By Jake Shoemaker
10 games into their season, the St. Louis Blues are sitting in third place in the Central Division, three points behind the second place Blackhawks with three games at hand. The two teams trail the nearly unbeatable Avalanche who have won ten of their first eleven games. Back in September, I made the prediction that the Blues would win the West and fight for the Stanley Cup. Here is my take on how they stand early on in the season:
Cup Winning Trends:
1) 4 players averaging at least one point per game.
The Blues have showed great depth through ten games with Alexander Steen, Alex Pietrangelo, T.J. Oshie and David Backes all averaging at least one point per game. The Blackhawks and Bruins showed the NHL last year how vital scoring depth is to a deep playoff run, and having two consistent distributing centers like Oshie and Backes will make the Blues hard to shut down.
2) A highly effective power play.
The Blues currently stand first in the league in offensive power play percentage at 28.2%, an incredibly effective rate. Their top three defensemen have 12 power play points (all assists) between them which demonstrates great puck movement and a distribute first mentality. It also shows that the forwards are doing a great job finishing around the net.
3) Great two-way play from their top lines
Star forward Alexander Steen currently has a +7 rating through just 10 regular season games to go along with his 16 points. You can contrast that to Jason Spezza and Alexander Ovechkin, two tremendous goal scorers who each have -6 ratings, to recognize how valuable Steen really is to St. Louis. The guy is putting the puck in the net and simultaneously keeping his opponents from doing so. While the Capitals don’t expect Ovechkin to contribute on the penalty kill, Steen is asked to do it all and is embracing the challenge of being a superstar.
Playoff Busting Trends:
1) Poor Goaltending Depth.
An area that many thought would be a strength for the Blues has been a weakness thus far. Brian Elliot has struggled in his two games in net posting a 3.53 GAA as the backup to Jaroslav Halak. Although Halak has been tremendously consistent, his injury history is a cause for concern and Elliot must be ready to shoulder some of the load to spell Halak a break, especially since Halak will likely be starring in net during the Olympics.
2) A Struggling Penalty Kill.
Although the Blues have been great on the power play, they have been extremely poor on the penalty kill. Their 21st ranked penalty kill has allowed 9 goals in 10 games, a percentage that is unacceptable for a championship caliber team. Not only can this percentage be improved upon, the Blues could help themselves by staying out of the penalty box; they currently lead the league with 219 penalty minutes despite playing in the fewest games of any team. Their average of 21.8 penalty minutes per game is a recipe for disaster.