A new season is upon us, and with camp starting this week, I thought it was a good time to address one of the Blues’ biggest problems from last season, the Power Play. The Blues power play last year was atrocious, to say the least. The Blues were 30th in PP% last year at a measly 15.45%, and we can all at least thank Edmonton for somehow managing to be worse on the Power Play than us, and keeping the Blues from being dead last. To explain just how bad they were, we need to break this down even further. The Blues spent 416:08 min on the power play out of 246 opportunities. That means that on average their power plays lasted 1:41.4 seconds. That would suggest that when they did score they tended to do it very late in the game. The Blues were also 0-9 in 5 on 3 power plays, which is the second worst rate in the NHL in that as well, only Arizona was worse being 0/13. Our average time per 5 on 3 opportunity was also 55.67 seconds, almost a full minute. We also only managed a pathetic 38 PPG out of 246 attempts. If you divide that out into a time number, it means we scored a goal every 10:57 min of power play time. That’s over 5 full minor power plays between goals. Simply put, all of that is unacceptable, especially from a team that is on the cusp of a playoff berth. Considering we lost Eight 1-goal games last year and 6 OT losses, a couple more power play goals here, and that could have easily been the difference between making the playoffs and missing them. Simply put, if the Blues have playoff aspirations this year, and with the acquisitions made in the offseason they should, the power play has to get better.
How then do you fix this power play? Well, the first step is always identifying the problem. Now if the Blues had finished 15th or 16th in Power Play percentage and were trying to crack the top 10, then I would say they just need a little work and a little more luck. 15th in PP% would put you at 20.7% which is respectable. That would suggest that the system is working and just needs a few minor tweaks. Coming in 30th, calls for a complete rethink of the system itself and minor tweaks will no longer cut it. The Blues need to rebuild their power play from the ground up. If we break it down further there is more to be gleaned, however. The way I saw it, the Blues had 3 major problems with their power play last year:
- Zone Entries
Now the first one is probably the least important and the most addressed already. Last year the Blues ranked 18th in PP Face Offs Won with 244. They also lost 211, which ranks 14th most in the league and leads to a percentage of 53.62%. That’s not horrible, but there is definitely room for improvement, especially considering that winning the power play means keeping the puck in the attacking zone and thus easier control of the power play. Now the Blues seem to have already addressed this problem through acquisitions. The addition of O’Reilly, a career 55.1% faceoff taker and Bozak, a career 53.6% guy, adds the necessary faceoff ability to get the puck more often than not.
The second problem there is Zone Entries. When the Blues lost the puck in the opponent’s zone and it was cleared, they seemed almost incapable of getting back in. They would try the same couple of tricks to get into the zone, and those tricks would either lead to them being held up at the blue line or a dump-in that they couldn’t get to, despite having an extra man. This led to more time being spent passing the puck around in their own zone or the neutral zone waiting for an opening, and less time actually trying to score.
The final problem is the most glaring and that is, that the Blues simply didn’t shoot. I could not tell you how many times last year I watched this team throw the puck around on the power play going from point to point, winger to winger, dropping it low and then bringing it back high, and never taking a shot. Essentially, the Blues were so interested in finding the perfect shot or perfect goal scoring opportunity, that they didn’t take the imperfect chances when they came their way. They weren’t throwing pucks at the net and looking for tips and rebounds. Frankly put, the majority of power play goals, like the majority of goals in general, are dirty. They are tipped and bouncing pucks, they are rebounds in front of the net and guys simply cleaning up the garbage in front of the goal. If you only take shots that are “Perfect”, then those dirty goal opportunities simply don’t show up.
With the problems identified, how do we fix them? Well, I’ve come up with a couple of PP units that I think could give the Blues’ beleaguered PP an entirely new look this year.
Unit 1: The Shooting Gallery
That name pretty much says it all with this idea. I want to create a power play setup that is designed for the purpose of taking shots, lots of shots, shots from different places, different angles and many different types of shots. To that end I would set this unit up in an Umbrella style, which looks like this:
The Players on the Unit would be as follows: 1. Colton Parayko, 2. Alex Pietrangelo, 3. Vladimir Tarasenko, 4. Patrick Maroon and 5. Ryan O’Reilly. Now obviously, O’Reilly will take the faceoffs and when he does, Tarasenko will serve as his right wing and Maroon as his left. However, once they have the zone, they shift into this umbrella format. The advantages of this are many. First, there is a double net front presence of O’Reilly and Maroon. Both are decent sized guys and neither are afraid to fight a physical battle with big defensemen if necessary. They are also both capable of retrieving the puck from the corners, should it end up there on a rebound or save. Then, across the top, you have three totally different types of shooters. Tarasenko’s deadly accurate wrist shots to snipe the holes created by the screens, Pietrangelo is capable of firing either wristers or slap shots in, and both at speeds that will make them deflectable or at worst, keep them from careening too far out off the rebound. Finally, you have Parayko and his cannon of a shot directly in front of the net to blast 100 mph slappers at the goalie. The concept of this is simple, win the faceoff, get into position, pass the puck a couple of times to get a halfway decent shooting lane, then fire away. After the shot goes in it will either be covered by the goalie, in which case you repeat, or a rebound will come out, which would hopefully be recovered by either O’Reilly or Maroon and sent back out to the arch to try again. The Defense simply won’t be able to cover every angle, every hole, and every shooting lane, and this leads to a situation where one minor mistake can end in a goal, and the Blues would have the men down low to pounce on those mistakes at every opportunity.
