A Cure for the Power Play Blues

It’s probably evident, even to the newest of hockey fans, that the Blues’ power play looks bad. According to NHL.com, they currently have the 28th best power play in the league, only scoring 15.1% of the time. It’s amazing that there are 3 teams worse than that. Their power play woes were masked earlier in the year when they were one of the best teams in the league at 5-on-5 scoring. They were averaging close to 4 goals per game without power play goal support. Now, with the offense only scoring 2 goals per game in December, the power play inefficiency is rearing its ugly head. With Blues’ Star Jaden Schwartz sidelined for at least a few more weeks, they need the power play to start producing in order to keep pace with the Winnipeg Jets and the Nashville Predators in the tightly contested Central Division.

Why can’t they score?

The lack of scoring can be attributed to a number of things, but it boils down to 3 big ones:

1. Trouble entering the offensive zone

The first problem is the Blues can’t get the puck into the offensive zone and set up their power play scheme. They currently are running a play where a player skates the puck into the neutral zone, and then they drop pass the puck to another player who then tries to skate it over the blue line or dump the puck in behind the net. It’s so predictable that teams are just stacking the blue line to prevent skating it in cleanly, and then out working the Blues to retrieve dump ins. This wastes valuable power play time as the other team gets the puck frequently and throws it back into the Blues’ defensive zone.

2. Not enough puck movement

When the Blues do finally get set up, they are not passing the puck around quickly enough. If you watch the best power plays in the league like the Penguins or the Lightning, the puck is zipping around from player to player extremely quickly, causing defensive breakdowns and leading to high quality scoring chances. The Blues are lethargic with the puck, allowing the other team’s penalty killers to put immense pressure on the puck carrier, leading to turnovers and more power play time wasted. It almost looks like the Blues’ players are looking to make the perfect pass instead of just passing it to the open player and it is causing them to hold on to the puck for way too long.

3. Wrong power play set-up for the players’ skill sets

On the more technical side of the game, the Blues power play set-up appears to be a 1-3-1, where there is one player at the top, 3 players across the middle, and one player in front of the net (forming a plus sign pattern).

Diagram of the 1-3-1 power play set-up

This power play is great in theory. It is the same one the Washington Capitals use which allows Alexander Ovechkin to score so many goals. To execute it well, teams need quick puck movement to open up passing lanes cross ice or to the point for quick one-timers that goalies have no chance to save. However, the Blues lack a couple of things. Quick puck movement is one, and an Ovechkin-like player is the other. Tarasenko has a great shot, but he has a good wrist shot, not a one-timer slap shot. Because of those things, the Blues can’t execute the power play they want to. It doesn’t fit their DNA. Or put another way, it’s like they are trying to fit a square block into a round hole.

The Cure

The Blues could go about solving their power play problems a couple of ways. One is a patch, the other is a complete overhaul:

1. Patching up the 1-3-1

If the Blues intend to try to perfect their 1-3-1 set-up, then it would be wise to start to move the puck around as quickly as possible. The puck cannot stay on a player’s stick for more than 2 seconds. That also includes their entry into the offensive zone to set up the power play. Just like in basketball, quick puck movement spreads out the defense and opens up lanes to shoot or attack. This would allow the Blues to enter the zone with more ease and then open shooting lanes once set up. The second thing they would need to do is find their shooter (i.e. their “Ovechkin”). The player who has shown he has the best one-timer on the team is Colton Parayko, so I’d make him the player set up at position number 4 (see diagram). From there, have Pietrangelo at 1, Tarasenko at 2, Schenn at 3, and Stastny at 5. The goal should be to move the puck around quickly until Tarasenko has a lane to get off his lethal wrister with Stastny screening the goalie, Pietrangelo can shoot for a tip by Schenn or Stastny, or Parayko can unleash his booming slap shot.

3. Overhaul the power play

The Blues would probably be better off utilizing a power play that is simple, requires little puck movement, and generates a lot of shots. This would eliminate their propensity for hanging on to the puck for too long and put a lot of pressure on the opposing goalie to make saves. While they still need to move the puck more when entering the zone, once they set up, they should use a strategy called the “Umbrella.”

Diagram of the Umbrella power play set-up

The goal of this power play is for players 1, 2, and 3 to pass the puck between each other a couple times and then unload a shot while players 4 and 5 screen the goalie and try to tip it or put in the rebound. Players 4 and 5 are also in charge of corralling the loose pucks down low and getting them back up to players 1, 2, and 3 and the cycle repeats. With Pietrangelo at 1, Tarasenko at 2, and Parayko at 3, and Thompson and Schenn at 4 and 5, this power play could be extremely effective. Pietrangelo, Tarasenko, and Parayko have some of the best shots on the team. Schenn and Thompson are two big bodies who could screen the goalie while at the same time being skilled enough to tip pucks and put in rebounds.

Will either of these cures work? Who knows, but what is known is the Blues current power play isn’t working and they need to try something to switch things up. Maybe tonight is the night they do that because it’s going to take a power play goal or two to beat the sizzling hot Vegas Golden Knights.

(Or Mike Yeo, if you’re reading, pretty please just take Steen off the power play. Please.)

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