Collective effort has St. Louis second in league, doing it with everyone chipping in
ST. LOUIS -- When the Blues made their way up to the top of the NHL standings two seasons ago, they did so with an attitude of shutting teams down and winning without a ton of offensive firepower.
Their goaltenders won the Jennings Trophy following the 2011-12 season, and that mantra has carried with the team forward.
The Blues, who are off to their best 41-game start in franchise history at 29-7-5, are again at the top of the defensive rankings on the NHL. Prior to action Sunday, the Blues were one of six teams to now allow 100 goals on the season (93), and they were tied for third in the league in goals against per game at 2.27.
|(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)|
Vladimir Tarasenko, a 2010 first round pick of the Blues, has stepped up
his game in his second NHL season.
No surprises there considering the Blues have finished in the top 10 in each of the past two seasons, including No. 1 two seasons ago at 1.89.
The Blues may not have the glamour names and firepower that the Pittsburgh's, Chicago's and Washington's have, but there they are, right there with the best of the best in terms of scoring goals.
Entering Sunday, the Blues were second in the NHL (behind the Blackhawks) in scoring, averaging 3.56 goals per game, which would be their best output since the 1994-95 season (3.71), prompting captain David Backes to joke: "We're pretty much run-and-gun. Now it's trading chances."
The Blues are doing it the blue-collar way, the Ken Hitchcock way: getting everybody involved.
Only the Blackhawks (seven) and Penguins (five) can match the Blues or better with players that have 30-plus points -- the Blackhawks are also No. 1 at 3.66 goals per game. The Blues have five, and they are tops in the NHL with 11 players with 20 points or more.
The Blues don't rely on their top-line players to carry the offensive load. It's been spread out from one game to the next, and it shows at the end of the night.
"It's one of those things where the depth that we have, it's not like we have one or two scoring lines," said Backes, who has 16 goals and 30 points. "All four lines can put the puck in the net and that's tough to play against for any team. You can't shut down two guys and expect for us not to score."
The Blues have also scored five goals or more 12 times this season, or 29 percent of their games. They've scored at five times in their past four home games and five of the past eight games overall.
And they're doing it currently without their top goal scorer Alexander Steen, who leads the team with 24 goals.
"It's 'Lappy' or it's 'Sobe,' it's 'Schwartzy,' the defensemen getting in on the scoring," Backes said of Maxim Lapierre, Vladimir Sobotka and Jaden Schwartz. "Different guys every night. That's great to see. That's good teamwork and different guys shouldering the load all the time."
Schwartz, who's on a career-best eight-game points streak has really shot off this season, as has fellow 2010 first round pick Vladimir Tarasenko. T.J. Oshie may not be scoring goals at a record clip but he's pitching in with a plethora of assists (29), a team high. And Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester are among the leaders in points among defensemen.
"We're a more mature team now," said Shattenkirk, who leads Blues defensemen in goals (six) and points (28). "Our younger guys had to step into prominent roles with our injuries and they've done a heck of a job with it. With the experience they had last year, they look a lot more comfortable and they're accepting that responsibility. We're just playing with a lot of confidence and that's the most important thing you can do at times like this."
A 6-2 win Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets saw fourth-liner Lapierre get credit for the game-winning goal. Patrik Berglund, who's beginning to get himself more involved in scoring, as has Chris Stewart, got on the board twice Saturday. Newcomer Derek Roy has also blended in well.
"I think we're scoring because of all the work we did in training camp and during the exhibition season during the competition drills," Hitchcock said. "I think guys are staying with it longer and I think they're having success and it just kind of breeds confidence. But I think we stay on it hard. I think we're committed to finishing. I think what we did in training camp and those little games we played and the little times we kept score to me have really showed up here in the competition, really shown up."
Hitchcock's checking mentality has his team spreading the wealth, and those little aspects involved in paying the price has been very rewarding for the Blues.
|(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)|
T.J. Oshie leads the Blues with 29 assists and is second on the team
behind Alexander Steen (38) with 37 points.
"It's little details ... when you check hard and do the little things like putting the puck deep, you get the puck back and score some goals," Lapierre said. "It doesn't always have to be nice. ... We do a lot of things right."
And they're doing a lot of things right even without some of their top producers in recent weeks. Others are accepting the challenge.
"The injuries forced us to play this way, and then the players coming back in ... we don't need saving," Hitchcock said. "We don't need David Backes and Alex Steen to save us. We just need them to fit in. We're already bought in to what we're doing here. When they come back and play, Backes comes back in (Saturday) and fits nicely. (Ryan Reaves has) come in and fit nicely. They just need to fit in. We don't need Alex Steen to come back and save our season. He just needs to fit in and play now. Our guys are bought into this way of playing. Hopefully we can go on a long run with it."