Blues defensive duo ready for playoff debut
ST. LOUIS – Blues coach Ken Hitchcock characterizes his team's lack of scoring rather bluntly.
"We don't overwhelm people with offense," the veteran coach admits. "We certainly don't overwhelm you with these wow players, but we are good enough in every area and we can work. We know how to work."
The Blues' leading scorers were forwards David Backes and T.J. Oshie, who each had 54 points in the regular season. For comparison, 72 players in the NHL, or an average or more than two per team, had more than 54 points this season.
So how did a team lacking a true goal scorer achieve the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and miss out on the President's Trophy by just two points? The quick answer: goaltending and defense.
The Blues won the Jennings Trophy, given annually to the goaltenders on the team that allow the fewest goals in the regular season. Goalies Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott combined to allow 165 goals, just one more than the modern day record of 164.
The two also combined for a league-high 15 shutouts, shattering the club record and tying the modern day NHL record set by Chicago back in 1969-1970.
But the success in net wasn't just because of the two goalies. The Blues led the NHL in fewest shots allowed per game, thanks in part because of breakout seasons by defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk.
The two are almost mirrors of each other, a pair of young defenseman who appear to be rising starts in the game. Both are excellent defensively, but yet they are third and fourth on the team in points.
Shattenkirk, the elder of the two at just 23 years old, formed an impressive defensive pairing this year with veteran Barret Jackman. After joining the Blues from Colorado in a trade for Blues No. 1 pick Erik Johnson last season, Shattenkirk's impressive play has made the Blues the clear winners of that deal.
In just his second NHL season, Shattenkirk has already become a valuable piece to the Blues' strong defensive core. But he's also fourth in the team in points with 43, showing he can contribute offensively as well.
The 22-year-old Pietrangelo has played his way into a possible Norris Trophy finalist by finishing third on the team with 51 points while also leading the Blues in ice time with an average of 24 minutes, 44 seconds per game.
Together, the two have already become valuable pieces of what the Blues hope is a talented young core that they can keep intact for years to come.
"I think we take a lot of pride in our offense," Shattenkirk said. "I mean that's our job. Obviously we're defenseman first but if were not creating offense and generating some things offensively, we feel like we're not really doing much for this team.
"We've played well together lately too, especially on the power play. We've figured out how to play with each other and the more and more we play together we seem to find that chemistry."
The Blues power play has improved as the season has gone on, in large part because of the inclusion of Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo, two of the more offensively skilled defenseman in the league.
Pietrangelo ranked fifth among NHL defenseman with his 51 points while Shattenkirk's 43 ranked 15th. And with both not even close to hitting their prime, the future appears very bright for the young St. Louis Blues.
But the future begins Thursday night, when the Blues hope the young defensive duo can help them make a deep run into the playoffs – in their first taste of postseason action.
"It's exciting," Pietrangelo said. "The first playoffs in the NHL, it's going to be fun. To do it with this group of guys makes it that much special. We've come such a long way. There's a lot of excitement around here now. The biggest thing is I have to go and play my game. You don't have to change the way you're playing.
"The biggest thing for us is to go play the way we play. We won as many games as we did for a reason. We don't want to go out there and change too many things. We want to stick to our game plan and stick to what we do best."
If Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo continue to do what they did in the regular season, the Blues should be in pretty good shape.