Third-period adversity (and subsequent failure) is far from a foreign concept to the St. Louis Blues. It defined the 2009-10 season and was a key factor in 2009 Jack Adams finalist Andy Murray’s dismissal. In the year and change following the installation of Davis Payne, many feel the trend has reversed. Confident showings at home are turning previously considered losing opportunities into Blues wins.
After a near four-goal blunder against Phoenix on New Year’s Eve and another come-from-ahead loss to Dallas, perception could easily be questioned. But perception is one thing. Do the numbers say something else?
In 2009-10, the Blues won 25 of 33 games, a 25-2-6 record, in which they held the lead after two periods — the NHL’s fourth-lowest rate, a .758 winning percentage, with many of those coming under Murray in the first half. To date this season, the record is 8-1-2, the third-lowest winning percentage at .750. Worth noting is that there is no drastic swing in sample size — in 2009-10, the Blues led 40 percent (33 of 82) of their games after two periods, while in 2010-11, the figure only climbs to 42 percent (16 of 38).
At quick glance, nothing has changed. Leads are squandered and games are lost at virtually the same pace. Which is why stats should lead to deeper discussion and not be blindly quoted as opinions supporting facts.
More often than not, the hard lessons of a season falling short of expectations have been applied successfully to the current campaign. This is where Payne and his current lineup distinguish themselves in a way that can’t be justified by score-sheet reports from their predecessor. There is less reactive and more proactive play, and there is better puck-support and puck-management decisions. Where Murray seemingly didn’t mind losing possession of the puck so long as scoring chances against were kept to a minimum, Payne wants his players to control the pace and keep pushing in the opposing end.
In games like the back-to-back set against New York Rangers and Boston Bruins, leads were held on to. The effort was present to play with the puck as much as possible and match competition levels when on the defensive — a simple plan to state and vastly more difficult to reproduce. The inability to match up has lead to the recent collapses.
It goes without saying that the coaching staff knows this. Their modus operandi has not been to let poor effort go unnoticed or unpunished. Which is exactly why the “hard” practice on Monday was the right call. Yes, the Blues had won their last five before falling to the Stars, so putting the screws to them may seem like a little much after performing well.
Complacency benefits no one. There is little harm or foul in a swift, stern reminder to prevent another skid. Injuries were an issue in November, but effort levels didn’t come up during the pair of five-game losing streaks, just as they didn’t in the last two third periods.
The Blues have dominated the Eastern Conference with an 8-1-1 record — a combined 6-0-0 against the Northeast and Atlantic divisons. Providing ample opportunity to get back on track in their two contests this week.
– Forward T.J. Oshie is closing in on his return from injury. His fractured ankle is healing faster than expected, and he is projecting a return around the All-Star Game. B.J. Rains of Fox Sports Midwest tweeted Wednesday that Oshie will travel to Toronto but expects a return in roughly two weeks. The first game back after the three-game California road trip on Jan. 18 is looking like a good date based on T.J.’s comments.
– No official updates on David Perron and Andy McDonald. General Manager Doug Armstrong has said not to expect to hear news until the concussed forwards are symptom-free. Perron visited his teammates at practice during the Holidays.
– How did the Blues fair in All-Star Voting?
Skater: T.J. Oshie – 33,085
Goalie: Jaroslav Halak – 143,783
Halak finished tops in the West and fifth overall. Of the Blues defensemen, no one received more than the lowest reported, which is Alex Goligoski at 11,253 votes.
– Top forward prospect Valdimir Tarasenko will lead the Russians into the World Junior Championships Gold Medal Game against Canada. The game will be shown on NHL Network Wednesday night. Through six games, Tarasenko has three goals and nine points.
-Fellow 2010 first-round pick Jaden Schwartz will not play for Canada due to a fractured ankle. In two games, Schwartz had one goal and two assists.
-Swedish prospect Sebastian Wannstrom will play against the U.S. for the Bronze Medal. This game will appear on NHL Network Wednesday afternoon as well. In five games, Wannstrom registered two goals and two assists.
-Some speculation regarding Blues scouts taking in Leafs and Hurricanes games have made the rounds. While Canes scouts have been in Peoria, the Blues AHL affiliate, this season, it appears nothing is imminent.
-While Marek Svatos didn’t last long in St. Louis, he hasn’t been missed. Kudos to the Blues for passing on a Svatos clone, Petr Prucha, when he was put on waivers by Phoenix. Situations changed and that’s why Svatos was worth the risk and Prucha wasn’t.
-December was good to the Blues statistically.
Record: 8-4-2, 18 points, +4 goal differential
Jaroslav Halak / Ty Conklin combo: 2.35 GAA | .922 save percentage | 1 Shutout (Halak)
Alex Steen: 14 games, 8 goals, 14 points
David Backes: 14 games, 5 goals, 12 points
Vladimir Sobotka: 14 games, 4 goals, 9 points
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