The St. Louis Blues will face a bitter rival on Tuesday night in the LA Kings. The Notes team has historically been the better of the 2 clubs (97-68-22-4 overall record versus the Kings), but in recent past, 2 separate playoff series in back-to-back seasons left a very sour taste in Blues fan’s mouths as the Kings managed to sweep the Blues team in 2011-12, and came back from an 0-2 deficit to win in 6 games the next year (2012-13).
This has set quite the stage for the club’s regular season match-ups against one another since, and every game seems to have that playoff mentality of low mistakes, and high octane hockey. Unfortunately for the boys in Blue the LA Kings have won 6 of the last 7 regular season meetings dating back to the 2011-12 season, but there is hope on the horizon this season and the 0-1 shootout loss the Blues suffered on October 16, 2014 could quickly be erased; here’s how.
5 Ways the Blues can Beat the LA Kings, Now & in the Playoffs
Here’s a look at key components of the St. Louis Blues style of play, and why it gives them the edge over a powerful Kings team (THESE ARE IN RANDOM ORDER).
5. Blues Forward Core is Settling In
The Blues have some of the best firepower on the front lines this season, and it’s no secret. Though a lot of the veterans had a slower start than many fans anticipated, they are finding their stride now and should help carry the team throughout the remainder of the season and through the playoffs as well. Alexander Steen has been getting hot as of late, and has 4 points (2G, 2A) and is a plus-2 in his past 4 contests, TJ Oshie has the same stats as Steen but in his last 3 contests (instead of 4), and Paul Stastny who notoriously takes a little while to find his rhythm after major injuries is finding his stride again. When you see what the ‘STL’ line is consistently producing, and with the resurgence of the veteran forward core of the Blues, the team is looking at some of the best depth in the league that will not only allow them to put an onslaught of offensive force toward the Kings, but should help overpower them in the playoffs as well.
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) December 12, 2014
This all means good things for the club moving forward, because when you play a team like the LA Kings your forwards need to be firing on all cylinders in order to solve one of the best goalies in the world, Jonathan Quick. Quick passing, and opportunistic shots through traffic and to the corners of the net is what the Blues will need to consistently beat LA, whether it be in the regular season or in the playoffs.
4. Solidified Goaltending will Lift Blues Past Opponents, Especially the Kings
The Blues goaltending was and will continue to be a question mark in the eyes of many around the league, but make no mistake, the goalie core for the team is very solid. Even more so now that Martin Brodeur is on the scene. He has been able to instill a lot of confidence and calm vibes into the Blues’ locker room, and has even helped the team gain 4 important points in the standings as well. His presence will be welcomed as long as he’s a part of the picture in St. Louis, and Brodeur will only help the team stay focused on each game, which is the attitude you need to have in today’s NHL. Though his time may be up in the Gateway to the West before the playoffs begin, his wisdom will stick around in everyone’s minds well beyond this season (and post season).
When you look at Brodeur as a mentor, and you see veteran Brian Elliott and (semi) rookie Jake Allen in the net each game your confidence should rise. Elliott has been All-Star caliber so far this season, though an injury has had him sidelined since mid-November, and Allen has been playing solid though some goals he’d like to have back. What Blues fans and the Kings need to remember is that Allen is the reigning AHL ‘Goalie-of-the-Year’ and Brian Elliott has never posted more than a 2.28 GAA while in St. Louis. Allen even plays a more aggressive style that should help him shutdown the Kings offense with proper rebound control. At the end of the day, the goalies are still saving enough to gain the team points almost every single game which is very impressive. Martin Brodeur may be here to get win number 700 (unless another playoff bound team scoops him up before that), but Elliott and Allen are the team’s current and future tandem and they will take hold of the reigns once Elliott regains full health.
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) December 16, 2014
Their tandem time in net is sure to aid the team’s efforts, solidifying their defensive core, and allowing the team to focus on those quick transitions for scoring opportunities without sacrificing goals against. This should continue into the playoffs as well, which means this could be the year the Blues finally make it to the Conference Finals or beyond.
3. Special Teams Will be a Difference Maker
As is so common across the NHL today, the team that converts on man-advantages usually has a good chance for a Stanley Cup, and the opposite is true of teams that don’t convert regularly. This is no different in the St. Louis Blues, LA Kings match-up as both teams have had peaks and valleys while being a man up or down so far this season. The Blues currently hold the 6th best power-play (23.2%), but are ranked barely below the league average at 17th overall (80.8%) while down a man. Luck is in the Blues favor though, as the Kings are only ranked 20th (15.5%) while on the power-play which could spell a slightly easier time for the Blues’ penalty kill.
The thing to remember here is that the LA Kings notoriously score on their penalty kill, so the Blues will always need to back-check hard, even while up a man. If the Blues can keep Kings’ fore-checkers out of the slot areas, and can force their plays they will stifle the weaker Kings power-play which should increase their goal differential in a positive way helping them gain more wins not only in the regular season, but especially in the playoffs.
2. Blues Defesnive Core is Tightening Up
The defense for the Notes team was supposed to be an unbreakable force all season, but due to injuries and slower starts than expected, the defensive core is really just now settling in. This is not really a worrisome area for the club as the season is only 37% completed at this stage, and even through some rocky in-zone play, the team still sits 3rd overall in the Western Conference. The core group of guys will get stronger once quick-up man Carl Gunnarsson returns from injury, and Alex Pietrangelo has been steadily transforming his game back into the style we remember and love in St. Louis. Though he is a minus-9 on the year, his 17 points (3G, 14A), 93 shots on goal (3rd among defensemen this season), and 75 blocked shots (9th among d-men) show that he’s still contributing in a positive way and will begin to truly shut down the opposition very soon.
In regards to beating the Kings, you must look at tough D-guys like Ian Cole (plus-8), Barret Jackman (plus-4), and Chris Butler (plus-3) who are playing well on the back end and chipping in to aid scoring (the 3 have combined for 14 points this season). These defensive pieces should leave the LA Kings forwards rather battered and bruised by each game’s end, and that’s a perfect way to secure a playoff series win. Add in Pietrangelo’s improving play and Kevin Shattenkirk’s consistently great performances year after year (4G, 22A, 26P, plus-13), and fans can see that the Kings should no longer be able to catch the Blues off guard in their defensive zone, or comeback from large deficits. This will translate to an edge over the Kings for the Notes club as the season wears on and the playoffs begin.
1. 5-on-5 Play Needs to Be Air-Tight
There’s no secret that the LA Kings are a superb team 5-on-5. They have scored 57 of their 81 goals while at even strength and as they don’t allow many goals against while 5-on-5, they are a pretty tough team to beat in this area. If the Blues can focus on generating quality scoring chances off of transitional play, and effective offensive zone cycling they should be able to over power a Kings defense that has seen better days. The Kings group lost last stalwart blue-liner Willie Mitchell to an off-season trade, and Slava Voynov to a criminal investigation. Some of their best forwards have also experienced a lull in play this season, and aren’t exactly back-checking a full 200 feet, which should also give the Blues room to find open men in high scoring areas for quality chances on net.
If the team can effectively manage the 5-on-5 game (as they should with Ken Hitchcock behind the bench, and the core group of veteran leaders in the line-up) they will experience more and more success while at even strength. The Blues focus against the tough LA Kings opponent should be an opportunistic grinded out game that wears the Kings team down with quick passing and a ton of shots. If the Notes team can find a way to get shots through traffic and to the corners of the net, they should be able to look at their troubles against the Kings as a thing of the past. This year’s team is a special group of guys, who have a deep playoff run in their future. Like what you’ve just read? 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.