It looks as though coach Hitchcock has finally figured out that the Blues have problems playing a full 60 minutes of hockey and putting the puck in the net. He has decided to jumble the lines around and see what shakes out. This sounds like a decent idea until you see the lines he cooked up. I understand and respect that Hitch is one of the most prolific coaches in the NHL and has more wins that I could ever imagine having if I was in his same situation. That being said, as a fan, I have the right to second guess and question a man who is obviously well more qualified than I am...right?
Steen, Backes, Oshie - This line hasn't changed. Since Hitch decided to reunite Backes and Oshie on the top line things have gone swimmingly. Working together, this line has scored almost all of the Blues recent offense. Nothing needs to change on this line, it is the top line on the team, and one of the best lines in the NHL. Steen is still a constant scoring threat, as he lead the NHL in goals before suffering a concussion forcing him to miss games. Oshie has developed into a player many had hoped he would become. His ability to puck handle and make defenders look silly has been around for awhile, but he has recently put it all together to be able to finish that off with goals and assists. Backes has found his scoring touch again after losing it last season. He is still the heart and soul of the team. No man fights harder on the ice than David Backes. He hits, screens, and does all the dirty work while still finding ways to get the puck in the net. His physicality perfectly accentuates Oshie's puck handling, and Steen's shooting.
Line 2 -
Morrow, Sobotka, Schwartz - This is a new look line, and one that I can't say I understand. I still believe that Vladimir Sobotka is outmatched on the second line. He is stellar on the face-off, one of the best on the team, but once he has won the drop, he lags behind. He is undersized, but with the heart of a man twice his frame. He plays physical, but less in the sense of David Backes. His physicality is more in the mold of Ryan Reaves. Sobotka isn't a terror in front of the net. His physicality shows up when he is near the boards. He will muscle and fight for pucks when they are trapped against the boards, and he will lay hits behind the net. He is basically a glorified defenseman who plays deep in the offensive zone. He adds little to nothing on offense, as he only has 8 goals this season. On his right is the aging Brenden Morrow. I must admit, I like Morrow. He plays much like a less talented, older, David Backes. Morrow is intimidating because he is fearless. He is willing to go in front of the net and get beaten up to try and help his team. When a dirty play occurs, Morrow is the first player you'll see in the opposing team's face. For all his efforts, he has still only scored 12 goals this season. This is still 4 more than Sobotka. The final piece of this line is the one who will suffer the most from the new pairing. Jaden Schwartz. He deserves his spot on the second line. He has been a powerful force for the Blues this season. Schwartz has scored 23 goals and 30 assists, more than Morrow and Sobotka combined. I can't see the worth of pairing your young offensive talent with 2 players who are anemic on offense. Frankly, I would like to see a second line of players who are adept at scoring. A second line of Paajarvi, Berglund, and Schwartz would be far more intimidating in my mind. Paajarvi has scored well on a 4th line surrounded by no offensive talent. Berglund is one of only 2 centers on the team with more than 10 goals this season, and Schwartz's offensive talents have already been explained. In my opinion, I can't see this current line producing goals with any regularity.
Ott, Berglund, Paajarvi - Paajarvi did get promoted to the 3rd line, and I think it is deservedly so. Pairing him with a talented scoring center like Berglund should elevate his play. I am not so wholeheartedly against this line, as I am against line 2. Steve Ott plays a physical game, but has yet to score a goal since joining the Blues prior to the trade deadline. In that time he has only notched 2 assists, one being on a goal that came directly off a face-off win. The face-off is the only stat which Ott has excelled at, and by having him play wing, I imagine that would be marginalized. I feel this line would work out better if Ott was centering with Berglund on the wing, even though that's not his natural position. Ott is superior on the face off by a large margin, and isn't afraid to play in front of the net. This would free Berglund up to focus on attacking offensively with Paajarvi. This could easily backfire, as it did when Backes was moved to right wing for a game or two. There is marginal hope for this line. I'm not willing to write it off yet. The biggest bright side to this line is that Paajarvi was promoted. With more talent around him I believe he could add more to the team.
Line 4 -
Roy, Lapierre, Reaves - This line leaves me scratching my head. I can understand sending a message to Roy. He was brought in to be a talented center that the Blues desperately needed. He has disappointed all season. He doesn't play a physical game, and hasn't been able to find the net. He is placed on the wing in this line, opposite a goon, and centered by a pest. The Blues need to get Roy going for the playoffs, and putting him out of his natural position on a line with no offensive talent doesn't seem like the way to go. This line used to be good for checking the opposing team, playing hard, and occasionally finding the net thanks to Magnus PI. Roy hasn't show his willingness to play physical, nor score. I think a better message would be a healthy scratch or two. I do like the pairing of Lapierre and Reaves, even though it hasn't been hot as of late. The eye test tells me they play much better with Paajarvi than Porter. As long as they are paired together there is little hope of scoring on the 4th line, but a high chance of wearing down the opposing team and drawing penalties. In games when Reaves is active in the hit parade early and often, the Blues seem to excel in the end of the game as the opposing players are looking over their shoulder waiting for huge hits. Lapierre has done a good job of peeing in cheerios all season, and has even had a few nice dishes for goals. Roy is the blatant sore thumb in this line.
I would say its too late to be called admirable, but it is good that Hitch is finally coming out and saying the Blues have serious problems they need to fix before the playoffs. He is doing all that he can to get the team moving in the right direction. Frankly, I feel we will be in this shape until Tarasenko returns from his hand injury. He is a vital part of our secondary scoring. Without him, the machine seems to grind to a halt. The Blues are a hard, working class, blue collar team. I have never felt by watching players that they were complacent in their positions. For this reason, I don't think that sending a message by changing the lines will help. Bettering the lines, by pairing players who compliment each other might. The current lines he has produced have left myself, along with many other Blues fans groaning. Putting your second best offensive center on the third line, while leaving the second line anchored by an undersized, outmatched, under performing center seems counter intuitive. Then again, I'm not a professional coach. These are just the ramblings of a working class Irish kid from the Midwest.