ST. LOUIS - So ... when the Blues came into the regular season minus four players that ordinarily would be among their top 12 forwards, it was natural to wonder where would some of the offense come from.
Although the Blues, who started the season without Alexander Steen (hand), Robby Fabbri (knee), Patrik Berglund (shoulder) and Zach Sanford (shoulder), have capable players in the lineup (Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, Paul Stastny, among others) that can help fill the void, but there have been reinforcements elsewhere.
What have the Blues, who are 2-0-0 heading into one of their longest trips of the season starting today at noon against the New York Islanders (1-1-0), done to begin the season scoring 4.5 goals per game?
They've called on the defense to give them offense.
The Blues have scored nine goals thus far, and five of those game come from the defense. So when Joel Edmundson scored in the first period against the Dallas Stars to give the Blues a 2-0 lead, it was the fifth of seven goals to begin the season coming from the blue line.
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To put it in perspective, the Blues didn't get their fifth goal from a defenseman (all five came from either Kevin Shattenkirk or Alex Pietrangelo) last season until the ninth game against Dallas on Nov. 3, and for them to have five goals from four defenseman (Pietrangelo is only one with two) in two games speaks of how much it's always been a team concept with the Blues.
"Obviously it’s a great job by them," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "We believe that we have a group of defensemen that we can get involved. They have the ability, and on top of that, the hockey sense to recognize when it’s there and not put us in a vulnerable position. A lot of credit has to go to the forwards as well. Those types of things, they don’t happen if your forwards aren’t recovering pucks, if your forwards aren’t hanging onto pucks and opening opportunities for the d-men to get involved, and then obviously if you have a real good, strong third man high in the offensive zone then your D can get involved a little bit more.
"The league is too hard now and it’s too fast to try to just be stuck in positions all the time. When you have an opportunity in the offensive zone, the way that teams defend, you have to have the ability to create some movement, to try to take them out of position. Again, the thing you have to make sure of is that you’re not putting yourself in a bad position. You’re not doing it without purpose and you’re not doing it without the understanding that there’s risks there, too. But whether it’s in the offensive zone and creating more movement, whether it’s off the rush like we saw against Pittsburgh and trying to generate more of a four-man attack, it’s hard to score in this league if you’re not taking advantage of those opportunities quickly."
Last season, the Blues got 35 goals from defenseman, which was tied for 12th in the league and 13 off the pace of first-place San Jose's 48. And there is something about playing in Yeo's system that enables the defensemen to pinch without restrictions.
"It alleviates some of the pressure, too, for the forwards if they've got to do all the work," Pietrangelo, who had a career-high 14 goals last season, said. "Everybody's contributing right now, it's what the team's built on. It's what our system is built on, maybe alleviate the forwards from squeezing their sticks a little tighter when we can contribute.
"I just think now that we've played the system for a while, went through a training camp, we're all working as a group of five. we're getting a lot of movement in the offensive zone (and) on the rush and that's what's creating our opportunities."
And when the defensemen are able to pinch in scoring areas, it helps the forwards create opportunities and get into scoring areas when the players are working as a five-man unit.
"It's big coming out of your zone," Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz, who scored his first goal of the season Saturday, said. "It helps when they're jumping into the play, it gives you another option to move the puck. That creates speed through the neutral zone and then that makes getting into the zone easier and that's when you can make things happen."
Pietrangelo (2), Edmundson, Colton Parayko and Carl Gunnarsson, who scored his first goal in 62 games (March 25, 2016 against Vancouver), have accounted for the Blues' goals from their defensemen, and as long as they can contribute at both ends of the ice, it'll help this team win hockey games until reinforcements return.
And it's a big reason why Yeo won't put on the brakes as far as the blue liners pinching.
"I haven't got the red light yet," Gunnarsson said. "If we keep scoring like that, we're good to go, but you've got to pick your chances and not do it all the time."
Goals by defenseman in 2016-17:
San Jose (48)
N.Y. Islanders (39)
Los Angeles (37)
N.Y. Rangers (36)
St. Louis (35)
Tampa Bay (33)
New Jersey (30)
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