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Scoring Blues

St.Louis struggles to find offense early in the season

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at St. Louis Blues Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Blues have scored 22 goals over 9 games, good for 14th overall in the league. To be blunt, they’re on track to repeat the same middle-of-the-pack goal scoring output that saw them shut out in two games in the Western Conference Final against San Jose. This isn’t to say that the Blues haven’t looked fantastic at times, or that we haven’t seen flashes of brilliance within these early games. All cylinders were firing when the Blues hung five goals on Chicago and six on Calgary, but the these performances don’t erase a string of lackluster performances.

In nine total games, the Blues have been held to a single goal in five of them. They’re lucky to have walked away with a shutout win against the Kings, losing the other four in a painful fashion against Calgary, Detroit, Edmonton, and Vancouver.

Credit where credit is due - St.Louis has run into some terrific goaltending during their offensive drought. Cam Talbot has a .934 GAA, notching 7 wins through Edmonton’s surprisingly hot start. Petr Mrazek stopped 31 of 32 shots against the Blues on Thursday, not including the dickload of shootout saves after a scoreless overtime period. Even Vancouver backup Jacob Markstrom is 3-1-1 through 5 starts as former Blue Ryan Miller struggles with some nagging injuries. Is it just bad luck, or are the Blues simply running into streaking teams at the wrong time?

The front office wisely added Nail Yakupov and David Perron in an attempt to bolster the goal production, and the gamble has paid off early. Both players have four points each through nine games, and Yakupov’s chemistry with Patrik Berglund has been impossible to overlook. These surprises early in the season are nice, but the lack of offensive production still looks ugly, and the frustration is starting to build.

The Blues looked sleepy and careless throughout their last six games. They registered four shots in the first period and eight shots in the second against the Canucks, scored a single goal against Edmonton, and split a winnable home-and-home against Calgary. The only silver lining in this dark cloud was David Perron’s hat trick against the Flames, but the results were still grim, and the schedule doesn’t get any easier in November. The Blues will play Dallas and Nashville twice, and they’ll see Chicago, San Jose, Washington, Minnesota and Boston once. October was a huge opportunity to build a cushion in the cut-throat Central, and they squandered it.

What’s more, the Blues have stayed relatively healthy. Steen and Schwartz came back from injuries earlier than expected. Lehtera missed some time, but even he returned to the lineup more quickly than anyone anticipated. This is the entire roster healthy. None of the cornerstone pieces are hurt, there’s no real excuses left, and they’re still struggling to find the back of the net.

To put this all in perspective, Vladimir Tarasenko has 41 shots and a 9.8% shooting percentage so far this season. David Perron is in a distant second place with 23 shots. Tarasenko is trying to carry this team on his back, and he’s not getting enough offensive help. At this point, why not dress Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk, and Parayko at forward? They spend much of their time pinching into the offensive zone anyway, trying to compensate for the lack of skill up front.

Don’t get me wrong, this is no time to panic, and the foundation is still rock steady. The penalty kill is crushing at an unbelievable 93%, and the goaltending, apart from two softies from Allen, has been reliable. The Blues are allowing the sixth-fewest shots against per game, and all of the hallmarks of this Central Division powerhouse are still very much in place. What’s troubling is that the same goal scoring problems from last season are still there, too, and this team shouldn’t have to scratch and claw for goals. On paper, this roster should be stacking up points, but on the ice, it’s been a different story in the early days of this season for St.Louis.