November 29, 2022

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Hochman: Blues’ power play, best in franchise history, has club equipped for playoffs (along with strong penalty kill) | Benjamin Hochman

Just as the Boston bully shoved Jordan Kyrou’s back with his hands, Kyrou passed with his backhand.

And while Kyrou landed hard on the ice, he was the one who provided the back-breaking.

See, his no-look backhand zipped across the slot Tuesday to an open Vladimir Tarasenko. He one-timed a pass to Pavel Buchnevich, who one-timed a power-play goal.

When push comes to shove, the Blues produce on the power play — second-best in the National Hockey League (26.8%). And they slay on the penalty kill — sixth-best (83.9%).

Look, Tampa Bay is good because Tampa Bay has good players. But a product of that is the Lightning’s special teams. The winner of the past two Stanley Cups had the third-best postseason power play in 2021, fifth-best in 2020 and third-best in 2018, when Tampa Bay made the conference final. And the Lightning’s PK was often impenetrable a postseason ago.

For the Blues to “be” the Lightning — and who knows, even beat the Lightning — they must carry this special teams success into May (and June). Some advanced stats, such as expected goals, make statheads wonder if St. Louis can make a run. But the Blues can counter any of that with a dominant power play.

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And while you probably knew the power play was good … did you know it’s literally the best in franchise history?

The 1986-87 Blues, with a young Dougie Gilmour pouring in power-play points, finished at 24.6%. That’s a mark that lasted generations, and surprisingly so, considering the talent that has worn the Bluenote. Well, this year’s club (with five games to go) will likely break the record. Heck, here’s thinking the 26.8% eclipses the 27% mark — consider that the Blues have four upcoming road games, and the Blues’ road power-play percentage is 30.5. And, yep, that’s best in hockey.

“Special teams are always important — you can win or lose games with that,” Blues defenseman Justin Faulk said. “Going into the playoffs, five-on-five is generally pretty tight. At least if you’re going to make it anywhere (in the postseason), your five-on-five game is tight — and the other team generally has the same thing. So, special teams can be the difference.

“We’ve had a good run here for a bit this year. Our power play is doing pretty well, obviously — and so is our penalty kill. That’s just something we need to just keep building — as well as with our five-on-five. And I think we’ve got a lot of guys that can play both sides of it. Power play and penalty kill. And that’s a good thing — if a guy takes a penalty … someone could step up and get the job done.”

As for the penalty kill, it’s smothering. When assistant coach Jim Montgomery’s unit keeps an opponent scoreless, the Blues are 35-3-11. Notice that No. 3 in there. Super-impressive. In the Blues’ most-recent game, St. Louis was sloppy for essentially the entire second period — and stretches in the other two, too. But the Blues didn’t allow Boston to net any power play goals, which kept the home team in the game (and the Blues nabbed a point in the overtime loss). Again, just another way special teams can impact an outcome.

“Monty does a great job of instructing what’s needed to be done — and what teams are looking for,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “And the guys follow. They do a good job. That’s basically what it boils down. Routes and sticks and things like that.”

And cohesiveness. And fearlessness.

And on the power play, it’s cohesiveness and competitiveness … but not only against the opposition.

“A big thing, I think, is the depth that we have,” Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly said. “We have two power-play units and I think we’re competitive with each other, you know? We want to be the line to go out there and score it. And when you’re doing that, there’s a sense of urgency that is with that. Each time, a different unit is stepping up and getting a big goal. It’s been so helpful for us and changes the momentum of games and gets confidence going.

“So it’s a recipe that has been working.”

The top chef, if you will, is David Perron, who often scores top-shelf. The forward leads the Blues in power-play goals (11). He has 14 power-play assists (14) and leads the team in power-play points (25). During the Boston game at Enterprise Center, it felt like the crowd roar just got louder each time Perron got the puck with the man-advantage.

He’s played 11 seasons, and this is the first time he’s cracked double-digits with power play goals. His accomplishments are remarkable, considering he’s missed 14 games.

Then again, scoring is up across the league this year.

So, if there was ever a year for the Blues to be historically great on special teams, it’s this year.