Sitting at the Blues
game a few Sundays ago, and half-heartedly joining in the quirky dance that kicks off a St. Louis power play, my dad turns to me and says, “The Blues make your high school team power play look good.” I hear the moans and groans from the crowd as Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith
sends another puck past the Blues power play unit to the other end of the ice and start to wonder, does it really make a difference? Historically, the Blues have rarely had a notably efficient power play, and even when they have it hasn’t translated into much postseason achievement. Does a power play unit really carry that much weight? I think of the Washington Capitals
, whose high-octane offense over the past several years has consistently produced one of the most successful power play units in the league. What have they accomplished in the postseason?
Thanks to their fluky, white-hot performance through the season’s first month, the Blues currently sit 12th in the power play rankings. But that is no indication of how they’ve performed of late. Over the past 28 games, St. Louis has managed an atrocious 8% efficiency with the man advantage. Fans are starting to worry that, despite a stout crew of blueliners and consistent goaltending, the Blues playoff run is going to fizzle out early if they don’t find a way to produce with an extra skater. While this is a reasonable concern, we can turn our attention away from special teams scoring because the fact is, power plays do not produce Stanley Cup champions. Yes, it is easy to remember the timely power play goals of Dustin Byfuglien
in Chicago’s 2010 cup campaign, and Carolina’s prowess with an extra man that led them to the 2006 championship. But largely the power play is not a consistent indicator of a Stanley Cup contender. Since the lockout, the Cup winners have averaged only 17.9% on the power play, a hair under this year’s average (18%). It is hard to justify the Blues recent 10% output as a sufficient mark, but we are just a year removed from watching the Los Angeles Kings
ride a 12.8% power play to its first Stanley Cup. The year before that, the Boston Bruins
clawed their way to a championship with only an 11.4% power play efficiency. With even a slight improvement, St. Louis may not be in as much trouble as fans think. Flip to the other side of the special teams coin, and you might find another silver lining. There is something NHL champions, and the runner ups for that matter, have done very consistently over the past 7 seasons. Kill penalties. The Stanley Cup winners have combined to kill off almost 86% of their penalties since 2006. This number sits decently above the 82% average of this year’s NHL squads. The Blues have bolstered their defense over the years and currently own an 84.5 penalty kill percentage, slightly under the benchmark, but still good enough for 7th in the league. With continued improvement, the penalty kill may be just one of the horses that carry the Blues deep into the playoffs.
Despite the small indication that Stanley Cup contenders consistently perform well on the penalty kill, successful playoff teams have and always will be defined by timely goal scoring and a formidable goaltender. That’s the nature of playoff hockey. We cannot submit to thinking of the 5-4 advantage as a deity of playoff hockey. So next time you see David Perron
slide a cross ice pass into a defender’s skates on a 5 on 3, or Kevin Shattenkirk
try to singlehandedly skate through the opposition’s entire PK unit, don’t break out into a fury, ease that TV remote out of your throwing hand, and relax. Playing with an extra skater is not the Blues specialty, but come playoff time, it doesn’t have to be.
**Stats taken from espn.com
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