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Blues stress 'accountability' on offense

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As players spread out for the summer, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong and head coach Ken Hitchcock convened in St. Louis. Offseason evaluations are normal procedure in the NHL, but the main topic on the agenda was more perplexing than your typical postseason reflection.

The Blues wanted to know why they struggled to score more goals.

The club netted just 10 goals in a six-game playoff loss to Los Angeles, an average of 1.67 per game, which was the second-lowest clip among the 16 postseason teams. After taking a two-games-to-none lead in the series, the Blues were blanked on 30 shots in a 1-0 Game 3 loss, shifting the momentum to the Kings, who went on to win four straight.

“You have to score goals in this game … you have to score goals to win,” Armstrong said. “When I look back at last season, was that just an anomaly or why did all of our good offensive players go in a slump at the same time?”

The Blues ranked No. 17 in the NHL during the regular season, averaging 2.58 goals per game, but the playoffs had Armstrong and Hitchcock mystified.

“We brainstormed at the end of the year. … Can you change here? Can you do this?” Hitchcock said. “The discussion was, ‘Is it about tweaking or is it about more accountability?’ The decision at the end of the day was more accountability.”

Few of the Blues’ faithful could argue after the forwards made hitting the broad side of a barn look impossible in the LA series. They had 101 missed shots in the six games, or 16.8 per game.

In a round in which the Kings had only two more regulation goals and moved on with a four-games-to-two victory, any one of the Blues’ misfires could have changed the club’s fortune. But was there more to the scoring woes than simply not converting the team’s chances?

Much of Hitchcock’s 17-year coaching career has been based on playing a “200-foot game.” His name is often associated with tight checking and defense, never confused with instant offense.

Some past players have quietly criticized the system, saying that it doesn’t allow them to use their creative talents. Some fans bemoan the fact that despite drafting several skilled forwards, finding a 30-goal scorer on the roster is a challenge.

Blues captain David Backes, who laid out 158 hits last season but lit the lamp only six times, said that focusing on Hitchcock’s style as the root of the silent nights is a “false notion.”

“There’s no handcuffs,” Backes said. “It’s playing winning hockey. If there’s a play to be made, make it. But if there’s not, don’t force it. I don’t think that’s defensive minded. I think it’s smart. When we’ve got guys buying into that system, we’ve had a ton of success.

“What maybe is craved is the 3-on-1 tic-tac-toe, backdoor tap-in (goals). But you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Would you trade four pretty goals a night and lose 6-4 and be out of the playoff race in February?’ That’s not appealing to anyone in this room. We’re willing to sacrifice a couple of those pretty goals to make the right play, which helps us win games and be hunting into April, May and June.”

Chris Stewart, who led the Blues with 18 goals in 48 games last season, added that the Western Conference isn’t the landscape for an open system.

“There’s not many guys that you can just tic-tac-toe around,” Stewart said. “You look at the San Jose’s, the LA’s, us … we’re big hockey teams. You try to tic-tac-toe around David Backes and you’re going to get blown up, you know what I mean.

“There’s definitely a time and a place when you have a chance to showcase your skill, and that time will come, but if we think we’re just going to stickhandle our way to the Stanley Cup, I don’t think that’s going to be the answer.”

The Blues may not have overhauled their offensive operation this summer, but while the team’s brass decided that accountability weighed more heavily than tweaking the system, there will be some recognizable differences for those paying close attention.

“We’d like to get more creative in the offensive zone,” Armstrong said. “That’s certainly the responsibility of Ken and the coaches, along with the players, to come up with the blueprint to do that. We’ve given them the overview of what we want and now they have to come up with the blueprint on how to get it done.”

In training camp, the club worked on drills in which every skater on the ice was used to help create scoring. The dump-and-chase will still be relied on at times, but with a blue line that boasts three potential 40-point players in Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk and Jay Bouwmeester, the instruction was to get involved.

“What I’m trying to create here, without giving away trade secrets, one of the things we didn’t do enough last year is use our second wave,” Hitchcock said. “We’re trying to create more offense from our second wave. It means the forwards have to hang onto the puck longer at times to allow more people to join the rush. We’re trying to create second-wave attacks more than we ever have here.”

Instead of driving into a cluster, the first Blues to enter the offensive zone are cutting and turning their back to the opposition and feeding the trailers. To Hitchcock, it doesn’t matter if that player is a forward or a defensemen; in that situation, they’re one and the same.

“You’re not a positional player, you’re a number,” he said. “I’m trying to create numbers rather than name positions. So just because you’re a defenseman, if you’re up in the rush, you act as a forward to a certain level. It’s attacks based on numbers and not positions. It’s wanting to create more offense off late-arriving people, taking advantage of our mobility on the back end to create a numerical advantage in the offensive zone.”

Stewart said that players like Hitchcock’s decision to give them more leeway.

“He’s a smart coach and he’s successful for a reason,” Stewart said. “If you don’t get the job done two years in a row, everybody is going to change as a whole. He took it upon himself to come up with a little bit of a different (strategy). Our focus has been trying to get over the blue line with possession and not just dump it in for no reason.

“Hockey now is a possession game, and when you have it, I don’t think there’s any need to give it up. Hold onto it and make that next best play … give the puck to the guy who has the best opportunity to make something happen. There’s obviously a time and a place. We’re not going to be up 3-2, trying to dangle or anything like that.”

Make no mistake, the Blues will still be priding themselves on a strong defensive game.

