Wednesday, October 26, 2011

When Blues have a void to fill, D'Agostini fits the bill

Winger's versatility invaluable, has him tied for league lead in plus-minus

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The way Blues winger Matt D'Agostini sees it, the plus-minus statistic can sometimes be overrated. But it's also a stat that players take some pride in, especially when one's on the right side of it.

When D'Agostini, who is tied for the NHL lead early in the season at plus-7, finished at minus-17 two seasons ago with the Montreal Canadiens in 59 games, "I was saying how much of a crock the plus-minus is," D'Agostini joked. "I'm going to ride it now. It's my favorite stat so far this year."
(Getty Images)
The Blues' Matt D'Agostini (right) defends against Dallas' Alex Goligoski
in a game earlier this season. D'Agostini leads the Blues in goals (four)
and in plus-minus (+7).

When the Blues take on the Vancouver Canucks at 9 p.m. today, D'Agostini enters the game tied for the league lead with Boston's Tyler Seguin and Toronto's Dion Phaneuf.

There's still plenty of hockey yet to be played, but when a player's on the plus side of the ledger, there's one known fact.

"It means you're on the ice when goals are scored rather than giving them up," D'Agostini said. "Sure, it's something a player takes pride in. You never want to be out there when the other team's scoring.

"Sometimes, it has nothing to do with you and stuff happens, but that's the way it is so far. We've been scoring even strength obviously because our power play hasn't been scoring. If we keep scoring even strength goals, we're going to win games."

Since joining the Blues via trade, D'Agostini, who leads the Blues with four goals this season, is plus-12 in 97 games. In 94 games with the Canadiens, he was minus-29. What makes D'Agostini's numbers noticeable is he seems to thrive in whatever situation Blues coaches put him in.

The Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario native has taken shifts on all four units in the Blues' lineup. When he was needed on the top line last season with David Backes and Andy McDonald because of injuries, D'Agostini stepped in well and in the end, finished with a career-best 21 goals and 46 points. He's also had stints on the second, third and fourth lines without missing a beat.

"He's dropped down in situations where it's not necessarily creating depth, but the message he usually brings back is that he's capable of contributing in a number of different areas," Blues coach Davis Payne said of D'Agostini. "The thing for him is playing the game with good pursuit, with good physical intent. He now becomes a much more effective player.

"He doesn't need too many opportunities to finish off plays. That's the skills that we'd like to see him use. But in order to get to those spots and get to those moments, he's got to make sure he's doing some of the other things ... stopping on loose pucks, staying in pursuit ... he just becomes a much more effective player when he does that."

D'Agostini will line up tonight on the left wing with Patrik Berglund at center and T.J. Oshie at right wing on the team's second line for the third straight game.

"I like it," said D'Agostini. "They're obviously gifted and talented players. They create a lot of open ice because they can break a check, they can juke guys out of their skates and all of the sudden, they shake defenders pretty well. If they just keep playing their game, I'll try and find open spots."

(Getty Images)
Matt D'Agostini (right) celebrates a goal in Philadelphia
with Vladimir Sobotka Saturday.

D'Agostini's scored two goals in as many games and seems to have found a niche playing with Oshie and Berglund, taking a role that was vacated -- at least temporarily -- by Chris Stewart, who's been elevated to the top line with Backes and Vladimir Sobotka in the wake of Andy McDonald's concussion.

"He adds a lot of of speed. He's definitely a fast skater," Oshie said of D'Agostini. "I think that backs opposing teams' D off when you see a guy flying like he can. Also, he's got a quick-releasing shot. It's quicker than any I've probably ever seen. When he can get his shot off, which doesn't take very long, it usually catches the goalie by surprise."

According to Oshie, his job -- along with Berglund's -- is easy.

"Just go to the net. He's definitely a shooter," Oshie said of D'Agostini. "Me and Bergy just get to the net ... hopefully there's a second chance. Then again, hopefully there's not a second chance because he's likely going to score."

There's no telling what line D'Agostini will wind up on Friday night in Calgary or beyond. If all goes well, expect things to continue as they are. If not, the Blues know they can find a spot for D'Agostini's versatility.

"He's stepped into a lot of different roles in a year and a bit now," Oshie said. "He's answered the bell most of the time.

"It's fun to have him on the line. I told him whenever I have the puck and have time, just go and I'll try and find him because he's got that breakaway speed. It backs people off and it really opens things up for me and Bergy."

All D'Agostini wants is the ice time ... no matter where it is.

"We take whatever role's given to us and try to make the best of it," D'Agostini said. "It's nice to see the coaches growing more and more confidence in me to put me out there in better situations. I'll just try and make it worth their while."

No comments:

Post a Comment