Thursday, December 12, 2019

When Blues' D makes an impact on O, results are normally favorable

Aside from Pietrangelo, defenseman seem to be lacking as a whole providing 
more offense this season; are they really far off pace from last season though 

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- Toting their first three-game regulation losing streak in 13 months, the Blues are searching for ways to figure out ways to nip it in the bud.

It's no misconception that goal scoring is down, and losing their leading goal scorer (Vladimir Tarasenko) would put the onus on others in the lineup to pick up the slack.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo is on pace to set career highs in goals,
assists and points this season.

When thinking of goal scoring, one thinks of forwards, and for the Blues (18-8-6), now the attention turns to Ryan O'Reilly, Brayden Schenn, David Perron and Jaden Schwartz among others to pick up the slack.

Schenn (14 goals) and Perron (12) have done some of the heavy lifting thus far, far outweighing where they'll end up this season compared to last. O'Reilly (six goals) and Schwartz (eight) could definitely pick it up, but what about the Blues' defense?

This is a group that had three guys reach double figures (Alex Pietrangelo, 13; Vince Dunn, 12, and Colton Parayko, 10) last season and be among the league leaders in goal production from the blue line.

Pietrangelo finished with 41 points (13 goals, 28 assists) in 71 games; Dunn had 35 points (12 goals, 23 assists) in 78 games; Parayko had 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists) in 80 games. The Blues finished with 46 goals and 156 points from their blue a season ago.

It just doesn't feel like the Blues are getting that kind of quality production from their blue line this season so far, aside from Pietrangelo, who already has 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) through 32 games and is well on his way to earning a nice payday, but that subject's for another time.

Or does it?

Well, comparing it to last season, Blues defensemen through 32 games had 54 points (17 goals, 37 assists). Parayko led the way with seven goals (10 points in 32 games); Dunn had 14 points (three goals, 11 assists in 30 games) and Pietrangelo had 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 24 games.

Believe it or not, Blues defensemen have more points through 32 games this season (60) than they did last year. They just came on like a freight train a season ago, and the results showed.

Let's compare guys' numbers this season and last season through 32 games:

Pietrangelo 7-15=22, 7.4 percent shooting; 4-7=11 (24 games), eight percent
Parayko 2-10=12, 2.9 percent; 7-3=10, 10 percent
Dunn 4-4=8, 5.9 percent; 3-11=14 (30 games), 4.7 percent
* Justin Faulk 1-6=7, 1.7 percent; Joel Edmundson 1-6=7 (28 games), 2.3 percent
Jay Bouwmeester 1-5=6, 3.1 percent; 0-5=5 (28 games)
Carl Gunnarsson 1-3=4 (16 games), 11.1 percent; 0-0=0 (seven games)
Robert Bortuzzo 0-1=1 (14 games); 1-2=3 (14 games), 6.7 percent
Derrick Pouliot 0-0=0 (two games); Chris Butler 1-1=2 (nine games), 12.5 percent; Jordan Schmaltz 0-2=2 (20 games); Jakub Jerabek 0-0=0 (one game).

Pietrangelo is up three goals this season at this juncture and doubled his point total. Parayko's goals are down five but his assists are up. Dunn's goals are on par, off by just one, but his point total is down six. Faulk and Edmundson are a wash since they were traded for one another. Gunnarsson's numbers are up simply because he hasn't been injured like he was a year ago. Bortuzzo's are slightly down, but his game is predicated more towards the defensive side of things.

But let's face it, when the Blues are getting contributions from their blue liners, they tend to win games, and right now, in a condition where the Blues need all comers pinching in offensively, they could definitely use an influx from their D, and of their 16 goals from the blue line this season, Pietrangelo accounts for seven of them, which puts Parayko, Dunn, Faulk, Bouwmeester, Gunnarsson and Bortuzzo accounting for only nine of them.

"It's a big part of our offense for sure is our D, getting involved," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "We've got some guys that can really shoot the puck back there. Their shot totals can go up, hitting the net more, just being a little bit more aggressive offensively by them would be good."

With the success the Blues got from their blue line a season ago, are teams being more aggressive and challenging the shots from the point more? Are they sacrificing the body for the shot block, not giving the defensemen to shoot it or even allow them to pinch down low?

"Teams know we have a strong blue line and teams know all our guys can create offense," Dunn said. "It's a matter of getting the puck to us early enough where we do have time and not skating it up on the wall and then passing to us so the forwards get in the shooting lanes. At the same time, when the forwards to get it to us, we need to do a better job getting shots through. That'll create more havoc around then net and more dirty goals that we definitely need at times like this.

"As a group, we need to be getting more shots through. I think that's when the goals will come. It's not about creating goals, it's about creating offense. If we can be that next layer on the rush, that's also big too, but a lot of times, I think we're trying to make those pretty plays and we're turning pucks over and that's where the pucks are coming the other way. When you're forcing things too much and you're not scoring a lot of goals and you give up goals, it's really hard to win games."

Berube agreed.

"That's definitely part of it. They know that we use our D a lot, they know our D can shoot, they're active," Berube said. "There's teams that are getting out on them a lot quicker. Our forwards got to do a little bit better job of making plays to them quicker from below the goal line so they have a little bit more time, and also, once we hit that slot a few times with our R-3, that's going to make the wingers collapse a little bit more and open up the defense.

"When we're firing on all cylinders, they lead the way."

Parayko always looks like someone that any time he winds back, he's going to decapitate someone with his clapper. Just ask Ben Bishop, who felt Parayko's wrath with a big slap shot in Game 6 of the second round off the left shoulder. And Parayko said on Wednesday after practice that their group won't deviate from what they've done successfully in the past. It's not the way to go.

"Just as a whole, I think we've got to stick with it," Parayko said. "It's one of those things where not all the time it's going to go your way. We've had opportunities. I had a couple good chances last game, but I think it's just making sure that we understand the positions that we've got to be in to get those opportunities and make sure that we try and generate them and make sure we're working for those opportunities instead of just hoping that they're going to get there or they're going to be there for us. We've got to make sure we're being aware and putting in the time and making sure that we're not letting them come to us; we go and get them. Personally, I can do that a little bit more. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Vince Dunn (29) ties up Buffalo's Kyle Okposo during
action Tuesday in Buffalo.

"We tend to work from defense on out, and that's why we're successful."

And when the defensemen and forwards are on the same page, it's normally a recipe for success. 

"I don't think we've created as many chances as we did last year, and I think that's a team game," Dunn said. "That's on us, and that's on the forwards too. We're not consistent enough as a five-man unit in all three zones. It's just about everyone doing their job right now. When everyone does that, that's when everyone finds opportunities."

* NOTES --  The Blues skated with a full group on Wednesday, and it included Alexander Steen, who's been out since Nov. 5 with a high left ankle sprain, Oskar Sundqvist, who's missed six games with a lower-body injury, and Zach Sanford, who departed Saturday's game against Toronto with an upper-body injury and missed Tuesday at Buffalo.

Berube didn't commit to any of them returning against Vegas to open a four-game homestand tonight, but feels they'll be ready to go at some point.

"Yeah, we'll get them back. We'll get a couple guys back for sure," Berube said. "(Tonight's up in the air yet. I'm not sure about that, but a possibility. 

"Sanford's not bad. He looked good out there today, so we've got to see how he feels tomorrow."

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