ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Blues learned a hard lesson last season.
Pounding pucks at the net in a shotgun-style approach doesn’t guarantee wins.
Shot attempts mean nothing if the red light never flickers.
“Obviously, we didn’t score enough goals against Quick (Los Angeles goalkeeper Jonathan Quick) last year, or L.A. in general,” Blues forward Adam Cracknell said Tuesday. “It’s something you have to work on in practice. Putting the puck on net. Not missing the net. Getting those second and third chances. Everyone stopping around the net and hopefully bouncing one in.”
As the Blues have prepared for their 2013-14 season opener, a Thursday meeting with the Nashville Predators, they have continued to preach the word “Finish.” It’s become a mantra after the club was bounced from the conference quarterfinals by Los Angeles despite outshooting the Kings 177-149.
“It’s all mental,” Cracknell said, “It’s all just wanting to score goals. That’s the exciting part, right? Everyone has to take care of each other, make sure we are hitting the net and getting rebounds. Anytime you can make the defensemen turn around and there are bodies flying everywhere, there’s a good chance you’re going to score if not wear someone down and create more opportunities.”
The key for the Blues will be making more out of the opportunities they create. Their total of 129 goals last year was two below the league average. Coach Ken Hitchcock believes he can change the numbers by cultivating an attack-first, think-later kind of gene in his players.
“Finishing has a lot of difficult tasks in it,” he said. “It means you don’t go by the goalie. It means you stop in uncomfortable spaces. It means you’re going to get whacked in areas. It means you’re going to get hit where you’re not really comfortable — because it’s going to come from the back, usually. Those are the areas we need to get better in. We need to be more aggressive in the scoring areas. We need to hold our ground a little bit longer, and at times outwork the goaltender. Rather than slap it back at his pads and hope it goes through him, we need to pay the price to pull it off and have confidence we can pull it back off the pads and put it in the bar.”
Whether or not the message has been received is nearly impossible to tell at this time. But the earliest results have been positive. The Blues finished the preseason with a 3-3 record, but totaled 20 goals in six games.
“We’ve shown the ability to score those types of goals here in preseason,” Hitchcock said. “But that’s preseason.”
The first true test comes Thursday. Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org