While the St. Louis Blues managed to escape with a victory after the first game of their best of seven series with the Winnipeg Jets, some troublesome trends emerged. Most significantly, the team’s power play looked anemic, going goalless on three attempts.
One player stood out by his absence: Vince Dunn, the team’s most talented, young, offensive defenseman. Instead of deploying Dunn on the top power play pairing, the team decided to utilize four forwards and one defenseman. That strategy yielded nothing, and in the playoffs, there isn’t time to allow tactics to play out. The Blues should move fast to promote Dunn to the top power play.
Blues’ Power Play Fails vs. Jets
The St. Louis power play was abysmal in three opportunities during Wednesday’s game. According to Natural Stat Trick, they had just two shots in their three chances, and allowed as many shots against. They created one high-danger chance, but allowed one, as well.
On the power play, they had a Corsi for percentage of 71.43 percent, which means that they split possession of the puck roughly 70/30 with the Jets. While that seems impressive, effective power plays should be much higher than that, at least surpassing 80 percent.
For most of their power play opportunities, the Blues were running out a unit of Brayden Schenn, Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron, Vladimir Tarasenko, and team captain Alex Pietrangelo. Either Perron or Tarasenko were generally manning the point alongside Pietrangelo, which is a confusing decision.
Playing four forwards on the power play is certainly in vogue in the NHL, but this grouping makes little sense. Neither Perron nor Tarasenko, even for all his scoring prowess, has a particularly good shot from distance. And Pietrangelo is not elite enough on the power play, particularly at keeping the puck in the zone, to earn a permanent role on the first five-on-four pairing.
Dunn’s Power Play Prowess
During the regular season, Dunn established himself as arguably the team’s best defensive performer on the power play. On that unit, he recorded three goals and five assists, eight of his 35 total points. But point totals are not all there is to the story.
Among Blues who played any significant time on the power play, Dunn was the team leader in relative Corsi for. This means that the team possessed the puck more successfully on the power play than with any other player on the ice. Even at even strength, Dunn was the overall leader in Corsi for percentage.
With everything going on in the Blues’ season, Dunn’s breakout has gone underreported. Perhaps even the coaching staff has not quite recognized how good he’s been throughout the campaign, considering they have not yet acknowledged that he’s the logical choice for defense on the top power play.
Dunn’s combination of speed, skill, and hockey-IQ make him a nightmare to play against. Take for example this overtime winning goal that Dunn scored with just over three seconds remaining. Recognizing a lax defensive coverage, possibly due to the expiring clock, Dunn bursts through three Devils players and crashes the net for a goal.
Of course, there will never be a three-on-three scenario in the playoffs, but that is the kind of speed, skill, and creativity that the Blues’ power play was sorely lacking in their first postseason contest. They were stymied by the Jets’ high line on the penalty kill, with their forwards aggressively attacking the Blues’ point men. With Dunn in that position, the Jets would need to think twice before pressing too vigorously. One misstep could create a hole like the one above and allow him to create magic.
Don’t Delay, Pick Dunn Today
There’s never really a break in the NHL Playoffs, and the Blues return to the ice Friday night for Game 2 against Winnipeg. If they are smart, they’ll do so with every intention of utilizing Dunn on the top power play. The Jets may not be prepared for the unique skill set he brings, and even if they are, he is simply the best option St. Louis has in that position. They cannot afford to make poor personnel choices for another game. They need to make this switch now.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.