On the back end, Pietro is there to cover up for both Parayko and Tarasenko’s defensive shortcomings by providing a defensive balance on the back end and hopefully O’Reilly or Maroon would be able to jump on the dump-in, should this unit have to re-enter the zone after losing the puck. The system is more built to avoid having to do that, but should be more than capable of getting the zone back, should the need arise.
Unit 2: The Passing Team
Now, this idea is the exact counter of the first unit. This Unit would consist of Bozak at Center, Schwartz, and Perron on the Wings and Dunn and Steen as the Defensemen. This power play would be similar to the system run last year, but it will be a night and day difference from the first unit discussed above, and that would give you the advantage of giving opponents two radically different looks. Second, the personnel are much better than last year. Bozak brings a steady and skilled faceoff taker that would serve as a marked improvement over the carousel of guys that were centering this unit last year. For this unit I would use a more traditional formation, either a Box +1 or an Overload as shown below:
In either of these systems, the players would position out like this: 1 – Bozak, 2 – Perron, 3 – Schwartz, 4 – Dunn and 5 – Steen. This Unit is built to do everything the other unit isn’t. It will have two world class puck handlers in Schwartz and Perron to carry the puck into the zone. They also give you the ability to possess the puck while in the zone and hopefully draw the opposing players in while opening space for the rest of the team. Bozak is a solid playmaker easily capable of making that killer pass. Perron, Bozak and Schwartz are all capable of firing pinpoint shots into the corners of the net. At the back, you have Dunn and Steen, both of whom can make great passes and also fire shots in. The line does rely slightly on the ability of either Schwartz, Perron, or Bozak, depending on formation, to deliver some semblance of net front presence, but if it works correctly, the line should be more than capable of producing it’s fair share of chances and should the puck get covered up, Bozak is a more than capable faceoff taker that will, like O’Reilly, give you a lot of possessions in the attacking zone, allowing the unit to set up and move the puck.
This unit does look a lot like the PP units that we were using last year, however, there are a few major differences. First, Bozak is a better playmaker than Schenn and a better faceoff taker than Schenn. Second, Perron is more likely to shoot the puck than anyone that did time on this unit last year and as such, will be less likely to simply pass the puck off again and again, as we saw too often last year. Finally, Perron and Schwartz are both skilled puck handlers and with both of them on the line, the Blues should find it easier to regain the zone if the puck is cleared. Bozak is also an elite faceoff taker, allowing for the team to more easily retain the puck in the zone by winning those faceoffs. This unit is basically a better version of what we had last year.
To wrap this whole thing up, this system would give the Blues two radically different PP Units. They would force opponents to prepare for totally different looks with totally different players and totally different ideologies. Teams would face a maelstrom of shots from the first unit, only to find themselves faced with the far more technical passing and skating of the second unit, just when they were beginning to tire. If you prepare too much for one unit, the second will carve you up. This is the kind of PP that the league doesn’t see very often, mostly because few teams are blessed with the depth the Blues have to assemble it. That depth is the coup de grace of the Blues potential PP system. Should any of these units start to look stale, the Blues have the upper level personnel to replace just about anyone on them. Schenn, Fabbri, Edmundson, Bouwmeester, Gunnarsson, and possibly even Jordan Kyrou or Robert Thomas, could all come in to do a shift or two on these units providing a new dimension to either. Alternatively, the Blues could possibly even assemble a third unit for Thomas/Schenn, Kyrou, Fabbri, Edmundson, and either Gunnarsson, Schmaltz, or Bouwmeester to provide yet another new look and fresh legs, if the PP starts to get deep or they are getting a lot of PP’s in a game. Nothing screws with an opponent’s game plan, like throwing a rarely used third group at them in the third period, that they haven’t prepped for.
Regardless of whether the Blues follow this plan or come up with another, the stakes I listed out in the beginning of this article are self-explanatory, and they just can’t do what they did last year. Something has to change or else we will once again see a team that can’t score on the Power Play, dropping one goal games and missing out on a golden chance. The Blues’ depth gives them a golden opportunity that few, if any other teams have; a chance to deliver something on the Power Play that the league has rarely, if ever seen before.