Lost in the Shuffle

Dilip Vishwanat

The gushing over the hot starts of the Backes line, Alex Pietrangelo, and Jaroslav Halak has over shadowed the contributions of many others to the bottom line.

"To the victor goes the spoils"

That quote is a beloved ancient axiom of 'Merica. In the land of the free and the home of the brave we do love our winner take all systems from the political arena to the ones maintained by professional sport franchises. In hockey we see it in the general distaste for the "loser point".

It's only natural that those most obviously linked to victorious outcomes receive the accolades of the general observer.

The St. Louis Blues have been winning a lot lately and the correlation to the efforts of captain David Backes' line, the top pairing which features Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester, and 1a goaltender Jaroslav Halak are strong. It doesn't take fancy stats to see that. Just look at the Blues' win and point totals since Ken Hitchcock was hired and who leads the team in ATOI and games started.

But as we're collectively starting to understand, as a nation and hockey fans, there is always more details leading to the outcome of success stories. You know, the gray area. The larger than ever imagined world that so few in the black and white want to venture from their tied and true security. Advance stats and a willingness to not  just think outside the box, but knock down it's walls how Roman Polak answers doors make the lack of structure which props up arguments so easily friendlier to the masses.

Who deserves recognition for contributions worthy of acknowledge and remembrance that may not be apparent to the polarized cubes?

The skater with the strongest case is besdicribed by his supporters as a tank. With a booming gun affixed upon a multipurpose turret Vladimir Tarasenko has started off the 2013-13 season as many hoped and expected he would. With a bang. Scoring four goals through the first five games and generating forward pressure shift after shift along with linemates Patrik Berglund and Jaden Schwartz. His goals scored total is third best currently and tops when adjusting for the Backes line. Not too shabby considering he averages just a hair under 15 minutes a game. his 54.4% Corsi For % (CF%) is second best on the team.

Sitting on top of the CF% hill is Kevin Shattenkirk. As Commander Riker to Pietrangelo's Captain Picard much of the spoitlight doesn't shine on him. However, without the understudy's abilities Petro would be called upon to do too much.  Shattenkirk's basic stats line doesn't look all that impressive with just 3 helpers and an Even Plus/Minus rating compared to his teammates. From the advance stats perspective he's doing just as well. Again, his 54.8% CF% is best on the club and while playing the third most minutes 5 on 5. Those minutes are admittantly against a weaker Quality of Competition (QoC) (3.40 for Pietrnagelo vs -0.603 for Shattenkirk) and with far more offensive zone starts (currently at 72.2%), but that's how he should be utilized. By driving possession and creating scoring chances the offensively gifted blueliner is doing his job. Without his efforts the secondary scoring from Tarasenko, Berglund, and others wouldn't occur.

Speaking of secondary scoring, Derek Roy was signed over the summer specifically to help keep power forward Chris Stewart on track from his regular season performance in 2012-13. So far it hasn't worked out that way as Stewart has struggled and not found the back of the net, but that hasn't stopped Roy from pitching in. The playmaking centerman is third on the Blues in points with 6 (2g,4a) and has the highest Fenwick For % (FF%), which is the same is Corsi minutes blocked shots, at 56.7%. Meaning now forward is statistically better at possessing the puck than he is. Possession is a large part of Hitch's strategy and system. See the connection?

Last, but not least, is everyone's favorite little guy with gumption. Vladimir Sobotka remains the biggest glue guy on the team even though he comes in the smallest physical package. His QoC is in the top half (1.37) as is his FF% (52.7%). When he doesn't have the puck he's working to get it back or keep it out of his own net by winning 41 of 59 (69.5%) face-offs and averaging a blocked shot and takeaway per game. In short (no pun intended... kinda), he is a jack of all trades that has been counted on consistently and responds in kind.

As of today the Blues have completed less than 10% of their schedule and faced only six different teams. Much will change between now and game 82 on April 13th, 2014. The underlying performance of other than those with the big names and long term contracts will continue to serve a significant purpose towards achieving the ultimate goal. Their story is worth watching unfold and telling when the book closes.

Read my work on the Blues beat for Hockeybuzz.com

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