One of the elements in the style of play for the St. Louis Blues under new coach Mike Yeo is to keep opponents to the outside when in the Blues’ zone. Yeo wants the team to clog the lanes, force outside shots, and make sure pucks are cleared away to prevent the all too dangerous chance off the rebound.
This strategy seems to be a big part of the Blues’ success in the first round so far, even as the ridiculous amounts of shots against tally up game after game. It seems inconceivable that a team can be out-shot as much as the Blues have, yet still be able to eke out a win. Yet here the Blues are, up 3 games to none against the Minnesota Wild.
How does Yeo’s style of play look on paper? Here are three images of shot locations for shots taken at 5v5 against the St. Louis Blues. The top is Hitchcock’s last 32 games of his tenure with the Blue Note. The middle is Yeo’s first 32 games with the Blues, and the bottom are the three playoff games to date.
Overall, the difference in average shot difference is only a tenth of a foot. However, in Yeo’s shot against map, you can start to see white space where none exists in Hitchcock’s map. The slot is still filled with shots, as is around the net.
When I hear the words “keep shots to the outside” or “clear pucks from in front of net” I think of a team trying to reduce their “high danger” scoring chances against. So I took a look at both the Blues high danger scoring chance for and against as a percentage of the total shots for and against.
Under Hitchcock the percent of shots that the Blues faced that were high danger chances was just slightly above the league average. Under Yeo, there was a considerable drop in this percentage during the regular season, and an even smaller percentage during the playoffs. This is what I would expect from a coach that is attempting to limit opponent’s shots to the outside, while emphasizing clearing pucks to avoid opponents from taking shots off the rebound.
Yeo’s approach seems to be working so far in the defensive zone when combined with Jake Allen’s amazing play and the Blues’ very reasonable shooting percentage in the offensive zone. Like some of you (many of you?) I was not expecting much from this Blues’ team (and apparently neither was Armstrong) in the playoffs. But you can’t argue with the results to date, especially when the numbers seem to be confirming what’s happening on the ice.