Ponder This is a semi-regular segment that focuses on the St. Louis Blues. You can read more ramblings about the Blues by following Jeff Ponder on Twitter @jponder94.
Blues must improve in back-to-back contests
In the first of 14 back-to-back-game series, the Blues were outscored, outmatched and generally outplayed by the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday night. For the second time in three games, the Blues were shut out on visiting soil. The Ducks not only won the game 3-0, they also allowed just four shots in the first period. That was the second lowest in a period of the Blues’ season thus far.
Last season, the Blues were 7-4-2 in the opening game of a back-to-back series, before going 5-7-1 in the closing game. Just one more victory in the final game of a back-to-back series would have secured the Central Division title.
Simply put: the Blues have to find a way to play tighter games on the backend of a two-games-in-two-nights scenario.
Head Coach Ken Hitchcock usually does his best with the lineup to alleviate the fatigue factor. In the latter game of the Blues’ first set of back-to-back contests in 2013-14, Oct. 18, Hitchcock opted to sit veterans Brenden Morrow and Barret Jackman. In their place, Ian Cole and Adam Cracknell made their season debuts. The Blues lost to the Winnipeg Jets in the shootout, 4-3.
This weekend, the Blues lost forward Paul Stastny to an injury on Saturday against the Arizona Coyotes and fellow center Jori Lehtera was sidelined with the flu for Sunday’s contest. On the team’s second game of the back-to-back, Magnus Paajarvi and Chris Porter stepped in for the MIA forwards, while Petteri Lindbohm made his NHL debut on defense in place of Jordan Leopold, who was a healthy scratch. The result was a game that saw the Ducks stay “a step ahead,” according to Hitchcock.
Looking at last season’s numbers, the best performer in the tail end of a back-to-back set was Alexander Steen. The Swedish forward recorded five goals and four assists in the second night of back-to-back games, with David Backes (two goals, six assists) and Alex Pietrangelo (three goals, five assists) finishing just behind him. While this is probably of no surprise to anyone who watched the Blues last season, the most alarming stats are as follows:
- Vladimir Tarasenko played in eight of these games and registered just three assists.
- Patrik Berglund played in 10 of these games and registered just two assists.
- With the Colorado Avalanche, Stastny posted just one assist in seven games of the second game to back-to-back sets last season.
It’s difficult to single out players, though. Although advanced stats have come a long way in the NHL, measuring a team’s flatness is near impossible. When the team looks tired and isn’t gelling, which it clearly didn’t on Sunday, losses will rack up.
Blues will live on without Stastny
The Blues’ key free-agent acquisition from the summer played all of 31 seconds on Saturday before leaving the game with what was later called a shoulder injury. Just before the game against the Ducks, St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Jeremy Rutherford reported that Stastny is listed as “week-to-week.”
Stastny is out week-to-week with a shoulder injury. #stlblues
— Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) October 20, 2014
Placing Lehtera as a late scratch forced Hitchcock to frantically juggle his lines. The coach started the game with Backes, Berglund, Jaden Schwartz and Maxim Lapierre as the four centers. Later in the contest, Steve Ott was moved to the third line to center Paajarvi and Joakim Lindstrom, which allowed Schwartz to shift back to his natural left-wing position.
Let’s not forget one important fact: Stastny was a free-agent signing this summer. The Blues have recorded 1,625 franchise wins without Paul Stastny (with a Peter and a Yan mixed in through the years); the roster knows how to win regular season games without its big free-agent signing in the lineup.
If you dive into this further, you’ll find that the Blues have 16 players from the 2013-14 opening-night roster (including scratched players Paajarvi and Cole, as well as backup netminder Brian Elliott). The Blues were one of the dominant teams throughout the season, including offensively (seventh in the NHL with 2.92 goals-scored-per game) and defensively (third in the league with 2.29 goals-against-per game).
Vladimir Sobotka is likely the team’s biggest loss since that time, but the Blues have overcome more costly damages to the roster and survived just fine.
- Starting goalie Jaroslav Halak was injured throughout the 2012-13 season and appeared in just 16 games. His team was 21-10-1 without him.
- Leading goal-scorer Steen missed 14 games of the 2013-14 season. The Blues posted a 9-4-1 record in his absence.
- Fan-favorite Sobotka missed 12 consecutive games, as well as the 2014 Olympic Games, with a broken kneecap last season. His team went 8-2-2 during that stretch.
Regular season wins have never been a problem for this team. If Stastny, or any other Blue for that matter, suffers an injury in April, distress for team success is much more warranted.