The St. Louis Blues dropped their second game in a row Saturday night, 2-1 to Tampa Bay, finishing 2-2 on what started off an encouraging road trip.
My first takeaway from the end of the trip: The Blues must find more even strength goals from forwards
If you’d said at the start of the season the Blues would have five power-play goals, and seven goals from their defenseman through the first six game, you would have said that’s great, right?
Well, you’re correct! That is great, BUT there is also a problem the team is developing early on. They’re not scoring enough even-strength goals with their forwards.
The team has 17 goals on the season, and 12 of them have come at even-strength, six of them have come from their defenseman, and as Jeremy Rutherford pointed out at The Athletic, only five even-strength goals have come from forwards (not counting empty-netters).
It is also a big reason why the Note have lost their last two games, as they have scored only one goal at even-strength and that came from Vladimir Tarasenko Saturday in the third period.
The Blues are averaging just over 30 shots per game, which ranks 24th in the NHL and considering that they are averaging eight shots per game on special teams, this team is developing a problem and it needs to get fixed fast.
The return of Alex Steen will help alleviate some of this. However, if we’re holding out hope that a 33-year old forward, who has regressed the last few years, is going to come in and “fix” their even-strength game then we are sadly mistaking.
The loss of Robby Fabbri has hurt for many reasons, but as we continue to get further into the season I’m beginning to wonder if his absence will cause GM Doug Armstrong to search for depth outside the organization.
This team’s top five forwards are: Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, Paul Stastny, and Vladmir Sobotka and they have accounted for all 10 goals by their forwards. They have also accounted for 30 points among them, the rest of the team’s forwards have accounted for just two…an assist from both Dmitrij Jaskin and Scottie Upshall.
My second takeaway from the Blues 4-2 start: Face-offs are still a problem.
If you remember last season’s playoffs, a big storyline was built around the Blues’ failures in the face-off circles.
They were able to survive the Minnesota Wild despite losing more than 57% of their face-offs in the first round…and while things were a lot closer with the Predators, the Note still struggled in that area and left many to put a center atop the Blues’ offseason list.
Therefore, the Blues shipped out Jori Lehtera for Brayden Schenn as they looked to improve both the power play and the center ice play. However, there’s only one problem: Schenn was a career 45% face-off man.
That leads us to this season and the team ranks 26th in face-off percentage (45.8%) through six games, and they have only Paul Stastny over 50% in the circles among regular centers.
Schenn has only won 46.5% of his faceoffs as the Blues no. 2 center, which only adds to the questions this team continues to have up the middle.
Because of all the injuries, the team has had to utilize their best faceoff guy on the wing of the second line. That is Vladmir Sobotka, who started on the top two lines during the Blues first five games before head coach Mike Yeo decided to move him down to the third line center position to avoid losing critical face-offs.
In six seasons, Sobotka has won 57.4% of his faceoffs, including in 2013-2014 when he led the NHL with a 61.9% faceoff percentage. (among players with 400 draws.
The Blues will need to keep Sobotka down there for the foreseeable future because Oskar Sundqvist has lost 69% of his draws and while Ivan Barbashev have made improvements he still sits at 47% in a limited number of faceoffs this season.
Remember in my first takeaway how I talked about the team’s offensive struggles? Well, this is a big part of the problem because the Note have won only 45.5% of their offensive zone faceoffs.
While Brayden Schenn has been a big addition for the Blues on the power-play, and he has helped elevate Jaden Schwartz game as a playmaker, his struggles on the faceoffs has done nothing to help fix the issues we saw in the postseason at center ice on the dots.
My third and final takeaway as the Blues head home for a date with Chicago: There’s no rest for the weary.
The Blues just got finished with a six game stretch in 11 days. They went 4-2 during this difficult part of the schedule and had a lot of positives come to the forefront while still dealing with a handful of issues.
The biggest issues among those, however, may be yet to come as the upcoming schedule features seven games in 13 days starting on Wednesday.
Many of us have been quick to inflate the Joe Strauss “party balloons” for the Blues and their fast start despite injuries, playing five of their first six games on the road, and still trying to figure out their lines combinations.
However, this 4-2 start could be all for naught if they go 2-5 in their next seven games, and when you consider the quality of opponents they will be playing and the fact that three of the seven will be on the road, this team will be battle tested.
Again, it gets kick started Wednesday after a couple days off, as the Blues welcome Patrick Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks in, and per usual they are off to another hot start at 4-1-1 and leading the Western Conference in goals per game at 4.17.
I will take a step back and applaud the Blues for their eight points in six games, especially considering they have gotten an early jump on the Predators, Wild, and Stars in the Central division as those three teams have been a bit slow to start.
Nevertheless, in the end I expect those teams to jump back up to the top of the division while teams like Colorado and Winnipeg begin to slip back down the standings. The question remains: will the Blues be one of those teams that rises to the top or falls to the bottom?