Mike Poepping The Hockey Writers
Blues Control Series as it Shifts to St. Louis
The St. Louis Blues have left something to be desired through their first two games of the second round of this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, they followed their trend of resilient play to find a way to beat the Dallas Stars in overtime and tie the series at one game a piece as it shifts to St. Louis this week. Because of that effort the Blues have put themselves in a great spot to win this series, mainly because the Stars have yet to win a game at Scottrade Center this year.
What gives the Blues the edge
Obviously the aforementioned record between the Blues and the Stars this season in St. Louis bodes well for the Note. They are 3-0 on home ice against Dallas this year, winning once in each fashion (regulation, OT, and a shootout), but that’s not what’s been most impressive about the Blues’ play in St. Louis this year. The Blues managed to average 2.67 goals per game (GPG) against Dallas at home this year, and have limited the high octane Stars’ offense to just 1 GPG. With the added intensity of the playoffs, the gap between these stats will likely shrink but there’s enough cushion to give the Blues a real scoring advantage.
Digging deeper into the Stars-Blues rivalry on home ice this season, fans can see what’s led to the Note’s dominance. They tend to get leads and actually keep them (which would be a nice change for these playoffs). Additionally, they have also scored a power-play goal in each of the three games at Scottrade this year (3/12, 25%). With how much the Stars, and specifically Antoine Roussel, are finding the penalty box this series, it should garner enough chances for the Blues to continue this trend through the second round. Even while playing five-on-five, the Blues were able to limit the Stars to just three goals in the three games played, and were able to score five (plus-2 5v5 goal differential) while limiting the Stars’ best defensemen (Johnny Oduya, John Klingberg, Jason Demers, and Alex Goligoski) to an even plus/minus (combined).
Defense breeds offense
One of the biggest reasons the Note have had so much success against Dallas at home this season is due to their tight D-zone play. The Blues were able to block 46 Stars’ shot attempts in the three home games during the regular season, and were also able to pick the Stars’ pockets 27 times while limiting their giveaways to nine over those three contests. If the Blues can continue to build on the in-zone composure they found towards the end of Game 2, they should be able to keep the Stars’ chances to the outside, and limit their zone time while creating more transitional offense concurrently. This should create more goals for, and less against, for the Note club.
Offensive support needs to keep heating up
When a team, especially the Blues, plays a full 200-foot game, it gives them the opportunity to dictate its pace, which slides the momentum in their favor. That’s what the Note have been good at against the Stars in the regular season, and why they’ve been able to limit the Stars’ goals, while still finding ways to score consistently. This is the final piece of the puzzle for the Note to truly close out this second round series with a victory. The Blues need to rely on some of their primary and depth scorers to pick up the pace and ease the load on others, like David Backes, Robby Fabbri and Troy Brouwer, who have been carrying a lot of the scoring load recently.
The team has now won two of their last three games (including the thrilling Game 7 victory over Chicago) without superstar sniper Vladimir Tarasenko cracking the score sheet (he’s a minus-1 over those three games as well). Though he did help set up the OT goal in Game 2 in Dallas, he has looked sluggish and unmotivated lately, especially in the Blues’ end. He needs to regain his competitive spirit, and find his true form to help the Blues go deep into this year’s playoffs, and beyond. It doesn’t just end with Tarasenko though, as the Blues need more balanced offensive support from their other scorers too.
Jaden Schwartz came alive in round one, scoring three goals and notching four assists, however he has yet to crack the score sheet against the Stars. Alexander Steen is another top end offensive talent that needs to find his groove moving forward. He had three points in the three home games against Dallas this season. Though Hitch has him more focused on playing solid defense than on scoring in the playoffs, the team needs his offensive contributions to beat the Stars in round two, just look at the OT winner that David Backes put home (off of Steen’s point shot):
Secondary scorers such as Jori Lehtera, who has been held off the score sheet this series and who only has four points in the postseason this year, need to find ways to get points like he (they) did in round one, ASAP. Another depth scorer who needs to find his offensive knack is center Paul Stastny. Though he’s been pretty stellar in the face-off circle (56.7% in the playoffs), he’s not giving the Blues the scoring support they need to truly put teams away in the postseason, which is a big reason he was brought in two summers ago. He’s only managed two assists in the nine playoff games, and hasn’t settled in with his line mates like he did last year with Dmitrij Jaskin (in the regular season).
If these key players can find ways to get pucks on net without sacrificing their defensive play, the Blues should be in even better shape after games 3 and 4 in St. Louis. The team has a great chance of going into Game 5 with a 3-1 series lead. The most important thing for the team to focus on is getting back to blocking shots, creating turnovers and driving to the net hard to keep the Stars’ goalies guessing. If they can do that, the home crowd should give them the extra boost they need to close out both games at Scottrade, and hopefully propel them into their first round three appearance since 2001.
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