“When I hear the words, ‘score more,’ that’s a red flag, an alarm bell, whatever, that goes off for me … because that usually becomes the license to cheat,” Hitchcock said. “You’re hanging on the wrong side of pucks, you’re leaving the zone early… you can’t win that way.

“I don’t understand when people say they sacrifice their offense to get back (defensively). I’ve always believed that that’s just a bloody excuse for not sticking with things a little bit longer. For us, we don’t want them to sacrifice any offense but we just don’t want them to cheat to think they have to score. If you play the game the right way, you’ll get all the scoring chances you need.”

The Blues’ new personnel also provides a different look.

They are moving on without Andy McDonald, who retired, and David Perron, whom they traded to Edmonton. For a team seeking scoring, the dealing away of Perron, who netted 21 goals in 57 games two years ago, is a risk. But it was needed for salary savings and to give Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko more ice time.

“We believe that Schwartz and Tarasenko are two young players that could pick up some of what David was leaving,” Armstrong said.

The Blues received Magnus Paajarvi from the Oilers and signed free agents Brenden Morrow and Derek Roy. Morrow and Roy instantly became the Blues’ Nos. 1-2 leaders in career goals with 249 and 168, respectively.

“We’ve lost two and we’ve got seven who can replace that part of the game,” Hitchcock said. “I look at Tarasenko, Schwartz, Roy, Paajarvi, Morrow. I also look at Bouwmeester and (Jordan) Leopold, who are now full-time residents on the team and add a lot in the transition. So we’ve got seven now.”

But Hitchcock acknowledges that in order for the Blues to receive the most out of their offensive parts, he has to do a better job of splitting up the minutes.

“I think more than anything, if we want to be better, we have to ‘divvy’ up the ice more collectively,” he said. “We’re going to put the onus on certain players to do more, but we’re also going to expect them to be able to do it. It allows other people to do things they’re good at with a higher level of energy.”

If that happens, first-year Dallas general manager Jim Nill, a longtime Detroit executive, says watch out for the Blues.

“In order to be successful, you’ve got to have depth and I think that’s what St. Louis has built up,” Nill said. “They might not have the marquee guy, but their overall depth is going to win them games. When they roll four lines, it’s hard to match. They’re as good a team as there is in the league.”

The Blues don’t want to change much, but they do want to score more goals. That, Hitchcock says, will come with more accountability.

“That’s what needs to take place,” Hitchcock said. “It’s very important that we let the players formulate it. Coaches can screw it up by interfering in it. Once that’s in your locker room, the players transition in and out but that level of accountability is in the room. That’s really important that that takes place here.”




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EA Sports predicts the Blues will win the Cup this season.  I put them at the top of the list also.   Talent-wise this roster is as good or better than any other team in the league.  

Backes, Oshie and Stewart can easily have career years.

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As much as I agree with the extra need for accountability on offense, I think the Blues need to make sure they take accountability as a team, on paper, we have one of  if not the toughest D core to face in the league, which should help halak and elliott and maybe Allen later this season, however, everyone still needs to be doing their job, and for elliott and halak, this is a contract year, so they need to make sure they aren't only playing for bigger paycheck, they are playing for the other 21 players they share the ice with. Too many times, we have made excuses for either the youth is still learning, or tough injuries, or veterans missing a step. every team faces these same issues but still need to fight though them and from the exception of almost 10 teams, they have all raised Lord Stanley's Cup. Every member of the Blues have the ability to play at a higher level, but, instead of focusing on why we can't do it or didn't do it, everyone needs to focus on what am I doing to make this team better and the best it can be. If they do that, we will have a parade down market street with lord Stanley's Cup in hand. 

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I believe they are loaded and are on the short list to represent the West, them, the Hawks and the Kings. EA sports and THN both picked the Blues. I think the other two are a step ahead but to dismiss the Blues would be a mistake.

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@yave1964  The Blues starting goalie Halak had a save percentage below .900, that is horrible for a team that is so excellent at team defense. They need him to step up, because I don't think Elliot is a long term starter, he's much better coming off the bench. Jake Allen is another talented guy, but a bit of a wildcard at this point, but when he was on last year, he was excellent. Somewhere in this mish mash of goalies, a consistant starter must step forward. Cap wise, Halak makes the most and will be given every chance to run with the job....but I don't know if he's cut out for a long season, very iffy there.

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Allen to me is a system goalie who will never really amount to much, I know Elliot struggled mightily last season (Trust me he was on my fantasy team, lol) but I have more faith in him than Halak by a mile.

As far as Allen His stats for last season:

Peoria Wins 13 losses 21 GAA. 2.89 Save pct .904

Blues Wins 9 Losses 4 GAA. 2.46 Save Pct .905

You do not get BETTER when you enter the NHL, the Blues defense and team game just gave him the appearance of being an NHL goalie. Quite frankly his stats will likely never be better than they were last season and the Blues would have been well served to have traded him to fill a need elsewhere from a team that needed goalie help. It should be noted that Halak and Elliot who were considered disappointments last season both had better GAA than him.

Anyway, one of the main reasons I am glad the Wings are out of the West is Vladimir Sobotka. The little SOB is a super pest, al over the ice, containing a top line, he and Boyd Gordon recently of the Yotes and now with the Oilers seem to always have Pavel's number. Drove me crazy. I really appreciate play of players such as him and wish that he played for my Wings. Good luck this season.

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