Final Report Card for St. Louis Blues' 2013-14 Season
The St. Louis Blues made every concerted throughout the 2013-14 NHL season to make a charge at the Stanley Cup. General manager Doug Armstrong accumulated enough depth to compete in the tough Western Conference, and made one of the biggest splashes at the trade deadline by acquiring Ryan Miller.
The emergence of T.J. Oshie as a national hero, continued development of Vladimir Tarasenko and acquisition of Miller wasn't enough to get the Blues out of the first round though, let alone aid in a run to the Final.
St. Louis started off the season strong and looked like a marquee team, losing only 17 times in their first 76 games. The wheels came off the rail at the end of the year though, as the Presidents' Trophy and Central Division banner slipped away in the final weeks of action.
The rough stretch forced the Blues into a matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, and they never did find an answer for the defending Cup champions following a victory in Game Two.
With only two wins in their final 12 contests, there are plenty of questions to go around in St. Louis. This is a look back at how they performed during the season.
All statistics appear courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted, and are accurate through the end of St. Louis' season.
Through the first half of the 2013-14 campaign, the Blues were one of the most prolific offensive teams in the NHL. The goals started coming at a slower rate following the Olympic break, and St. Louis' ability to find the back of the net went dry at the wrong time against Chicago.
All told, the Blues were seventh in the NHL in average goals scored during the regular season with a 2.92 average. St. Louis was also generally strong during five-on-five play, finishing fifth in goals for/against with a 1.22 ratio.
You wouldn't know it by watching their series against the 'Hawks, but the Blues also generated a lot of offense from the blue line during the regular season. Alex Pietrangelo cracked the 50-point barrier, Kevin Shattenkirk posted 45 points and Jay Bouwmeester quietly notched 37.
Eleven players produced more than 30 points, which indicates that there's plenty of depth on the current roster. If the Blues had made it out of round one, they'd get an A. Finishing 12th out of 16 teams in terms of average goals scored in the playoffs costs them a bit on the final tally.
Offense Final Grade: B+
As stated in the previous slide, the Blues get a lot of offense from their defenders. Pietrangelo is one of the few defensemen in the NHL that could potentially score at the same rate as Erik Karlsson, which is impressive while playing inside of a Ken Hitchcock system.
The offense from the blue line rarely came at the expense of defensive posture, which lead to St. Louis' finishing the regular season as one of the stingiest teams in the NHL. Only the Boston Bruins and the L.A. Kings were tougher to score against than the Blues—decent company atop the NHL's average goals scored against standings.
It wasn't strong goaltending that allowed St. Louis to remain one of the top five-on-five teams around though. The New Jersey Devils and Kings allowed fewer shots on average than the Blues, but that's it.
Had the top-six defenders shown up and played like that during the playoffs, the grade would be higher. Like the offense, the defense will finish 12th in the playoffs in terms of goals allowed, and that's just not good enough.
Defense Final Grade: B-
If you're in St. Louis over the summer and (for whatever reason) you feel like starting a fist fight at one of the local bar-b-q joints, bring up Ryan Miller and talk about how Armstrong make the correct move in bringing the goalie to town.
It was truly a tale of two seasons for the Blues' net. Jaroslav Halak started the season the the go-to guy for Hitchcock, but as the trade deadline approached, the brain trust upstairs decided to make a change. Acquiring Miller was a gutsy move that didn't pay off for St. Louis at all. The former Buffalo Sabre won maybe one regular season game on his own, and was mediocre during the postseason.
He wasn't able to outperform Halak down the stretch, let alone steal a game in the playoffs against Chicago. The goaltending was par for the Blues, but the way the netminders were handled knocks St. Louis down a peg as the dust clears following a round one butt kicking from the 'Hawks.
Moving valuable assets to upgrade the name on the back of the sweater seems foolish in hindsight. Miller was brought to St. Louis to dethrone the 'Hawks. He will finish the playoffs with a .897 save percentage.
Goaltending Final Grade: C
Miller is going to take a lot of heat for St. Louis' first-round exit, but the power play should share an equal amount of that burden. The unit failed to score on six power-play chances in Game 6 against Chicago, and a power play that converted on 19.8 percent of its chances during the regular season collapsed entirely during the postseason.
Against the 'Hawks, the Blues scored twice on 29 chances—a spectacular fall that cost St. Louis the series.
It's tough to balance regular season success against postseason failure. The Blues wanted a Stanley Cup this season and didn't seem to care about the campaign once a playoff berth was locked up. As such, St. Louis' inability to score with the extra man pushes their final grade down a bit.
The penalty kill wasn't bad, but still allowed timely and devastating goals to Chicago.
Special Teams Final Grade: B-
Coaches make great fall guys when teams fail to live up to expectations. Look at the Washington Capitals or Vancouver Canucks for evidence of that. One of the most interesting storylines that will come out of St. Louis' failure to get out of round one will be centered around Hitchcock's future with the Blues.
He's an outstanding coach that makes life easier on his goalies. Hitchcock's teams also tend to dry up in the postseason, and it's on the coach to find combinations to wake up slumbering forwards. It took Joel Quenneville all of 10 minutes to shake up his lines in Game 6.
The outcome was a deathblow to the Blues. Can Hitchcock find a way to balance offense and defense? Strong play in your own end is just one key to winning a championship, not the only key. That's how the veteran bench boss treats it though, and it will be interesting to see who is calling the shots for the Blues next October.
Coaching Final Grade: B
How you'd grade the Blues season overall depends on what kind of viewer you are. If you're more patient, then maybe you're glad the team had more peaks than valleys during the regular season.
That story is old hat in St. Louis though, and it's Stanley Cup or bust for a fan base that has been taunted and teased with good-but-not-good-enough teams since the earliest days of the franchise.
The Blues fell off and failed to win the Presidents' Trophy or the Central in the name of focusing on the postseason, and it's evident what mattered the most in St. Louis during the year. There were some positives that will be built on next season, but this is another disappointing finish for a team some pundits thought capable of winning the Stanley Cup.
Big-time regular season followed by a collapse in the playoffs. It's impossible to call this campaign anything but average for the Blues.
Overall Grade: C