Shift from center to left wing rejuvenates Blues’ Berglund
ST. LOUIS — Ken Hitchcock put on his mad scientist coat Saturday night.
The St. Louis Blues’ coach experimented by switching struggling Patrik Berglund from center to left wing and the move paid off. Berglund scored two goals in the Blues’ 6-2 comeback win against the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets and was named the game’s No. 1 star.
"I think there was a real positive effect because I think he was able to use his size and I think he played faster," Hitchcock said. "I think the biggest thing for me is he played faster."
The 25-year-old from Sweden has been a mystery this season but could emerge as a key player in the second half of the season.
Berglund scored 17 goals in 48 games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, which was just one behind team leader Chris Stewart. But through the first 37 games this season he had lit the lamp just four times, which was tied for 11th-most among the Blues, and his 15 points ranked 13th.
"I don’t think I can think about it too much," Berglund said. "Obviously, it’s been slow, but if I start thinking about it or changing the way I play, I think that would change me as a player, too."
With six goals in 38 games this season, Berglund’s 0.16 goals-per-game average is the lowest of his six years in the NHL — less than the 0.18 he registered when he scored 13 goals over 71 games as a 21-year-old in his second season in 2009-10.
Berglund has taken a simple approach to all of this — just keep working and moving forward and the results will follow.
"I’ve obviously been working even harder at practice shooting more pucks and trying to get it going that way," he said. "I pretty much had two lucky bounces."
Those "two lucky bounces" sparked the Blues’ comeback Saturday.
His first goal was off a deflection that was originally credited to defenseman Barret Jackman. Berglund scored on another deflection just 14 seconds into the third period to give St. Louis a 4-2 lead.
The two-goal game was the sixth of Berglund’s career and his first since March 7 at Phoenix last season.
"Sobe’s a guy that can buy time and he can create his own individual space, and he did that and I thought Bergy was able to play in straight lines more; I thought he was able to attack the net more," Hitchcock said. "The goal he scores to start the third period for me is a perfect example. If you’re a center, you don’t score that goal. That’s not the route of a center."
Berglund’s lack of offensive output hasn’t slowed the Blues, of course. St. Louis is now 29-7-5 (63 points) and has the best record in franchise history at the midway point in the season.
But if the Blues can get the 6-foot-3, 217-pound Swede going, who knows how much better they can be? A better Berglund could certainly make a difference during the second half of the season and the playoffs.
Maybe Hitch moving Berglund to left wing will be the spark that gets him going. He’s proven to be a capable contributor in the past. He had career highs of 22 goals, 30 assists and 52 points in 2010-11.
"It was an experiment that looks like it has a real chance to work," Hitchcock said of Berglund’s shift to the wing. "So I’m not saying we’re going to do it all the time, but we’re certainly going to try this right now because he looked way more effective playing left wing. He had more offensive success, more net drive, more penetration in the zone, he was physical and created more turnovers playing left wing."
Hitchcock said he used Berglund at left wing for one period last year and liked the results. So when the Blues play at Edmonton (14-26-5, 33 points) on Tuesday, Hitchcock said Berglund will be playing as a left winger and paired up with Sobotka again or even David Backes.
"But this is two times that we’ve used him as a left winger and he has been really effective," Hitchcock said. "I think we like what we see."
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