Monday, November 22, 2010

Power play gaining steam after tough stretch

Blues have goal in five straight games, going
6-for-19 in that period after 0-for-25 drought

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Two weeks ago, the Blues' power play was falling into oblivion with no end in sight.

Or at least at the time, the team would like to have forgotten just how paltry the results had been.

The Blues went six games (0-for-25) without a man-advantage goal. Their numbers had sunk to levels that were among the league's worst that stood at 7-for-66 (10.7 percent).

But as all teams go through with their power play, penalty kill and overall team play, there are peaks and valleys.

Since their game on Nov. 13 at Phoenix, the Blues began what is now a peak on the power play. They have scored at least one man-advantage goal in a season-high five straight games, going 6-for-19 in that stretch.

The numbers still can be greatly improved (they're 13-for-85 on the season, which translates to 15.2 percent). But the 5-percent jump in the last five games is a sign that the execution and results on the man-advantage have changed for the better. They are 20th in the league with the man-advantage.

"I think we've stuck with it," said winger Brad Boyes, who has two power play goals during this stretch and leads the team with three. "There's times where we've had good movement, we've had some good opportunities, good chances and it wasn't going in for us. I think we're getting the bounces. ... We're keeping the units somewhat the same. We're getting familiar with each other again, which is nice. I think now, we're getting those bounces and they're going in.

"We've found ways to get away from that pressure, move it side-to-side. We're getting entries and entries are getting back (to the point). That's been another big part of our plays."

Opponents' penalty killers were having success pressuring the Blues into making mistakes, forcing them to take too much time gaining entry into the offensive zone and in essence, not giving the five-man unit enough time to get any continuity going.

The power play was a mess, but the Blues didn't stray away from what they wanted to do. They found that with the right personnel, they would get things straightened out.

"We always knew we had the opportunity to have a good power play," defenseman Erik Johnson said. "I think we just simplified things. I think if you look at our rush entries and all that, we've gotten more simple and we're rimming pucks and retrieving. We've had a good work ethic and outworked the penalty kill.

"You can only write up and script so much. It's a lot of using your instincts. We knew we had a group capable of scoring power play goals. It just wasn't going in for us and we were gripping our sticks too tight. I think that had a factor to do with it as well. We always knew we'd turn it around and it would help us win some games."

The fact that the Blues are using a lot of the same players on each group indicates that there is chemistry developing. Alex Steen and Alex Pietrangelo are manning the points on the top unit, with Boyes and Matt D'Agostini on the wings and David Backes in the middle. Johnson and Carlo Colaiacovo make up the point men on the second unit, with Brad Winchester clogging the middle and Patrik Berglund and Andy McDonald positioned in the circles.

"We're getting ourselves to areas that we can defuse some of the opponents' pressure," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "I think we've done a much better job handling that. That's allowed us to get our offensive zone time started. It's allowed us to get into some looks that we feel we can attack with.

"I think most importantly, we're not waiting to get set up. Everybody talks about getting the power play set up. There's a lot of opportunity there to attack out of the initial pressure. We're doing a very good job making reads as far as where we're going with the puck under pressure ... blind releases is how we term it; getting a puck to an area where we can go ahead and execute from there."

Opponents have taken notice that the Blues have heated up on the power play, and that has alleviated the pressure applied when the Blues have had possession.

"The predictability and handling the pressure has been probably the biggest thing," Payne said. "When we were going through that tough stretch when the power play wasn't working, pressure was very effective against us. We didn't handle it, didn't put pucks to the right areas, didn't extend that zone time so that the PK guy has about 15-20 seconds of real hard pressure in the zone and all of the sudden, he's got to make a little bit different read based on fatigue levels. We've gotten to that point. ... We've done a much better job (with) net pressure, Winchester and Backes in particular. The guys are supporting the puck a little bit better as well."

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