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The Blues are allowing too many shots and need more possession

Judging by the reaction on Twitter, the St. Louis Blues are falling apart now that they have lost two consecutive games. That’s a pretty big overreaction, but there are some critical areas the Blues need to work on moving forward.

Every team has a laundry list of things they need to adjust now that the season is rolling along. Such is the case with the Blues. One of the most troubling issues revolves around how many shots are reaching Jake Allen each game. The Blues have to help out Allen more.

Through six games, the Blues are allowing an average of 35.5 shots per game. That comes in as the fifth-most allowed in the NHL, trailing the Minnesota Wild (36.5), Chicago Blackhawks (36.5), Calgary Flames (36.3) and the Tampa Bay Lightning (35.8).

Allen has faced the second-most shots of any NHL goaltender (180). Only Mike Smith of the Flames has been asked to save more shots (211). Of those 180, Allen has successfully saved 165 for a save percentage of .917. That, combined with his GAA of 2.96, has left some fans asking for more.

To be fair, Allen has made some outstanding, world-class saves this season. He has also let in a few goals that many fans think he needs to save. Such is the life of a goaltender. Allen may need to be situationally more consistent, but the fault here really lies on the players ahead of him allowing a near constant barrage of shots.

Immediately, some may jump on the Blues for not blocking enough shots. That hasn’t been the case. The Blues have blocked 104 shots this year which is the second-most in the NHL. Only the Ottawa Senators have blocked more (105).

They key to helping Allen out relies on the Blues controlling the puck more. Currently, their possession numbers are pretty disappointing.

The Blues’ Corsi For % is at 43.7%. That’s the lowest Corsi For % in the NHL and illustrates how little the Blues have controlled the puck during their first six games. Adding on, the Blues’ defensive zone start percentage is at 55.5%, meaning that the Blues are taking far more draws in their own zone than in the offensive zone. Summarized, opposing teams are thoroughly dictating the game. With that in mind, it’s kind of remarkable the Blues are 4-2-0.

The issues above that are backed by statistics, as well as the visual anecdotal evidence that shows the Blues are mostly confined and sitting back, is the most worrisome aspect of the team’s start.

3 thoughts on “The Blues are allowing too many shots and need more possession

  1. The duplicate comment detection on WordPress leaves a lot to be desired, since it’s not actually *displaying* the comment from the first time around…

    First off, let me say that I’m in the camp of “don’t read too much in to NHL games in October”. It takes a while for everybody to settle in and grind the pond hockey off of the edges that acquired it during the summer. With that in mind, it’s time to read everything we can into NHL games in October…

    Reading this, my initial theory was that the third and fourth lines were dragging on the CF% substantially, so I did a little digging. Numbers are for even strength, with some surprises, from Hockey-Reference.com:

    The Blues Corsi leader is one Dmitrij Jaskin, with a CF% of 60.2%. This is leaps and bounds better than the second best on the team currently, Brayden Schenn’s 50.9%. The other wing of that line, Schwartz, is fourth at 48.1% (.3 behind Barbashev, .1 ahead of the first D on the list, Pietrangelo). I suppose we could have reasonably expected that the numbers weren’t going to be great if the team’s combined number is 43.7, of course. Now, let’s see if my theory is correct, which it’s certainly starting to look like it might not be – getting down to 43.7 from your best line posting around 50 isn’t a huge drop, after all.

    First, a quick list of lines three and four, and their CF% numbers:
    Thorburn – 42.3%
    Thompson – 41.5%
    Sundqvist – 40.5%
    Upshall – 39.8%
    Brodziak – 38%
    Paajarvi – 37.7%
    (Megan, for his one game, posted a 10%, incidentally.)

    And for comparison, the fourth line’s CF% from last season – these, along with Zach Sanford’s 45% in 13 games comprised the lowest CF numbers posted by the team’s forwards:
    Brodziak – 44.1%
    Upshall – 44.6%
    Reaves – 46.1%

    Yeah, okay, that’s pretty damned ugly. If you’d asked me ahead of time to guess which of those six had the highest and lowest CF% numbers, I probably would’ve said Sundqvist or Thompson was the best (out of a lot of bad options), and Thorburn was the worst, based solely on the eye test. I’d say so much for the eye test, but when we’re trying to determine which pile of garbage has more flies swarming on it, “a lot” is a perfectly reasonable result of the test… isn’t it?

    So, yes, the third and fourth lines aren’t particularly helping the cause, but most of them aren’t so far out of the norm as to call them more concerning than the team’s play as a whole. Most of them… This one’s aimed squarely at Saturday night’s first-liner Magnus Paajarvi. Of course, that brings us to the as-yet-unmentioned 800lb gorilla sitting square on the crest in the middle of the locker room:

    The entirety of the team’s first line is below the team’s average in CF%. Sobotka is the “best” of them, and we’ll use that term loosely, at 42.1%. Stastny is next, at 41.5%. Tarasenko brings up the rear, at 39.8%. Something is extremely and wildly wrong here.

    Granted, it’s a small sample size, but Sobotka’s CF% is the worst of his NHL career by nearly 9 percentage points (previously 50.8 in his age 22 season in Boston). Hockey-Reference doesn’t have his KHL numbers from the past few years, and I wouldn’t know enough to compare those properly to NHL numbers anyway.

