Sometimes I have to step back and remind myself, St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk is only 26 years old. Traded to the Blues in the 2010-11 deal that involved Erik Johnson and Chris Stewart as the primary pieces, Shatty has proven to be the hidden gem in the blockbuster move just under five years ago. Along with Alex Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk has become one of the top defenseman in the NHL due to his versatility and huge effect on the power play.
He doesn't have the laser beam slap shot of Shea Weber or the high profile of Drew Doughty, but Shattenkirk's ability to maintain zone pressure and his smartness on the ice pays big dividends for a Blues team that is struggling to finish these days. Remember at the beginning of the season when the Blues power play was crap. When Shattenkirk was out with an injury from October 13th to November 7th, the power play was in turmoil, going long stretches without a goal and even looking pathetic at times. There was no cycling of the puck or blue line stability. It took a little while for the Blues to get rolling but they have become a completely different team with the extra man with Shatty at the point. When he returned, the Blues went from a team hanging near the bottom in power play efficiency to a top ten unit.
Shattenkirk's 4 goals and 11 assists each rank 7th in NHL defensemen. He has scored three goals in the past five games and netted a pair of power play goals during that time. This coming from a D-man who in some games only fires the puck on net two times. When he does, he makes it count. Shatty is the perfect kind of hockey player. He is smart, can handle the puck in both zones, and isn't afraid to take charge. He also makes the players around him better.
Back to that power play. A couple of months ago the Blues were lucky to be in the top 15 in power play efficiency. Today, they are ranked 5th in the NHL(22.4 percent). That is due in large part to the Shatty effect. His shots get through, he keeps the puck in the offensive zone and the man knows how to find open wingers. He may not be the flashiest but he is highly effective.
The possession with Shattenkirk is the key thing, even when the teams are playing 5 on 5. Hockey Reference has some delicious findings up its sleeves. We have all talked Corsi and Fenwick, which break down how many shots(on net, blocked or missed) a player contributes. With 5 on 5 play and the score tied, Shattenkirk's CF % is 58 percent. A player above 50 percent shows the team is controlling the puck when he is on the ice. Shattenkirk's 58 percent is the highest mark in his career. While it's only 33 games, it still shows this recent 5 on 5 play trouble the Blues are having doesn't relate to the defenseman. He is doing his job.
There's not much to say about the Blues these days that is favorable or will turn a fan's head in the right direction. A four game losing streak is about as sad as a cold cup of expensive coffee that you forgot about because you were reading an article on the internet. The team is struggling. They have blown four straight leads. Their play has evaporated after a fast start. Any two goal lead now will only make fans drink more and not less. People have already switched from beer to whiskey and it's not even spring.
Ken Hitchcock's head has been called for in more forums and sites than can be counted. The Blues lounge plans to exchange this entire team(except for #91) with another team's roster if the logistics match up. People are panicking and it's only January 8th. There's still time but it doesn't feel that way. A losing streak can strangle the patient nerves in a sports fans mind real easily.
The power play has been a bright spot. A spot of vast improvement. A 26 year old former first round(14th overall) pick is responsible for that. Kevin Shattenkirk may not be as indispensable in some people's eyes as Petro, but he sure does make the case every time he steps on the ice, especially if the Blues have a man advantage.
If you need a reason to look up that doesn't include the number 91 and "Russian" in the same sentence, remember a New Rochelle, New York kid with a sense of humor.