Lighting the Lamp with Rick Ackerman
It is a certainty that just about any article in any publication or any discussions on radio talk shows about the St. Louis Blues' meeting tonight with the Minnesota Wild will point out the offensive deficiencies both hockey teams are currently experiencing. Only five NHL teams have a weaker offense than the Blues, now ranked 25th of 30 NHL teams with 2.37 goals per game. Minnesota is not much better at 2.47 goals per game, ranked 21st.
St. Louis has only scored five goals in the last five games and 21 in the last ten. Despite that, the Blues have been able to accumulate 13 points with a record of 6-3-1 and maintain third place in the Central Division. And that is due to the stellar play of goaltender Brian Elliott, who has only allowed 20 goals against in the last ten games. Overall, Elliott has allowed 23 goals against in the 11 games since Jake Allen went down with an lower-body injury. Minnesota has scored 12 goals in their last five games, yet only 16 in the last ten. However, the Wild has only earned three points in that span with a 1-8-1 record, dropping down to sixth place in the Central, out of a playoff slot. Ouch!
Of course, goal production in the new NHL is overall on the decline this season and discussions are already ongoing in the inner sanctum of the NHL about how to increase scoring. Everything from reducing the size of goaltenders' equipment to increasing the size of the nets has been bandied about in an attempt to cater to younger American fans who need more goal scoring to enjoy NHL games.
Historically, statistics from Hockey-Reference.com show that the highest goal production from NHL teams was in the very beginning of league play in 1917-18 when the league average was 4.75 goals per game. That increased to 4.79 goals per game in 1920, the most in the history of the NHL. With expansion into the United States during the 1920s and the establishment of defensive-minded clubs under coaches such as Boston's Art Ross and the Rangers' Lester Patrick, the league average dropped to an incredibly low 1.46 in 1929. Naturally, that number slowly increased over the decades to a high of 4.08 goals per game in 1944 when NHL rosters were diluted due to star players enlisting in the (mostly) Canadian military. Similar increases in scoring occurred in the 1950s due to the powerhouse Montreal Canadiens led by coach Toe Blake (five Stanley Cups) and Tommy Ivan's Detroit Red Wings (four Cups).
The average goals per team went over three goals per game in 1960-61 when Bobby Hull's Chicago Blackhawks captured Lord Stanley's Cup and that number gradually increased, especially when the NHL doubled in size with expansion in 1967. Another dramatic increase came during the 1980s when the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mike Bossy and Marcel Dionne ruled the NHL roost. The average of four goals per game was once again reached in 1982 and remained high for the rest of the decade.
Goal production declined in the 1990s and into the 21st Century with a low of 2.57 goals per team per game in 2004. After the lockout, there was a jump to 3.08 in 2005-06, yet that number gradually decreased to a low of 2.52 at the end of the 2014-15 season. Currently the average is slightly up to 2.65 goals per team per game, and the league desperately wants to increase that number any way possible, including the now highly popular, exciting 3-on-3 overtime as an alternative to the not as popular yet still exciting shoot out.
Of more concern, though, at least locally, is how the Blues can increase goal production, including an inconsistent, currently impotent power play. Previously ranked second best in the NHL, the Blues man advantage has now dropped to 14th in the league at 18.9%. The Blues are 0-19 in the last eight games and 2-27 in the last ten. Patrik Berglund scored the last two power play goals in a 5-2 win over New Jersey on January 12.
The expected return of winger Jaden Schwartz in the next week or so should certainly help bolster the team and firm up the lines, yet no matter the line combinations, it is essential that a couple of players step up their game. Despite injuries, Paul Stastny is not living up to expectations with only five goals in 36 games (and a minus-2). And while it may be difficult to criticize Vlad Tarasenko, nevertheless he has only scored one goal in the last 11 games and four in the last 17 contests. Other slumping Blues include Captain David Backes, center Jori Lehtera and defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, with only three goals and a minus-6. Kevin Shattenkirk is putting up the goals (9) and points (27), yet is a team-worst minus-11. In comparison, rookie Colton Parayko is a team-leading plus-17.
In several articles written before the San Jose game, the Blues were not overly concerned about this lack of offense, claiming "We're just going through an unlucky phase", as Coach Hitchcock told Chris Pinkert at St. Louis Blues.com. "We'll get lucky here in the next week or so and start scoring...You'd like to score a lot more, but with 30 games left in the season, it's all about winning hockey games."
Well, I just hope the coach realizes the boys aren't going to win too many hockey games if they can't score more than a goal or two per game.