Strickland: Blues must find more secondary scoring
On the whole, the St. Louis Blues haven't had trouble scoring this season. They're fifth in the league in 5-on-5 scoring (44 goals), third in goals per game and fifth in total goals (64). And they carry the league's best power play at 25.4 percent.
The problem? Most of that scoring is coming from one line -- the Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie line. Which means the team could use a real boost in its secondary scoring.
Yes, it might seem a bit greedy to complain about scoring when Alexander Steen is playing at an MVP level. After all, Steen:
* Leads the NHL in points (26) and is tied with Washington's Alexander Ovechkin for the NHL lead in goals.
* Has scored his 17 goals on 67 shots, 43 fewer than Ovechkin, who leads the NHL with 110 shots on goal.
* Leads the NHL with 13 even-strength goals and is tied for the league lead with four game-winners.
* Is one of only three players in the NHL currently averaging over 15:00 even strength, over 2:00 on the penalty kill and over 3:00 on the power play.
Backes and Oshie have been very productive, too. Steen, Backes and Oshie have combined for 28 of the team's 64 goals (43.8 percent), with Steen and Backes accounting for 25 of them. Oshie is picking up most of his points on assists while playing some of the best hockey of his career.
"He's the best player on our team when it comes to managing the puck," coach Ken Hitchcock says. "It's not just about energy with Oshie. He's one of the hardest guys in the world to play against. So hard to play against."
While this line has shown no signs of slowing down, it's unfair to expect it to maintain its current pace. That's why the Blues must get more bodies to chip in offensively.
So far this season, goals from second- and third-line players have come few and far between. That's not to suggest they aren't playing quality hockey, but when you're seeing plenty of even-strength and power-play ice time every night, the expectations are there to produce offense.
Following is a player-by-player look at potential sources of secondary scoring as the season goes on:
Chris Stewart. Stewart was scoreless in his first 10 games but has three goals in his last nine. His scoring and all-around game have picked up as of late.
Jaden Schwartz. Schwartz might be the best on the team at protecting the puck below the goal line and when he's facing the glass. Schwartz worked hard this summer to improve his shot, but he still has just one goal in his last 10 games and none in his last seven.
Patrik Berglund. Berglund didn't play Sunday in Washington with an upper-body injury that has been nagging him the last few days. He appeared to be in some discomfort when he left practice a few days ago. Berglund has the tendency to get frustrated when the puck isn't going in. He hasn't scored since Oct. 5, a span of 16 games and 28 shots on goal.
Vladimir Tarasenko. Tarasenko got off to a hot start in early October, scoring in three straight games, but has just two goals in his last 14 games. Tarasenko missed a glorious opportunity Sunday in Washington, shooting high and missing a wide-open net.
Derek Roy. Hitchcock has used him up and down the lineup (including time on the fourth line), but moving from his natural center position to left wing has been an adjustment. Roy has just one goal in his last eight games, although he has been effective on the power play.
Brenden Morrow. The Blues didn't sign Morrow to score goals, but he has shown the ability to bury the puck throughout his career. He has dealt with some injuries this season that kept him out of the lineup. He has just one goal in his last 11 games played and only two goals this season.
Vladimir Sobotka. This guy plays so hard you almost hate to dissect his game. He leads the NHL in faceoff percentage at 65.6 percent and has the highest winning percentage both at home and on the road. Sobotka is winning 62 percent shorthanded, 74 percent on the power play and 65 percent even strength. There could be a few more goals in his stick, though. He scored his first goal in 11 games Sunday in Washington.
Oshie. Like Sobotka, Oshie provides almost nothing to complain about. He has been incredibly strong to begin the season and has shown no signs of slowing down. He's tied with Jay Bouwmeester for the team lead with 14 assists, and his 17 points is third. Still, with just one goal in his last 10 games (and that an empty-netter), even Oshie would say he's capable of scoring more.
It wasn't too long ago we used to complain about the lack of scoring production from the Blues' defense. Not anymore. The Blues rank third in the NHL in defense scoring with 54 points, behind only Phoenix (59) and Chicago (58).
St. Louis is the only NHL team with three players ranking in the top 10 in defense scoring: Alex Pietrangelo (fourth), Bouwmeester (ninth) and Kevin Shattenkirk (10th).
Roman Polak came into this season with nine career goals. He already has three this season, which is more than Berglund and Morrow and the same as Stewart, Schwartz, Oshie and Sobotka.
IAN COLE'S PROGRESS
Hitchcock raved about defenseman Ian Cole's game prior to Sunday's loss to the Capitals. Cole carried a plus or even rating in every game entering Sunday, and Hitchcock has said he has no problem playing Cole and Polak against opposing top players. They played well as a pair against Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin and carried that play into the last few games.
Against Washington, though, Cole struggled for the first time since taking over for Jordan Leopold, who will miss at least two months with a hand injury.
Capitals coach Adam Oates did a nice job of getting Ovechkin away from Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester early in the game. That strategy led to two first-period Ovechkin goals with Cole on the ice.
Obviously, that wasn't the matchup the Blues wanted and it led to Cole playing only 10:48, his fewest minutes this season. That the Blues were chasing the score just about the entire game also contributed to Cole's limited ice time.
You can follow Andy Strickland on Twitter at @andystrickland or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also writes about the Blues and the NHL at truehockey.com.