I had the distinct displeasure of watching the shit show that was the Tuesday game against the Panthers. Thankfully, the Blues had 2 days off to get that out of their heads, and a busy set of back-to-backs to focus on instead. Unfortunately, I'm still trying to get that night out of my head. If I can put anything positive on that game, it's this: if that was the bottoming-out point (face it, they'd been playing poorly for a while), then it's all about bouncing back now. Nobody was hurt, and we can all just look forward to what the rebound brings to us. This weekend could be a really positive move in the right direction and we can make up whatever ground we might have lost.
The first step is tonight's game against the Islanders. This is a team that has built slowly and steadily, picking up high draft picks, adding waiver wire steals, and using some deliberate patience in mixing them all together. As the team matures and the excitement builds, they've moved into their new arena and can really provide their fans a show. And boy, they sure have been doing that lately.
In their last game, a sellout crowd in Brooklyn watched the Islanders host the cross-town New York Rangers for the first time this year. Both teams clocked in with 52 hits each - a combined 104 hits in the game. That's a LOT. Now, a rivalry game would expect to bring a little extra physicality, but I went back a few games to see if there was a trend. Sure enough, the combined hit totals in the last 6 or 7 games for the Islanders were huge: none lower than 53 combined, with two topping out over 100 (the NYR game and one against Colorado).
In comparison, I looked back to the last handful of games that the Blues have played. Unfortunately, they've all been against the Eastern conference, so not a lot of heat there. The Pittsburgh game had the most, a combined hit total of 57, but most were below 50 and the lowest was a 25-hit total in the BJs game in Columbus (6 STL, 19 CBJ).
Now, hits are a dubious statistic. Hits are only counted when your team doesn't have the puck, and having possession is important. Can't score without the puck, after all. So, there are many who look down on the hit counts of a game. It does bear out. though: while the NY Islanders lead the league in the Hits statistic (by a country mile: 966 total through 26 games played. The next team is Philadelphia with 762), they are only middle of the pack when it comes to the possession measurement of Shot Attempts (ranked 13th at 49.96%). In contrast, the Blues have been generally considered an excellent possession team. So far this year they rank 4th in the league with 53.89% Shot Attempt % per game) and wouldn't you know it - they're ranked 17th in the league in hits with 556 so far in 25 games played. A vicious hit count doesn't necessarily mean that you're playing good (or winning) hockey.
I'm still not a 100% sold on dismissing the Hits stat, but I can see what the #fancystats community are describing.
What does that mean for tonight? Well, the Islanders are a pretty physical team on the rise, and anxious to prove themselves against the better teams in the league. Tonight is an opportunity to do just that, so you can expect plenty of physical play from them. They have been built to play in that style (they traded for Cal Clusterfuck, for cryin' out loud) and have gotten some good results out of it. I doubt they're going to turn away from that now. The Blues will need to put this game away. If they allow the Islanders to keep hangin' 'round, they will grind away and get their chances to take over.
Currently, the Isles are sitting in 3rd in the Metropolitan Division, with a record of 14-84. They've won 3 in a row, including some pretty solid teams like the Rangers and the Lightning. The Blues usually have a walk on the wild side in store when they play the Islanders in New York. A couple of years ago, it was the controversial Vanek disallowed goal due to a kicking motion. Last year, after Jake Allen allowed 3 goals in the first, Martin Brodeur came in relief and the Blues roared back with 6 goals to win the game, Marty's first as a Blue. What's going to happen this time?
Sounds like Brian Elliott is in net for the Blues, and we could see Jaroslav Halak in net for the Islanders. Just being Friday, we're already off to a good start. Let's add a Blues win to make it a perfect day, eh?
Blues vs Islanders coverage
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Final Verse: The puck drops at 6:30 PM St Louis time, and the GDT should drop shortly before that. Come join us, won't you? The TV broadcast is on Fox Sports MW, and the radio call will be on KMOX 1120 AM. Commiserate with us in the game day thread, and relive some fond memories from Long Island - such as: