By Marcus Pettersson
As the season progresses, the importance for a NHL team to have good special teams becomes more and more apparent. A team like the St Louis Blues, with the goal to make the post season, need a good power-play unit to get those extra wins, those few but oh so important extra points.
Last season the Blues converted on an abysmal 12.1% of their power-play opportunities, bettered by 28 teams in the league and making more of their opportunities only than division rivals and NHL whipping boys the Chicago Blackhawks. The league average in 2006-07? 16.9%.
The season before that, in 2005-06, not only was the Blues the worst team in the league, they also finished in 27th place in the power-play column with a very unimpressive rate of 14.6%.
And this year? So far, the Blues have managed only 2 goals on 21 power-play chances. That's an almost unbelievibly bad 9.5%. No, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you. The numbers really are that bad. 9.5%!
What makes it even more mindboggling is that the big player aquisition made by the Blues this off-season is a proven power-play specialist. Last year while playing for Nashville, Paul Kariya had 25 points (31.6% of his total 76 points) on the power-play, including 5 goals. With perfect on-stick passes, a wicked one-timer and one of the best minds in the game, Kariya has what it takes to be a power-play monster. But so far this year â€" not so much.
Luckily, at the same time as the Blues has played almost freakishly bad on the power-play, they have been killing penalties as if it was the easisest thing in the world. As I write this, the Blues have been a man short on 19 occasions and have only allowed 1 goal. That's a 94.7% success rate. On the first PK-unit, Jay McClement and Ryan Johnson are both playing with high energy and giving it their all.
So, what seems to be the problem with the power-play? Well, so far the five players Andy Murray's has trusted to make things happen with the man advantage has been Tkachuk, Kariya, Stempniak, Backman and Erik Johnson.
As I write this, Erik Johnson is out of the line-up with an injured foot. Instead, Micki DuPont has been assigned to Blue Line duty. At a first glance, the line looks like a formidable one. Tkachuk is a big boy who can screen the oppositions goalie, Kariya's the playmaker, Stempniak's a natural goalscorer and both Backman and Johnson has heavy shots.
Murray has said that he might consider giving Barret Jackman more time on the power play. Jackman's offensive talents are greatly underrated and if he was given the opportunity to play more offense he could surely give the unit a boost. Doug Weight has been used in a defensive position on the power-play before, but his unwillingness to shoot the puck has made him easy for opponents to read. Erik Johnson will certainly improve the unit when he returns â€" at 19 he's already the teams best power-play defenseman. Another move Murray should consider is putting Lee Stempniak in a defensemans position and getting Brad Boyes on the ice. Boyes is hot as hell right now â€" Murray should take advantage of that.
The Carolina Hurricanes have five forwards on the ice during power-plays. Why not try that? Hell, try anything! Because right now the Blues power-play is just horrible.
From a more positive standpoint, there sure is reason for hope as the season is still very young. But still, with last seasons terrible numbers in mind, there might be cause for concern.
Unless John Davidson can convince Al MacInnis to come out of retirement, that is.