Monday, October 7, 2013

Collective effort has Blues' PK off to perfect start

Dating back to 2012-13, team has thwarted
21 in a row, including 11 to begin 2013-14

ST. LOUIS -- Wanting to avoid the poor starts the last couple seasons have brought to the Blues' penalty kill, coaches emphasized in training camp a good beginning breeds other good habits.

The Blues concluded the 2012-13 regular season strong, killing off 10 in a row, and they've picked up where last season's team left off here at the start of 2013-14 with 11 in a row to boost that streak to 21 straight.

But the 11 in a row to start this season have come on the heels of a rather rocky preseason in which the Blues allowed seven power play goals on 27 attempts (74 percent efficiency). But the Blues are a team that utilizes a multitude of players, which included players that are now in the American Hockey League or junior teams. Once the Blues got their regular rotation in on a regular basis, it was a matter of time before things would click.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Not only was Maxim Lapierre (pictured) brought in for added depth,
but the Blues utilize him on the penalty kill as well.
"Our confidence level has been growing with every kill and it seems to get bigger," said associate coach Brad Shaw, who is the orchestrator of the penalty kill group. "That's part of the momentum of the game."

And the Blues have built up momentum in both wins (4-2 over Nashville and 7-0 Saturday over Florida) that carried over into other areas, particularly the power play (3-for-8) and even-strength shifts.

"It's one of those things where you can gain momentum from it," defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "... Penalty killing's just hard work. Everyone's on the same page and doing things, but if you put the work in, everyone's jumping at the right time. The way everyone's trying to kill penalties now, you're just trying to pressure teams on the entry and not giving them time to set up and try to create some chaos."

The Blues are 11-for-11 on the season, but what's even more recognizable is that they've only allowed five shots on those 11 penalty kill opportunities over 20 minutes, 21 seconds of time.

All three Nashville shots came in the fourth and final Predators' power play and the Panthers could only muster up two shots on seven attempts in 12:21.

"We've done a good job of getting in shot lanes and sticks on pucks so that they don't get through," Shaw said. "You go through some stretches where you kill pretty well and you give up shots. It just happens in the first two games that we've minimized the zone time that power plays have had against us, they haven't had that chance to sort of set things up and sort of establish their game. We've sort of stayed ahead of the curve that way and shored up in those stats."

And when teams get into the Blues' zone, there's an added element.

"I think we're just pressuring them on their entries the right way and getting forward to the strong side of the ice as much as we can," right wing T.J. Oshie said. "Everyone's just kind of in sync right now. It's early. We're moving as a group of four. We've just got to keep doing that."

That group of four isn't just relegated to one particular group, which has been a big key to why the Blues have finished in the top seven in the NHL (first in 2009-10, seventh in each of the last two seasons). It starts with David Backes and Alexander Steen up front and Barret Jackman and Alex Pietrangelo in the back. Then the Blues have an array of players to follow suit, including Oshie, Bouwmeester, Maxim Lapierre, Vladimir Sobotka, Roman Polak and Jaden Schwartz.

"Sharing the burden and taking pride in it throughout the whole penalty killing group and even the guys that get called in when someone else is in the box," Oshie said of the shared workload. "You look at the goaltending we've had on our penalty killing (with Jaroslav Halak) and the four guys that start it, Backs, Steener, Jacks and Petro, they set the tone every time. Once they get it down and off, it's the next guy's turn and we follow their lead."

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Vladimir Sobotka (right) is another key penalty killer that has the Blues
off to a perfect 11-for-11 start to the season, 21 in a row overall.
The Blues are one of eight teams remaining to be perfect on the penalty kill this season, but only Vancouver (14-for-14 in three games) has killed more opportunities.

"I just think it's a combination of good players, committed to details, committed to the work but really committed to the details," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "It's really helped us putting all this focus in with the actual players. Rather than teaching a big group, we worked with the same dozen guys. Being able to work with the same dozen guys has allowed us to have a good head start.

"We needed a better start. Two years in a row we've had really poor starts killing penalties and we needed a better start. We've got it so far."

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