After a less than impressive start to their four game road trip the Blues bounced back Friday night with a decisive win against the New Jersey Devils.
While there were many great takeaways from Friday night’s game, Bob Fabbri’s 2 goals, Tarasenko’s 3 points (bringing his total to 31 points in 28 games), Ryan Reaves first goal of the season and
Mike Brad Hunt’s assist on the opening goal, the most impressive would have to be the overall play of the entire team.
From the first drop of the puck to the end of the final period the Blues never let up. Even after Fabbri’s early first period goal it became apparent that the team would not be satisfied falling back and playing defense for the rest of the game. Something they were guilty of the night before.
Unlike in the previous game against the Islanders the Blues were able to maintain pressure on their opponents backup net minder the entire night. St. Louis finished the game with 32 shots on goal, 8 of which came from Tarasenko.
During Thursday night’s game @gtbradlee tweeted that it seemed like the Blues were playing to take the game to overtime while the Islanders were playing to win the game in regulation. While this may not have exactly been the case it was pretty clear that the Blues were waiting for the game to come to them instead of creating chances on their own.
The calling card of a Ken Hitchcock coached team has always been strong defense coupled with constant and relentless checking and this version is no different. The only difference is now the Blues are doing it with speed and tenacity as opposed to the heavy, physical style of the past.
When the Blues have had success it has been because the entire team is engaged. The forwards are relentless on the forecheck and equally as tenacious on the back-check. This in turn allows the d-men to play more aggressive, holding the blue line and pinching in the offensive zone. When players feel they have the support of their teammates they in turn feel more comfortable taking risks which leads to an increase in scoring chances.
However, what gets this team into trouble is when players are sitting back waiting for the game to come to them. Forwards stop back-checking, relying instead on the defense to stop the opposing teams rush. The defense then has to play a more cautious game, allowing the other teams attackers gracious amounts of time and space. All of this results in a drastic rise in alcohol consumption by Blues fans.
This may explain why the Blues home record far exceeds its record on the road. When they are in their own building the team isn’t required to manufacture any kind of additional energy, they simply need to feed off of the home crowd. It is a lot easier to be engaged when there are 19,000 screaming fans cheering you on.
However, when the Blues are on the road and they must look inward to generate energy and maintain focus that’s often when the team struggles. This also explains why the team usually performs much better after a loss to an inferior team or when a key player is sidelined with an injury. It creates a sense of urgency and helps the team regain focus. When Alexander Steen was injured last month it was apparent that the entire team realized they needed to step up their game. Without the aid of one of their best wingers the team went 5-1 with a plus 5 goal differential.
One of the biggest concerns this season has been the lack of an identity for this team. They don’t have enough speed to be considered fast. They lack the big bodies needed to be viewed as a physical, punishing team. And their key players haven’t been able to contribute on a consistent basis.
Maybe, just maybe the Blues identity lies within its fourth line. Maybe they need to consider themselves the grinders of the NHL. The blue-collared (pun intended) team that shows up everyday with their work boots on, ready to give everything they've got for every second of every shift of every game.
When the Blues plays for each other they are as dominate as even the most talented team in the league. Believe me, good things will happen when this team realizes they aren’t that great. Thanks for reading. Lets Go Blues!