Coming into the 2016-17 season my biggest question for the St. Louis Blues was “What kind of team will they be?” With Ken Hitchcock announcing this will be his last year behind the bench for the organization, a coach-in-waiting already on staff, the big three roster departures, and a shift in play style; there were plenty of reasons to be nervous about this season for the Blues. Would this season be a step back? Would this just be a team in transition? But after just three games those concerns have been erased as quick as a Vladimir Tarasenko snapshot.
Let’s first get this out of the way. Yes, it has only been three games. The Blues in fact got off to a fast start last year as well, opening the season by going 5-1. And showed scoring punch in those games as well, netting 21 goals in their first six games. So the end results aren’t anything new for the Blues, who are the only team in the NHL right now with three wins and who rank second in the league in goals scored. But it is the means that has fanbase excited.
The new, faster paced, puck possession style that Hitchcock promised during the summer has been a drastic change over their dump-in, play the body style that we have been used to under Hitchcock’s regime. While the Blues are actually averaging fewer shots this year than last year (27.3 to 30.2) they are also allowing four fewer shots per game. And this is where I think the change in style of play has made the biggest difference. When the Blues play a possession style game they are able to take advantage of their offensively talented defensemen. With Alex Pieterangelo, Colton Parayko, Kevin Shattenkirk, and yes even Jay Bouwmeester; the Blues have four above average offensive defensemen. Putting the puck on their sticks more often to move the puck up ice and into the attacking zone is something that can propel the Blues’ success this season.
In the past despite having these offensively talented players on the blue line the Blues preferred to reach center ice and throw the puck in or even at times skate right up to the blue line and just chip it in rather than carry the puck in. This is something I pointed out back in the playoffs when watching teams advance, the successful teams did not freely give up the puck when moving into the attacking zone.
Whether it was done out of necessity, because of the loss of physical type players like David Backes and Troy Brouwer, or if it was an edict passed down by Doug Armstrong and the higher-ups; the Blues and Hitchcock seem to have finally bought in with the shifting style of play in the NHL. Now we have heard Hitchcock promise before to go faster, and we have seen the Blues attempt to play with smaller players before. But the immediate success of the new style of play for the Blues this year will hopefully be enough to prevent Hitchcock from falling back to his old coaching ways.
The NHL season is a long one, and there are sure to be ups and downs. But after three games this season and seeing how the Blues are playing I no longer think this year will just be a transition season. They have already answered my question, “What kind of team will the Blues be?”…the Blues are a young, transitioning team that haven’t lowered their expectations. The St. Louis Blues are a team to get excited about and expect success from in 2016-17.