What the St. Louis Blues Are Doing Right Thus Far in 2013-14

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What the St. Louis Blues Are Doing Right Thus Far in 2013-14
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The St. Louis Blues were projected to be very good this year. Hockey pundits cognizant and simulated alike expected big things from this fully ripened squad.

So far, they are worth the hype.

The Blues are currently placed at third in the Western Conference standings, two points behind the first-place Anaheim Ducks despite having four games in hand. They are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and have outscored their opponents 35-21 in that span.

They trail the Chicago Blackhawks by a single point in the Central Division standings but also have two games in hand on them. After the team's dominant 6-1 dispatching of the Dallas Stars Saturday, the Blues are 7-0-1 against their divisional competition this season.

So what are the Blues doing right?

At the most rudimentary level, the Blues have been adept at doing what is required by all teams if they expect to win—they score a lot and prevent their competition from scoring a lot against them.

Their 3.46 goals-per-game average ranks a slim second to the Chicago Blackhawks' 3.50, and their defense sports a sparkling 2.23 goals-against average. Despite inconsistent play and evident struggles in the crease, starting goaltender Jaroslav Halak still sports a 2.34 goals-against average. That says a lot, given his save percentage is at a flat .900.

That is likely due to the fact that the Blues average just 25.7 shots against per game—fifth lowest in the league.

Defense has been a positive aspect of the Blues' game for several years, but where the team has really grown is in its offensive prowess.

The power play has been sensational, and the Blues currently lead the league with a 25.6 power-play percentage.

Mark Buckner/Getty Images
Alex Steen has 17 goals on the year, good for second in the NHL.

Each player on their top forward line is scoring at or near a point-per-game pace. Their offense has been led quite loudly by the MVP-caliber play of Alexander Steen, who is challenging the likes of Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin for the NHL scoring title.

The support is there as well. Outside of their top line, the Blues have eight other players with double-digit point totals. Derek Roy has resurfaced from his year as a journeyman quite nicely and has found a niche as the Blues' second-line center.

One stat that really sticks out for the Blues so far this season is their number of giveaways. In 22 games played, the team has combined for just 80 giveaways. That's 50 less than the next best team at protecting possession of the puck (the Colorado Avalanche have 130).

The Blues have very effectively combined grittiness with puck possession. They are rarely a flashy team, but they have big bodies that can crash the net. They pin opposing teams down in their own zones for long stretches, wear them down and reek havoc in front of the net until everyone realizes that the puck they're all looking for has already crossed the goal line.

They are incredibly deep to boot. Their top three forward lines can effectively contribute on both ends of the ice, and their third line of Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Sobotka and Vladimir Tarasenko could easily be playing top-six minutes for most other NHL teams.

At the back end, defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester are quickly transforming into one of the best duos in hockey. They are both active defensemen with high hockey IQs, and their chemistry has been seamless since the Blues acquired Bouwmeester from the Calgary Flames last April.

With the recent return of Carlo Colaiacovo to the roster, the Blues now have a plethora of options to use at the back end. The signing, of course, was a result of Jordan Leopold's hand surgery, which will put him out of action for a bit, but the Blues still have a mobile defensive unit that is now loaded with experience.

The Blues will incur bumps down the road. They aren't the perfect NHL team, but they've learned well the brand of hockey they must play in order to succeed. Until their competition finds a way to humble them, chances are, the Blues will keep winning.

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