    Stastny’s worst full season was his 47.1% in his age 24 season in Colorado – he posted several 47.x% years there, incidentally, which seems reasonably in keeping with the Avs as a whole over the past decade-ish. His career average of 50.4 is also pretty much 9 points higher than what he’s posting currently.

    Tarasenko, of course, is getting shelled. While his CF% has been falling ever since his rookie year (there’s likely a quality-of-competition argument to be made here), his career average sits at an entirely respectable 54.3%, or 14.5 points up on this year’s run thus far.

    So, what is it? Is the team as a whole just having a wide-open start to the season, and it’ll get better as they settle in? (Sounds reasonable.) Is the first line as currently constructed simply not going to gel? (Possible. Hitch, for his flaws, didn’t play Stastny/Tarasenko as a pair for *some* reason, after all.) Will the return of Steen (soon, a career 52.7%)) and Berglund (in another two or three months, theoretically – a career 52.5%) solidify the roster and raise the quality of the first and third lines in the process? (Maybe. I’d certainly expect *some* improvement.)

    I haven’t really touched on the D yet, and maybe I should, with the return of Jay Bouwmeester also drawing closer.

    Pietrangelo – 48%
    Dunn – 45.4%
    Edmundson – 45.4%
    Bortuzzo – 42.3%
    Parayko – 40.3%
    Gunnarsson – 35.1%

    First off, it makes sense that most of the D would hover around the team average, plus or minus a couple of points, simply because they have more ice time than the forwards do.

    Petro’s pretty clearly showing his first pairing pedigree here, but it’s awfully tough to drag the entire team into positive possession stats solo.

    Dunn’s minutes are admittedly sheltered on the third pair. That said, he’s still managing to post above the team average. That certainly ought to be worth *something* when Bouw returns.

    Parayko and Gunnarsson… … … Well, then. It’s pretty immediately obvious why Yeo felt the need to break up this pair for the most recent game. That 35.1% by Gunnarsson is the worst on the team outside of Megan and Blais, who both only have one game to their credit thus far. It’s two and a half points worse than the worst regular forward, Paajarvi. There isn’t really any other way to put it – it’s downright brutal. Looking at the Lightning game, where he was paired with Pietrangelo, Gunnarsson posted a 29.4% at even strength (Petro posted a 40%, for comparison). Parayko didn’t particularly better his season average upon being reunited with Edmundson, posting a 40.9% (Eddy with a 41.7% showing).

    All of that to say, this is really a team-wide malaise. Would getting back career-average Bouwmeester (48.6%) and replacing Gunnarsson help? At this point, it certainly couldn’t hurt, but it’s not going to magically fix what ails the Blues.

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    1. Sorry to hear you had issues commenting. That’s never fun, particularly when your comments tend to be thorough.

      I really have no clue how you begin to fix this. Bringing back the injured would theoretically assist, but since the issue is fairly widespread, it would take a total adjustment. It may boil down to certain chemistry issues. That may be a bit of an excuse and a bit of an argument based on the eye test rather than stats, but I have to imagine it’s playing a big role. Many players are skating with new faces (or relatively new faces). That lack of possession could be based on a total lack of chemistry – knowing where your teammates are going to be and reading the situations better.

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      1. I think there are a few things that work towards a fix.

        First, regardless of the statistical breakdown, I really do think that the first two or so weeks of a season differ fairly radically from the rest of the season in terms of how teams play. The stats that a lot of broadcasts and articles have been breaking out regarding how goals tend to come down by half a goal per game or so after the first two weeks or so of a season likely attest to this.

        Second, when a team has to ice as many replacements due to injury as the Blues have thus far, there’s going to be some level of impact. Essentially, every line, even the second, has had a revolving cast of characters as the coaching staff tries to find *something* that fits in the absence of a third of the top nine. Schenn/Schwartz have overcome this through sheer hard work and tenacity, and that’s probably actually the answer for the rest of the lines, regardless of who winds up on them (and ties in pretty logically with the first point, I’d say).

        Third and finally, remember that we’re using shot attempts here as a reasonable measure of possession. As long as the team cracks down on the close-range so-called “high danger” shots, and otherwise creates more one-and-done situations for the opposition, a given volume of shot attempts shouldn’t be that large an issue. Theoretically, of course, doing those things would drop the shot volume against, of course, and it all ties directly into the first two points. With that said, I’m not the only one who noticed that Yeo’s system is more about preventing certain types of scoring chances, rather than being concerned solely with lowering the number of shots against. As one example, here’s Robb Tufts at SLGT during last year’s playoff series against the Wild: https://www.stlouisgametime.com/2017/4/18/15341952/yeo-high-danger-chances-shots-for-against-st-louis-blues (Note the pretty charts, which I don’t have, that help illustrate the point quite nicely.)

        So, we shall see. If this doesn’t sort itself out in the next couple of weeks, we might want to look more at where the shots are being allowed from this year, as compared to last, to see if this isn’t actually a bug, but a feature of the Yeo defensive system. And, the reverse holds true as well, particularly with the second point – some more tenacity and determination to pick up rebounds and keep the puck alive in the offensive zone should enable more shots *for* the team, which would also help balance the CF equation.

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