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Man advantage to be one of Blues' main weapons again

"It's exciting," O'Reilly said. "You see the personnel out there, it's definitely dangerous."

ST. LOUIS — Imagine you're Ryan O'Reilly, a piece of one of the already successful power play units in the NHL knowing you'll be adding to the weaponry.

It's got to feel like Christmas all over again, and for O'Reilly, who was on the first power play unit Wednesday when the Blues began working on it for the first time in training camp, he swivels to his left and sees David Perron waiting for that one-timer from the left circle, then pivots to his right, and there's Mike Hoffman (116 points on 58 goals, 116 assists in the past five full seasons), with precision and deadly accuracy, waiting on his off-wing in the right circle prepare to unleash.

And there's the new ringleader on the point, Torey Krug, who knows a thing or two about feeding power play specialists; he has 159 power-play points (24 goals, 135 assists) in his seven full seasons.

Can it get any better than that?

"It's exciting," O'Reilly admitted. "You see the personnel out there, it's definitely dangerous. That was the first time we kind of got a look at it, first time all of us being together moving it around a bit. Obviously Krug has got to be one of the best defensemen in the league right now in the way he distributes the puck up there and the way he makes plays and then you add Hoff, who's a smart player with a lethal shot. It's dangerous, and I think if we're working and we're in sync and competing for each other, we're going to have a lot of chances and really help us win a lot of games."

O'Reilly is the bumper, or trigger man, in the 1-3-1 diamond formation the Blues were utilizing with their first unit of O'Reilly, Perron, Hoffman, Krug and Brayden Schenn in front of the net or below the goal line. It's his job as the bumper to distribute on his own free will to a player of his choosing, or get off a quick shot if it presents itself. But being flanked by Perron and Hoffman on their off-wings, respectively, gives O'Reilly a pair of options the Blues didn't have at their disposal on a regular basis in the past, and makes for a challenging scouting report for the opposition.

It will make the Blues a more complex team to defend.

"I know if I'm killing against that, it's tough," O'Reilly said. "You have to give up something and neither of those is something you want to give up. It makes us very versatile and we can go either side and have a dangerous shooter. I know if we're pre-scouting that, teams are going to have a lot of issues with what they want to give up."

The Blues were third in the NHL last season at 24.3 percent during the regular season behind Edmonton (29.5 percent) and Boston (25.2 percent), so it had a good pair of power play groups that now gets better with the addition of Krug, who has specialized in feeding those exact same pucks on a platter in the past while with the Bruins.

Krug was tied for sixth in the NHL last season with 28 power-play points and since the 2015-16 season, he's 13th in the NHL with 126.

"He's used to it," Blues coach Craig Berube said of Krug. "He's fed [David] Pastrnak for a number of years and [Brad] Marchand on the other side. So he understands that side of things. I think those guys are going to do good things, they're going to shoot pucks. O'Reilly and Schenn there and maybe [Jaden] Schwartz could be at the net, it depends, we'll see how it goes. But we've got guys that do a good job around the net and find loose pucks and rebounds and things like that. It should be a good power play, but in saying that it's got to find chemistry. Chemistry is really important on the power play."

Hoffman, who had 21 PP points last season, has 116 since the 2015-16 season, tied for 23rd in the league; O'Reilly is tied for 26th with 109, Schenn is tied for 35th with 102 and Perron has 84 the past five seasons.

And then if the first unit doesn't produce, there's a second wave that includes Colton Parayko and Vince Dunn on the points, Robert Thomas, Schwartz and Tyler Bozak on the half walls and at the net that offers another dynamic.

"I think we've got a great opportunity to score some goals on the power play," Thomas said. "You know obviously Monty [assistant coach Jim Montgomery] is helping out a ton with that. We were moving the puck really well today, but yeah, we've got two really good units. Just from watching from the other end, the first unit was moving it around really good. And then I felt our unit was doing the same. Definitely really dangerous to have two good units going."
Montgomery, former coach of the Dallas Stars, reprises a role he once had as a power-play coach that will benefit from the riches at his disposal in St. Louis. He'll have skaters offer up a multi-dimensional look as to what's best, whether it be shot volume or look for the best shooting opportunity.

"I think a little bit of both, just moving the puck quick and making sure it's not on your stick too long," Thomas said. "Similar things to what Savvy [former assistant coach Marc Savard] was doing. Being more predictable. We have a couple of set plays and a couple of things we all know what to look for in certain situations. So it's just about repetition there and being a little more predictable, so we all know what's going on."

Two units, 10 players, and it doesn't even (yet) include Justin Faulk, who was projected to see more speciality teams time with the departure of Alex Pietrangelo. But at least at the outset, that's not the case on the power play, and merely a case of Faulk will have to earn his way in. Jordan Kyrou could also see some man-advantage time, as could Zach Sanford and/or Sammy Blais.

"Yeah, we'll see how it goes," Berube said. "There's always guys that are interchangeable that we'll see how they do. Colton Parayko has been a good PP guy for us. He's produced, he's scored and so has Dunner. So we'll see how it goes.

"... I don't think it's going to change a whole lot. Obviously we've got a couple new players, different players than were on there last year. Hoffman has been a good power-play guy in the league. He's got a real good shot. He makes plays, too, from that side of the ice. Krug, obviously he's been a real good PP guy in Boston, ran a real good power play there up top. He moves the puck really well, he knows the next play right away, so I think feeding Hoffman, feeding Perron, and those guys one-timing pucks, it should be a good power play. But we'll see how it goes."

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