Monday, March 19, 2018

With the stakes high, Pietrangelo thriving in offensive role

Blues captain named NHL First Star of the Week after nine points in four 
games, taking on the role of offensive defenseman since trade of Shattenkirk

ST. LOUIS -- Desperate times call for desperate measures, and with his team in a desperate search for wins and points, Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo has elevated his game to a new level this season.

And more particularly, here in this recent stretch of games.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo reacts after tying the game Sunday night in
Chicago that helped the Blues to a 5-4 win.

With the Blues winning four of five games, Pietrangelo has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in the four wins, none in the loss. After a four-point night (one goal, three assists) in a 5-4 win against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday night, his second straight game with three points or more becoming the first Blue since Rob Ramage (1987-88) to accomplish the feat, Pietrangelo has thrust the Blues right to the heels of the second wild card in the Western Conference.

The Blues (39-28-5) came in one point in back of the Los Angeles Kings, who played in Minnesota Monday, and no matter how the season finishes, Pietrangelo, who was named the NHL First Star of the Week on Monday, is on pace for a career year.

His 15 goals, the 15th in which he picked up with the game-tying goal with 1 minute, 22 seconds remaining in regulation that tied the game 4-4 in Chicago, are already a career high, and with 35 assists, he's still eight off the pace of tying his career high of 43 set in 2013-14, but his 50 points are one off tying a career-high set twice (2011-12 and 2013-14).

Why all the success?

"Just shooting the puck I think," Pietrangelo said. 

Not just shooting the puck, but shooting it more accurately. Pietrangelo's shooting accuracy is at 7.8 percent, which is the best in a full season and up from his 5.8 percent for his career.

"Last couple years really just taking an onus on shooting the puck a little bit more when I've got a lane," Pietrangelo said. "Just trying to get it off a little bit quicker. Seems to be working."

Yes, it is working quite well.

Pietrangelo scored the tying goal Saturday night, too, that ultimately led to a 4-3 overtime win over the New York Rangers.

His five game-winning goals is one off a career-best established in 2011-12.

And in two games in which the Blues trailed after two periods and managed to find a way to win, Pietrangelo came through in the clutch. He helped the Blues overcome a two-goal deficit within a game and win Sunday for only the second time this season (the other was Nov. 18 at Vancouver, a 3-1 deficit that turned into a 4-3 OT win).

"That's what you're counting on, right, is your leaders and your top players to go out there and to perform at a really high level when the season's on the line and the games are on the line," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "We're getting that from those guys.

"He's shooting pucks. 'Petro's game is so much more than the scoring. Obviously, he gets four points tonight, shows up on the scoresheet. There's so many subtle plays and huge plays that he makes in our own zone, the defending. The way that he plays against top players. His game is at a very high level right now."

When it comes to minutes played, Pietrangelo is no stranger to being among the league leaders. His 25:36 leads the Blues, which is a regular occurrence, and he's seventh in the NHL. 

Seeing as Pietrangelo is asked to take on multiple responsibilities, including defending, penalty killing, shot blocking, being on the ice in key situations, taking on so many offensive responsibilities has made this arguably his best season and had it not been for a lower-body injury that sidelined him for four games and a 25-game goal-less drought, this could be one of those season's where we'd be talking about a Norris Trophy season.

"He's a big presence in the room," rookie defenseman Vince Dunn said of Pietrangelo. "You notice when he's not there. Watching him in practice, watching him do the little things. Even off the ice as a leader, it's pretty cool to see how someone can come from the same area as me and do such a great job in this league and for our team."

Perhaps Dunn has benefited most having Pietrangelo along as a mentor. Maybe not as much vocally, but Pietrangelo leads more by example of his play on the ice.

When the Blues need offense from their blueliners if down looking for a goal, Yeo doesn't hesitate putting Dunn and Pietrangelo together. 

"It's unbelievable," Dunn said. "Watching him as a kid, he played in the same organization as me in the OHL [Niagara]. It's pretty cool now to be playing by his side on some shifts. I look up to the guy like that. He's obviously a great leader on our team. That's why he's a captain. He just does so many things right on the ice. Just the little things that really go unnoticed. He's an easy guy to talk to and speaks up when he needs to, makes sure everyone stays level in here. We had a little tough stretch there, but he kept us pretty calm. I think now you can kind of see now we can get through a little adversity."

Pietrangelo stepped up when the Blues traded away their top offensive threat from the blue line in Kevin Shattenkirk. His 68 points in the past 88 regular-season games since Shattenkirk's departure are most on the Blues and fourth among all defensemen in the league in that span behind Dallas' John Klingberg (73), Victor Hedman (73) and Erik Karlsson (72). 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo (left) defends the goal on Sunday against the
Chicago Blackhawks. Pietrangelo scored to establish a career-high 15 goals.

But Pietrangelo's 20 goals are the most of any defenseman since the trade of Shattenkirk.

"I just try to be simple," Pietrangelo said. "When you look at all the 'D,' we're good when we're in and out, we're shooting pucks but we're not being too aggressive. We want to be the fourth man in the rush. We don't want to be leading rushes many times as we were early in the year, but we've got some 'D' that can shoot the puck. When we've got forwards going to the net like they are, it makes it easy for us."

No comments:

Post a Comment