Friday, October 13, 2017

Blues decent on power play, want to be better

Man-advantage gets boost with Parayko working 
with first-team unit, Tarasenko helping teaching it

TAMPA, Fla. -- As the Blues were going through a brisk practice Friday at Amalie Arena ahead of their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday to conclude a four-game trip, the power-play drill they were working on caught the media's attention.

The Blues were working on a 5-on-3 drill and incorporating heavy-shooting Colton Parayko, who's normally been part of the second unit, into the first-unit group.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Imagine Colton Parayko (pictured) on the Blues' top power
play unit. Blues worked at it on Friday.

Parayko and sharp-shooting Vladimir Tarasenko were criss-crossing into positions to shoot one-timers on their off-shooting position, and Alex Pietrangelo, normally on the first-unit point, was playing down low, normally where a playmaking forward would normally be. Brayden Schenn, Jaden Schwartz and Paul Stastny, who was on the outside while Parayko mixed in, were also part of the mix.

And when a particular play was over, there was Tarasenko, talking, teaching, talking, communicating ... was it mentioned he was talking?

Tarasenko was giving tips and pointers to Parayko, who can be a lethal weapon for the Blues particularly in those situations.

The Blues, who were 1-for-5 with the man-advantage, including 1:03 of 5-on-3 time against the Florida Panthers in a 5-2 loss that resulted in no goals, had 17 shots Thursday with the power play but only a Stastny goal to show for it.

There was plenty of zone time, plenty of pucks hurled towards aging Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo with little to show for it. 

The Blues have a power play goal in each game; they're 5-for-21 on the season, which isn't particularly poor at 23.8 percent, good for ninth in the league, but they feel it can be better.

And more efficient.

A goal in that situation near the end of the second could have turned the momentum in a 3-1 Florida lead. At 3-2, it's game on. With nothing to show for it, potential momentum shift was gone, and the end result became predictable.

But the drill was being run swiftly and efficiently, with Parayko blowing a number of shots with force and some that looked effortless into the back of the net.

"Everyone has experience so we have a lot of ideas," Tarasenko said. "Just like when there's too many penalties right now, you get too excited when you go 5-on-3 and you just want to make a nice play. I think we need to play more simple and if you want more success, I think we have really good players to get it fixed and that's what we're working on right now.

"The question after a game like this is if you feel like you stay in the right program and do the right things and then it doesn't go in somehow, the question is can you stay on or you just let it go and try to find obviously wrong ways to do this? We work on staying on the same program. We know we have the chances, they just don't go in. We have to find the reasons why they don't go in and just make it go in next time."

It lends to wonder what if Parayko had been used at all during that 5-on-3? Imagine setting him up with nobody but the force behind his shot and Florida goalie Roberto Luongo as a last line of defense? 

One will never know, but the Blues caught on quickly enough to work on that very purpose on Friday.

"It's easy to say that he's got a big shot," coach Mike Yeo said of Parayko. "Obviously you have to know when to take the shot, when to pass the puck, but I think that we've got threats out there that are more than just 'Vladi.' We've got opportunities for guys to attack down low, we've got the opportunity to attack with shots. You look at the 5-on-3's in all the games that we've had, we've had one or two really good chances, some nice plays that are well-designed, but more often than not, when you look around the NHL and the 5-on-3 goals that are getting scored, it's how you attack the net, so we have to make sure that we find opportunities to make that happen."

Now that he's being given a chance, Parayko hopes to make the most of any time he's offered with the top power-play unit.

"It's exciting to be a part of it," Parayko said. "Obviously it's an opportunity where I have to make sure I take advantage of it, but it's fun obviously when you have opportunities 5-on-3, it's a good chance to score goals and go up. So if we get them in games, you want to make sure you capitalize on them. You work so hard practicing all the systems and everything like that. If you have the chance to work on something that doesn't seem so big but it could be a game-changer, score there it could be 3-2 and made a big difference almost in the game. I think it can go a long way if you can capitalize on those.

"... I would love to be out there, but the players that are out there, elite players and I'm still coming into my game. Those guys have been the best players in the league for a while now. Obviously everyone wants to be out there, but yeah, I would love to be out there and try to help out. Those guys are obviously elite players ... just because they don't score one 5-on-3, we've killed two or three 5-on-3's ourselves this year so far and those are against the best players on other teams as well. It's hard to score. There's still a goalie in the net, there's three players. Obviously you want to be out there, but at the same time, it's one of those things where we have top players out there."

But even as smoothly as the drills were working, Tarasenko was right there with his own teaching mechanisms with the coaching staff, lending Parayko anything that can help the team gain traction on success that caught those watching in the stands impressively off-guard.

"I used to talk before; you just don't see it," Tarasenko said with a smile. "I have some experience playing with different partners, some of the best players in the world. We just share our feelings. Especially with Colton and his shot, we just need to find a way to get him the puck in a nice, comfortable spot. I don't think 5-on-3 is supposed to be shot through traffic because I think we have good enough players to make it. So you just get too excited and try too much and want to make it nice and then you don't score. So we just try to simplify but at same time, we should know our roles and what everyone's role is."

And when Tarasenko was talking, Parayko was listening intently.

"If you know Vladi, he's passionate, he's intense, he wants to win and he's always wanting to do better," Parayko said. "Just within the locker room, he's always wanting to make the right play and always wanting to just ... be the best. He wants everyone around him to be the best, he helps everyone and that's just the kind of teammate that he is. He wants to bring out the best in all his teammates and obviously himself as well. Playing with a guy like that, it's fun to be around him. It's fun to play with him.

"... It helps out just getting the feel of things for each other and how each other kind of play. Just the little things he kind of lets me know and tells me. It's always fun to learn from a guy like that who obviously is an elite player."

And Yeo approves.

"It's a good thing," he said. "It's trying to find solutions and trying to make the group better. I don't think that it's successful for any team, whether it's special teams, power play, penalty kill, 5-on-5, the buy-in and the way that the players go out and perform is always going to be better if they're engaged and they believe in what they're talking about. Obviously, he was pretty passionate about things we were talking about today.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (91) was on the ice working and teaching
the power play drill trying to help his team get better in any which way.

"You look at the 4-on-3's and the 5-on-3's, there's some really nice well-executed, well-designed plays, but the reality is you need more than that. I thought that the 5-on-3, obviously you've got a two-man advantage. If you move the puck extremely quickly, you're ready to attack and have the mindset that something is going to be available for you and you just have to move the puck quickly and see what's available. I think that we've been thinking a little bit slow, a little bit deliberate. If you take what they give you and you're ready to attack, then something will be there for you."

And that's what the Blues are searching for: solutions. Because simply having ample amounts of zone time and quality chances are not enough.

"If you don't score, you're not close," Tarasenko said. "... Just move the puck faster and create more quality chances.

"We cannot let teams go on us this hard and we don't respond well, especially us. Season continues tomorrow. It's important game for us. We have a chance to finish a good road trip so far. We prepare for hard battle for each other like always."

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