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Do The Blues Need A Goal Scorer Or A Sniper?

The Blues have the third highest average goal total per game in the NHL; are they still lacking that special something to get them over the playoff hump?

This season, Alexander Steen counts as a goal scorer; do the Blues need someone more?
This season, Alexander Steen counts as a goal scorer; do the Blues need someone more?
Jeff Gross

I really don't think that the "the Blues need a sniper!" refrain hasn't been heard here and in other areas of the Blues blogosphere. Last season during the playoffs, it became clear that the Blues didn't seem to have oomph, that clutch go-to guy to put the puck in the back of the net when it was needed. Right?

During the regular season they won games by wearing the opponent down and clamping down on their offensive players. Overall, the Blues averaged just 2.58 goals a game, good for 17th overall in the NHL. To compensate for this "scoring by committee," they allowed just 2.38 goals a game, which placed them at eighth. This strategy was even more pronounced in 2011-2012, when the Blues allowed a league-best 1.89 goals a game. They scored just 2.51, which was 21st overall.

Obviously, to win you have to score more than you allow - everyone knows that, because that's become the stock "keys to the game" joke. The Blues are excellent at that, but it also means that there's a very fine line between a win and a loss when the differential between goals allowed and goals scored is less than one. Living on the edge is not what you want to do during the playoffs, as two consecutive losses to the Los Angeles Kings have shown.

Last season against the Kings, a difference-maker kind of player would have been helpful. The team's stars were gripping the stick tighter than usual; the team couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. At the trade deadline and over the summer, many fans stated a preference for acquiring that guy who is a scoring threat whenever he's on the ice, someone dangerous. They needed a "goal scorer." No, what they need is a sniper.

There's a difference between the two. This season, Alexander Steen is a goal scorer. David Backes is a goal scorer. They're patient, they wait for the exact moment, and then snap - they fire. A sniper? They can fire from anywhere, at any time. They're unpredictable, they don't plan - they execute.

Basically, if you want a statistical illustration of that, look at the league's top two goal scorers: Alexander Ovechkin and Steen. Their shooting percentages are different in the extreme. Steen scores 23% of the time, partially because he has 87 shots on the year. Ovechkin has 142 shots, so his 21 goals puts him at a 14.8% clip. Steen is not necessarily a threat to take a shot every shift. Ovechkin? He'll fire off any time, any place.

What am I getting at? Goal scorers are a threat for sure, but after a while they become a predictable threat. Other opponents learn their tendencies and defend accordingly. It doesn't always work, but it can slow them down. Snipers? Other teams can defend, but when a guy shoots constantly defensive lapses are less forgiving - there's more of an opportunity to get a puck through.

Based on the five games that they've lost this season, Rory Boleyn believes that the Blues need a "goal scorer." They have those in spades. What they need is a guy with the "it factor." A guy who every single time he's on the ice the other team knows to watch out, and a guy that can score the GWG because he's constantly peppering the goalie. Is Thomas Vanek the answer? He'd be a help, but unless someone can clone Steven Stamkos, the Blues might be SOL for the time being.

As it stands, the Blues during the regular season are in a better goal-scoring place than they were last year, or the season before that. When the playoffs roll around, if they can't keep up their pace, one hiccup can cost them. Four hiccups in a row means you're out. Picking up a little insurance at the trade deadline, if available and for a reasonable price, wouldn't be a bad idea.