March 23rd, 2014

Dobber Sports

2014-03-23

Though they lost 4-1 to the Flyers on Saturday, the St. Louis Blues became the second team to qualify for the postseason (the Bruins were first, which isn’t a surprise seeing as how they’re the best of the three Eastern Conference teams that are passable defensively) when Phoenix lost to Boston in regulation.

 

The Blues outshot the Flyers and controlled the game handily (although the Flyers were narrowly better at evens with the score tied). Really Ken Hithcock’s side got at least a bit unlucky in Philadelphia on Saturday, and I’d doubt that the game tells us much about the Blues’ relative strength as a contender headed into the postseason.

 

But (and there’s always a but after a sentence like that) I might suggest to you that the Blues do lack an extra gear offensively, and that it showed somewhat in the third period on Saturday. The Blues control games at a super elite rate, but they do it by playing conservative, low event hockey (Breaking News Alert: Hitchcock-coached team play potent brand of Hitchcock hockey).

 

So although the Blues prevent shots against at a top-5 rate, they also generate shots for at a bottom 10 rate. That’s in stark contrast to clubs that dominate play and generate a lot of opportunities – teams like Los Angeles and Chicago, who St. Louis will have to go through to earn a Stanley Cup Finals berth. Even more concerning, is that recent developments like  the loss of winger Vladimir Tarasenko to injury, and the deadline deal with Buffalo that upgraded St. Louis marginally in goal but also saw Steve Ott replace Chris Stewart up front (a significant downgrade offensively), have weakened the Blues offensively.

 

This St. Louis team has a lot of talent and will leave any opponent battered and bruised in a playoff series. Goals will certainly be hard to come by. But that’ll be true at both ends of the ice – both for the Blues, and against them. This is a team that has scored only 15 goals in their past 30 playoff games and has been extraordinarily reliant on the percentages (they’ve shot 10.7% on the season in all situations, a mark that leads the league easily).

 

Put it this way: I have a lot of time for the Blues, they’re an excellent team with a bevy of quality two-way pieces and a mobile defense corps well suited to doing the Spanish national soccer team thing (except with a lot more violence), and just grind out wins in low-scoring games. Team toughness and dominant defensive game aside, however, there are significant enough question marks about the Blues’ offensive chops that I’m still not comfortable putting them in the same tier as a Los Angeles, San Jose, Boston or Chicago. 

 

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Wayne Simmonds had an empty netter to ice Saturday’s Flyers v. Blues game and added an assist on Brayden Schenn’s second period insurance marker. That was Simmonds’ 30th assist of the season, by the way.

 

Kudos to Simmonds who is crushing it this year for the Flyers (54 points!) – and for fantasy owners. He’s a top-20 skater in a Yahoo! H2H league that counts G, A, Pts, PPP, +/- and Hits – which is nuts. To top it all off he had a big three goal, one assist, +3 week in the first round of the playoffs. 

 

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The Bruins defeated the Phoenix Coyotes – who I really can’t see making the postseason ahead of Dallas, honestly – by a final score of 4-2. Beloved veteran winger Jarome Iginla was front and center in Boston’s third period rally, scoring his 27th and 28th goals of the season.