Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Without Schwartz, numbers say Blues' offense will slip

What will the team do without arguably their top two-way forward for the next 
six weeks; St. Louis loses nearly 3/4 goals per game when left wing is sidelined 

ST. LOUIS -- It's a simple question but one that needs to be asked.

Now what?

Sounds simple enough. On many occasions, there is a simple answer. But in the case of the Blues, the answer could be simple; it also could be a difficult one to answer.

Only time will tell.

Losing Jaden Schwartz, who injured his right ankle blocking a shot in the first period of a 6-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings for at least six weeks, is a big blow, especially when this is the best all-around season thus far of his NHL career spanning six-plus seasons. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues will miss the 200-foot game and career year of left wing Jaden
Schwartz (17), who will miss at least six weeks with a right ankle injury.

Schwartz, arguably the Blues' best 200-foot forward, was putting up career-year offensive numbers with 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists) in 30 games that means so much more than just goals and assists.

Let's crunch some simple numbers but ones that bear mentioning (non-shootout goals for and against):

Going back to the 2014-15 season, which is three full seasons and 31 games this season, the Blues have played a total of 277 regular-season games. They've scored 793 goals for an average of 2.86 per game and allowed 688 goals for an average of 2.48 per game. 

Schwartz has played 216 of those 277 games. With him in the lineup, the Blues have scored 652 goals, an average of 3.02 per game. In the 61 games without him, they've scored 141 goals, an average of 2.31 per game.

In the scoring against department, the Blues are actually a tad bit better. With Schwartz in the lineup, they've allowed 548 goals, or an average of 2.53 per game. Without him, they've allowed 143 goals, an average of 2.34. But the bottom line is the Blues have scored 652 goals to 548 against with him playing, 141 scored for and 143 against without him.

The 3.02 average goals for with him and 2.31 without is a difference of 0.71 goals less per game, so the noticeable difference is the offensive numbers slip.

What does it equate to as far as wins and losses? Well, the Blues' record with Schwartz in the lineup is 137-65-14, 30-20-11 without him.

The Blues went 1-5-1 without Schwartz in 2014-15 when be missed seven games with a broken foot, scoring 17 goals and allowing 24 while scoring 222 and allowing 176 without him; they went 25-15-9 in 2015-16 when Schwartz missed 49 games with a fractured left ankle, scoring 109 goals and allowing 109 and scoring 110 and allowing 88 with him, and 3-0-1 last season when Schwartz missed four games with an elbow injury, scoring 12 goals and allowing eight while scoring 221 and allowing 208 with him in the lineup. They won 3-2 in overtime Sunday in their first game without Schwartz this season.

"It's a tough break," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "I feel really bad for 'Schwartzy,' just the year he's having, the way he's put himself on the map in our league, the recognition he's getting has been so well deserved, so I feel bad for him and obviously it's a loss for our group."

Added teammate Brayden Schenn, who benefited from having Schwartz as a linemate: "You never want to see anyone go down, you feel terrible for him. He's having a career year. You can tell how confident, how good he's playing out there. It's one of those freak little plays where it's a snap shot, a wrist shot from two feet away where you think, it's not going to do any damage, and it just hits you in the right spot. 

"It sucks for the team, sucks for me," added Schenn, who assisted on six of Schwartz's 14 goals and Schwartz assisted on eight of Schenn's team-leading 16 goals. "I was enjoying playing with him, having a great time doing it. At the end of the day, I guess he'll be fresh and ready for the rest of the season when we're really going to need him."

Schwartz has been called the engine that fuels this forward group. And now, as they've done in the past, including missing Schwartz due to injury for 61 games the past three-plus seasons, the Blues will have to move on without a key player.

But how?

With Schwartz out six weeks at a minimum, he'll miss 19 games unless he can somehow come back sooner than expected, which isn't an unreasonable thought to keep in mind. Or it could be longer than six weeks. But at a minimum, 19 games would equate to six weeks, and the Blues could use the option of putting Schwartz on long term injured-reserve, which can be done when players are expected to miss a minimum of 10 NHL games and 24 days in the season. LTIR can be used to exceed the salary cap and provide relief if the average club salary/payroll exceeded the upper limit.

That's one thought in mind.

Would general manager Doug Armstrong sniff around in search of a top-six forward? The likelihood right now would be remote, although it's something that could be a distinct possibility closer to the trade deadline. 

So for the time being, as the Blues (21-8-2) welcome the Tampa Bay Lightning (21-6-2) tonight in a battle for the overall top spot in the League, there will have to be a committee value to take on Schwartz's responsibilities, including taking on Schwartz's 19 minutes, 12 seconds of average ice time per game this season and 17:20 for his career.

"We've got character players, we've got depth and so, nobody's going to sit around here and feel sorry for us, and we're not going to feel sorry for ourselves," Yeo said. "We'll get back to work and obviously the focus on our team game is going to be extra important right now and we talk about it all the time, we need guys to step up. Guys that are in the lineup, we need them to step up and bring their 'A' game and guys that come into the lineup, we need them to be ready to deliver."

Hello Ivan Barbashev, recalled from the Chicago Wolves on Sunday and who played a solid game in a 3-2 overtime win over Buffalo on Sunday night. 

Hello Dmitrij Jaskin, who has matched his season total in points (11) through 28 games that took him 57 games to accomplish last season. Jaskin moved into a top six role Sunday.

The veterans like Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko, Paul Stastny, Alexander Steen, Vladimir Sobotka and Patrik Berglund will have to all pick up the slack. The onus will for the time being falls on everyone.

"You can't change something right now, so you can't complain about it, just try to play not only for ourselves but those guys too," Tarasenko said.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz (17) had 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists) in
30 games this season but is now sidelined with a right ankle injury.

"I think the way we play, obviously our top guys and our role (players), they all have a big impact on our team because we do rely on 12 forwards and 6 'D'" Stastny said. "We don’t really just rely on two lines and top four D. So I think when one guy does get hurt, I think the other lines seem to step up a little more. 

"... It's a long season, you’re going to have injuries. Whether it’s early in the season, middle or late season, you can't use it as an excuse. 'Yeozy' has done a good job of not letting us worry about it. Whoever is in the lineup, focus on what we have to do."

And that's why it'll be a work-by-committee mindset.

"I think everybody gets an opportunity," Yeo said. "I don't think we're going to point at one person and say this is the guy that's going to make up for the loss. I think collectively as a group, when you look at the offense we're going to be missing from 'Schwartzy,' we need everybody to step up and find a way to contribute and be a factor and be a threat. More importantly now is the way we band together and play in our defensive game and the structure and the mentality that we approach the game with as a group."

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