Thursday, December 13, 2018

Blues' penalty kill has been a constant all season

Unit has killed off 19 straight dating back to Dec. 1, 
up to fourth in NHL, a position it's accustomed to

ST. LOUIS -- When the Colorado Avalanche visit Enterprise Center on Friday, it will be another top-tiered power-play unit that the smothering Blues' penalty kill will have to deal with.

The Blues' PK has been on a bit of a roll lately, killing off 19 straight going into the game Friday against the Avalanche, which has the No. 2 power play in the NHL at 29.7 percent, only trailing Winnipeg at 30.3 percent.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (right) defends against Florida's Denis
Malgin on Tuesday.

But in this straight of penalty kills the Blues have thwarted off going back to Dec. 1 at Arizona, they killed off six Jets power plays in a 1-0 win last Friday, and Florida's No. 4 power play at 27.2 percent left St. Louis on Tuesday at a modest 0-for-2, but nonetheless, the Blues have been shutting down some of the league's top PP units and doing it well.

"Goaltending's been great," Blues center Ryan O'Reilly said. "There's been times with some huge saves, but also our 'D' is making massive blocks. I think we're on the same page. I think the coaching staff's good. I think they've been doing a great job all season of having us prepared and (knowing) what's going on, but I think one thing that would be nice, is we stay out of the box more. Last couple games, we haven't been (in the box), which is good. We're confident going over the boards we're going to get it done. It's everyone on the ice kind of thinking and acting together. The coaching staff too. Everyone's on the same page and when you do that, it's a recipe for success.

"It's a good group that goes out there. I think guys have good sticks that work well together and it starts with our coaching staff. They study it very good. They have a good plan for us, kind of exactly what shuts that kind of power play down."

Along with good work also comes good fortune, according to goalie Jake Allen.

"We're getting some luck, we're getting some bounces, we're getting some posts, which is nice," Allen said. "We're on our toes, we're aggressive and I think we're sort of playing the PK like we've got nothing to lose. We're just going out there and we're doing it. We're playing hard and guys are stepping up and blocking shots. There's so many skilled guys in this league now, the penalty kill is tougher than ever. ... We're going to get scored on eventually, but it's just going out with that mindset that whatever they're going to do to beat us is going to have to be the perfect play or a great play. Make them beat us, not beat ourselves. Guys are doing a really good job."

The Blues have historically in recent seasons been very good on the PK. They're fourth in the NHL this season at 84.5 percent, behind San Jose (84.6 percent), Minnesota (84.8 percent) and Arizona, which leads the league at a staggering 90.6 percent.

Guys like O'Reilly, Jay Bouwmeester, Alexander Steen, Tyler Bozak, Chris Butler, Robert Bortuzzo, Ivan Barbashev, Colton Parayko, Oskar Sundqvist, and even injured Alex Pietrangelo, Carl Gunnarsson and Joel Edmundson all play key roles in the PK unit.

"I think they're making a real conscious effort of having a good PK and having good sticks, being in good lanes, blocking shots, all the little things, your goalie making timely saves, that's all part of it," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. "They've been really good for a while and they have to keep going."

In 2009-10 when the Blues were No. 1 in the league, they did it at 86.8 percent. In 2013-14, they were second at 85.7 percent behind New Jersey (86.4), third in 2015-16 at 85.1 percent behind Washington (85.2) and Anaheim (87.2) and third in 2016-17 at 84.8 percent behind Florida (85.3) and Boston (85.7), so this is no new territory for them. The Blues have been in the top 10 eight times since 2006-07, and even though they took a dip to 18th last season, they take pride in shutting down the opposition's man advantage well.

"It's probably like anything. When you have success, it breeds confidence," Bouwmeester said. "We're not doing anything different. The penalty kill is just about positioning and everyone being on the same page and hard work. It's good. I don't think you focus on that too much because bounces and things like that, it's easy to go the other way too. But I think the things that we've been able to control, we've done a pretty good job lately. When you can get pucks out, you get them out and you end up not spending as much time in your own end, which on the penalty kill is what usually leads to goals is if you get stuck down there. We've done a pretty good job just defending the rush and not letting good teams getting set up.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Goalie Jake Allen (34) said not only is good play a part of a successful PK
but luck and fortunate bounces play a role in it too. 

"Our penalty kill here for a long time has been really good, and that's one thing we've always taken pride in. I think last year maybe we were a little more lower than we usually are, but I think this year, we just got back to focusing on the details. We've got lots of guys that are capable of doing it. If everyone just kind of sticks to the plan, then it's all good. ... Your goalie's going to have to make some saves. That's just the way it is. If they're not scoring, he's making the saves."

* NOTES -- Edmundson, who missed Tuesday's 4-3 win against Florida with a hand injury, did not practice Thursday and is questionable for Friday. Berube said they'll see how he is in the morning before making a decision.

-- The Blues have agreed to terms on a three-year entry-level contract with 19-year-old forward Alexei Toropchenko.

Toropchenko, a 2017 fourth-round pick, has played 29 games with the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League this season with 13 points (six goals, seven assists); he had 39 points (17 goals, 22 assists) in 66 games at Guelph last season.

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