It's a little upsetting to see how quickly the story lines about the Blues have gone from "high-flying, offensively creative, league-leading in shots" to "not a goal-scoring team, defensive minded, goaltending-first" in just a couple weeks. At the outset of the season, the Blues were near the top of the league in shots per game. Sure, they weren't blowing teams away on the scoreboard (except for that struggling Ducks team they smoked 5-1), but if the team was averaging well over 30 shots a game the reasoning goes that eventually some of them would start hitting the net at a higher rate .
The Blues have now not scored more than three goals in any one game since they put four up on Chicago back on Oct. 22 (they won 4-3 over Atlanta, but that was a win in shootout, so no actual fourth goal was scored in the game - thanks for the sweet rules, NHL!) and so the easy story is that the Blues are not an offensively motivated team and are playing a defensive lock-down style and relying on excellent goaltending from Jaroslav Halak and Ty Conklin.
The fact of the matter is that the Blues are still an offensive team, they just can't finish. Through 15 games the Blues are seventh in the NHL in shots per game, averaging 32.5. That number is just three shots per game behind league-leading San Jose. The Blues' number is less than one shot per game fewer than the average of all five of the other teams ahead of them in the category (Buffalo, Tampa, Detroit, Carolina and Colorado). More frustrating? The Blues' shots against per game is better than all six of those teams (second in the NHL at just 27.1 per game).
The big problem, of course, is the rate at which all of those shots are hitting the back of the other team's net. The Blues have put on 488 shots this season and have scored just 36 times for a shooting percentage of just 7.38%. That scoring total is 27th in the league.
The other emerging story line is that the Blues are not a big goal-sroring team and that's been the case for a while. Simply not true. The Blues have 36 goals this year, which if they stay on that pace, will translate to a paltry 175 for the season. Last year's team had but three 20-plus goal scorers and one, David Perron, had only twenty. Neither Alex Steen nor Andy McDonald even reached 25 goals (24 each). But that low-scoring team managed 218 for the season, a total that put them 17th in the NHL. Additionally, last year's team fired on 2,445 shots; this year's team is on pace for 2,668, a total more than 200 higher. The Blues on-pace 175 would be nearly twenty goals lower than last year's worst-scoring club, the Boston Bruins.
In 2008-09 the Blues managed 227 goals, 19th in the NHL. Remember that awful 2007-2008 team? They managed 202 goals, well ahead of this year's pace.
Frankly, the problem doesn't seem to have much of a fix other than to simply "shoot better." The Blues need to continue to believe that their fast-break offense and intent to fire shots on net as much as possible will have to eventually start working better. Lots of shots tend to create lots of second chances and a large number of goals are scored at the NHL level on second and third chances simply because the goaltending is so good that first shots tend to be saved more often than not.
In the early season, the Blues are being led on the goal scoring chart by Matt D'Agostini (six goals) and David Perron (five goals, five games missed due to concussion-like symptoms), but they're being led on the shot chart by Steen (55 shots, three goals), Andy McDonald (51 shots, three goals), Brad Boyes (41 shots, two goals) and david Backes (38 shots, three goals). Obviously all four players have shooting percentages under 10%. The top scorers in the NHL are all taking a comparable number of shots per game to those four Blues, they're just all having success at a higher rate: Steven Stamkos, 15 goals on 67 shots, 22.4% shooting percentage; Alexander Semin, 13 goals on 61 shots, 21.3%; Sidney Crosby, 12 on 69, 17.4%; Daniel Sedin, 11 on 46, 23.9%.
How do you teach NHLers to hit the net better? They're doing the right things so far in getting chances and pucks on net, they just need to find a way to beat the goaltenders at a higher rate and many of the Blues supposed early season issues go away quickly.
The Blues have been an average-scoring team over the last few years, but the low scoring this season is an anomaly as it is lower than any of the previous years while the number of shots they have put on net are higher than ever before. Is there a sports psychologist in the house? Or a sniper?