Bigger, Better, But Blue(s)

So the Ryan Miller thing didn’t work out for them. The St. Louis Blues aren’t looking back. They’ve played three games this year, letting in just four goals in regulation and OT.

On Thursday night against the Kings, the total of opponent scoring was simply nothing. Brian Elliott got credit for a shutout. Trouble was, so did Jonathan Quick on the other end. You guessed it—shootout. It was over before it started, with the Kings’ Carter rifling a wrister past the Blues’ goalie long side to win the game for LA. The Blues’ shootout attempts were lackluster at best, which was not in the least how their game had been.

And it wasn’t just the netminding which impressed. The play of the rest of the team was the key to what should have been a win. Their skill is based in their size. They have 17 guys over 200 lbs., and a whole bunch of those pushing 220. It’s not just on paper that this is apparent. Even from the distance of the press box, the Blues easily appear to outsize the team the Kings played a few nights ago, the Winnipeg Jets.

David Backes talked about the feel of the game after the contest: “It was a good, hard, heavy Western Conference battle that tested both teams,” he said. He elaborated that his team was built to a degree to resemble the Kings, though “We have our own strengths, the personnel, obviously, to get through the regular season and get wins,” he said.

The Kings’ Coach Sutter said something similar, noting, “They have a lot of strength down the middle. They’re deeper and better than they were last year.”

Maybe it’s the Blues’ discipline. Maybe it’s the puck carrying. They rarely give it up, rather preferring to carry it through the neutral zone than to dump it in and chase it. Corsi, Fenwick, whatever they call that these days, it’s what the Russians did to Team Canada in 1972, and it changed hockey forever from that moment on, only most teams don’t have the people to pull it off as consistently as the Blues seem to do.

Sutter, it must be said, has no truck with that kind of nonsense. “I don’t use a Corsi rating,” he said abruptly when asked about the stats.

The Blues team is mostly recognizable as the squad that has dumped it in the playoffs in the past few seasons. Names like Jackman, Steen, Berglund, and Pietrangelo carry on from the past. A few new ones have joined them, these being the likes of Lindstrom, Lehtera, and Tarasenko, along with Stasny.

Behind the bench is still the same fellow, Ken Hitchcock, with the same slightly stunned smile whenever things don’t quite go his way. No matter. He’s got his team doing what he needs them to. Sure, they had to split the difference with the Kings, taking a point to LA’s two, but as Sutter said, “It’s an 82-game season. I’m sure there will be games when we play better and don’t get the win,” which was what he implied happened to St. Louis in this game.

And make no mistake—the Blues were better. Against the Kings, they poured on 39 shots in regulation, with no success at scoring. The Kings managed a paltry 18, but they didn’t score, either, of course. In OT, it was zero shots for LA, four for the Blues.

It was obvious why Jonathan Quick was the first star, then, for turning aside so many shots and then all three shootout attempts. But the Blues are now marked by an ability to dominate which makes them different than the Kings but essentially their equal. So many times, they moved the puck well, setting up players coming down the slot for point-blank chances or deking, as Tarasenko did in period three, and cruising right down the slot to shoot.

The late going saw the Blues playing their game with the Kings following. Jay Bouwmeester got a puck in the slot and forced Quick to make a huge glove save. Ryan Reaves got one in the slot, but Matt Greene knocked the net of the peg, and got away with it. Steen sent one to Stastny, and he did a backhand flip that Quick got a blocker on. In OT, Oshie had a puck come to him on a pass-around, and he deked to his right and yet couldn’t get a good shot, hitting the outside of the net. The Kings weren’t better on defense. They were adequate. The Blues just didn’t get any breaks, despite dominating in possession and stats.

In short, everytime you looked, the Blues were buzzing. They have the skill and size to fend off even the Kings. Add these two together, and you have a recipe for success past the end of the 82-game campaign, and that’s exactly what they’re counting on.