Blues no longer hits the ram, St. Louis now relies on skill

These aren’t the St. Louis Blues who marched into the Stanley Cup in 2019 by storming opponents and…

These aren’t the St. Louis Blues who marched into the Stanley Cup in 2019 by plowing through and exhausting opponents.

If the Blues are going to go another long way this spring, it will be based on speed, skill and scoring — a lot of scoring. After watching the game of hockey change drastically for the past several years, longtime general manager Doug Armstrong is hopeful this year will be the year it will be possible to score enough goals to offset other concerns.

“We just evolved,” Armstrong said. “This will really be the test for a lot of teams that are built in the same way. Is this the year you can win an offensive 60/40 with offensive players? Because it’s usually a 40/60 defensive balance in the opposite direction.”

The blues depends on it. They open the playoffs against Minnesota Wild next week, a series that could be more entertaining to watch due to the pure offensive output possible.

Three years ago, St. Louis might not have done well in this kind of situation. With a roster of even greater size and strength, the Blues were in the middle of the group in the NHL with fewer than three goals per game during the regular season.

Now they sit fourth in the league with an average of 3.77 goals and can thank not only cornerstone franchisee and main scorer Vladimir Tarasenko but flourishing young stars Robert Thomas and Jordan Kerro and newcomers Pavel Bukhnevich and Brandon Saad.

“We were never a team built on one or two players,” Armstrong said. “We’ve always been a team built on a package mentality. I think it’s clear that Thomas and Kiro’s maturity has really helped our organization, and then the constant play for the veterans and the addition of extra players in Bukhnevich and Saad. I see our team because we have three very good second streaks, which is a good thing” .

It’s been a great thing for a long time. The Blues’ franchise streak – 16 games that ended on Tuesday night – featured them outperforming opponents by 35 goals, averaging five per game.

Craig Behrop said the team’s balance of determination and skill is different than it has been in years past, and as a result has changed the way the Blues coach.

“You have to go with what you have,” Birubi said recently. “From the cup year, we move the disc better. In the neutral zone, we move the disc through the neutral zone better, and in the offensive zone we score a lot of goals. You have to let the guys do what they are good at.”

That’s the blue streak that only Colton Paraico and Robert Portozzo have appeared in from 2019 and are doing the moving part of the game much better as a unit. It was by signing Armstrong with Tori Krug and acquiring Justin Falk and Nick Lady, who combined to replace the minutes when the Blues knocked out Captain Alex Petrangelo and veteran Jay Baumeister – in very different ways.

“We had great players,” Armstrong said. “But, like everything, time passes and we have to change our outlook. We still have those core beliefs about how to defend, but we understand that tweaks are our strength and ally and we want to get it across to our attackers as quickly as possible.”

Birubi emphasized defending better, an important message for a 10-man squad from 2019 and a more youthful dynamism. St Louis are 11th in the league in terms of number of goals against them, and it will always be important to get a strong goal from Jordan Bennington and Phil Hosseau, who have so far split evenly at the start.

But the path through the playoffs for the Blues won’t be about Binnington or Husso stealing games to win the series. It could be about finding a balance between what worked three years ago and what is winning the games now – something striker Brayden Sheen has pointed out as it is more difficult to score this time of year than it was from October through March.

“If you just look from year to year and the teams winning in the last 10 years or whatever, I think you look at your ability to score but more importantly your ability to defend, play defense and take care of the puck,” Shane said. The puck is out of your net because the games will be tighter.”

___

Follow AP hockey writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

___

More from AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.