Shattenkirk's absence magnified when Blues go on the power play

BY foxsports • February 11, 2015

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues' streaky power play must find a way to break out of this season's longest slump without its primary leader.

A recent stretch of just four goals in 35 power-play opportunities stretches all the way back to the first period of a 7-2 win over San Jose on Jan. 8, well before Kevin Shattenkirk went down with an abdominal injury Feb. 1. But they've looked even worse since losing the defenseman who has scored or assisted on 24 of the 42 goals for the Western Conference's most efficient power play.

"He's our best power-play player and he obviously controls everything, so when he's not in the lineup, it hurts a lot," center Paul Stastny says. "We've got to find ways to maybe simplify a little bit, and when things aren't going well, try and get those shots and get those second opportunities."

St. Louis couldn't even get out of its funk with two chances against Arizona's vulnerable penalty-kill unit, one of the league's worst. The Blues scored on their first six power plays and seven of nine against the Coyotes on the road earlier this season.

Captain David Backes and others aren't exaggerating when they stress the importance of winning the special teams battle. St. Louis has the offensive firepower to win despite its recent struggles, but outscoring opponents on special teams has made the Blues nearly unbeatable with a 12-0-1 record this season.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock tried to downplay the importance of Shattenkirk's absence on the power play, noting opportunities have been rare lately. St. Louis has had the man advantage two or fewer times in five of the last seven games.

"In the last 30 games of the season, you just don't get power plays," Hitchcock says. "The teams are deciding the games. There's a high level of structure and discipline with everybody and there aren't a lot of power plays that happen."

Sure, penalty numbers fell a bit in the final 30 games last season, but the Blues still averaged 3.36 power-play opportunities per game. That number can't be discounted, and a return to form would clearly provide a big boost for St. Louis.

Cold streaks are nothing new, considering the Blues went two for 14 to start the season, two of 21 after a four-for-four day at Arizona and zero for 18 during one dismal stretch in late November and early December. But none of those slumps spanned more than six games, compared with 13 since St. Louis ranked first in the NHL and had converted eight of its last 13 power plays.

A little spark may be all the Blues need to get their confidence back, but it could be much tougher to find without the aggressive, energetic play of Shattenkirk. Alexander Steen said things were more in sync against Arizona, and Hitchcock believes he finally saw some encouraging signs on the second power play, when St. Louis forced goaltender Mike Smith to make five saves during a frantic two minutes.

"(Better) movement, composure," Hitchcock said. "We need to practice it some more, but we were definitely a threat. Nice to see."

If nothing else, it's a step in the right direction.

You can follow Luke Thompson on Twitter at @FS_LukeT or email him at lukegthompson87@gmail.com.


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