he’s just smart…what a great kid, it’s awesome that he knows how to hit the right spots. He’s just got that great hockey sense and is able to soak it all in.
— Lou Korac (@lkorac10) October 28, 2015
The good news is that the Blues have plenty of runway to find their rhythm on the power play, and with all the veteran and young-gun talent beginning to mesh they should leave this poor (power play) stretch behind them shortly. Just as the Cardinals successfully fought through injuries this past season the Blues are following suit, and it’s building character for later in the year when things get real. Once the team can get healthier, and can find the proper touch with the man advantage they will be a dangerous team in all aspects, which should help them right their recent playoff woes and give fans pletny to cheer about along the way. Like what you’ve just read? Follow me on Twitter: Follow @pep30
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.