(HockeyStL) -- It is rare for a team to have a defensive group that can contribute at both ends of the ice, but it is a rarity that the Blues possess.
The Blues are not strangers to having defensive talent. The team enjoyed success for many seasons with Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger manning the blue-line. Restructuring the defensive group has been a project in the works ever since both Pronger and MacInnis left the organization, and now the long process is paying dividends for the Blues.
The Blues’ defense is headed by two potent producers in Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk. The Blues drafted Pietrangelo in 2008, whereas they acquired Shattenkirk in a trade in 2011. Both stand atop the Blues’ roster in points on the young season.
Kevin Shattenkirk, who has a team-leading eight points (all assists) this season, has only spent two full seasons in the National Hockey League. Last year was a big one for Shattenkirk who was able to experience the intensity of the playoffs firsthand, and he claims it was extremely beneficial.
“I learned a lot of lessons from that last series against L.A.,” said Shattenkirk. “I learned how hard you have to play to win and be there at the end of the year. You want to be fine-tuning your game during the season and get better every day. Once you hit the playoffs, you should be playing your best hockey. You don’t want to be the weakest link and you want to bring you A-game every day.”
Though Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk are the Blues’ biggest scoring threats on defense, they are not being paired together. Instead of playing with Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk has spent all six games this season alongside veteran Barret Jackman, which helps to spread the offensive potential to more than just one defensive pairing.
Jackman has experience playing with an offensive talent. During the 2002-03 season, Jackman was paired with Al MacInnis who, much like Shattenkirk, was known for his offensive touch. Similarly, he seems to be a good fit for Shattenkirk.
Up until now, the Blues lacked a good partner for Pietrangelo. Last season Carlo Colaiacovo played with Pietrangelo, but he moved on to Detroit this past offseason leaving a slot to be filled. The Blues experimented with Kris Russell and Pietrangelo, but the Blues weren’t comfortable splitting up the proven pairing of Russel and Roman Polak. It might take the Blues a couple weeks into the season to find a suitable partner in Wade Redden, and already, he has complemented Pietrangelo’s game. Watch Wade Redden goal
“He’s an experienced guy,” said Pietrangelo. “He’s been able to calm down my game and make it simpler for me. He’s accomplished a lot in this league and it shows.”
“He keeps it simple. It’s good having a partner that you don’t have to worry about. He’s always going to be able to make the right play, and he’s always going to keep the game simple for me.”
Redden has two goals in three games with the Blues, but he isn’t the only surprising contributor. On Sunday, Barret Jackman netted a rare goal, which leaves Kris Russell as the only defenseman without a point thus far. The offense coming from the defense is considered a bonus for a team with a wealth of talent at the forward position, but everybody contributing is what makes the Blues so good.
“With the talent that our forwards have,” said Pietrangelo, “If we can chip in from the defensive side it’s obviously going to make it a lot easier on everybody moving forward.”
While the team’s offense stands out, the Blues’ defensive game is just as strong. Head coach Ken Hitchcock’s rhetoric is that defense will create offense, and the team has bought into that, making execution much easier.
“With the way we play, it can be hard not to get caught up in the offensive side of things,” said Shattenkirk, “But we have had such little time in our defensive zone and fewer plays that we’ve had to worry about defensively. It’s because we are aware, and try to end plays as quickly as possible.”
Most critics rate a player’s offensive ability on the number of goals he can net, but what is most impressive about players like Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk is their ability to make their teammates look good. Forward David Perron, for example, doesn’t have to worry about corralling a pass from the defenders because he knows it will be right where he wants it, making his job much easier.
“Every pass you get from Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo all you have to do is look on your tape because you know it is going to be right there,” said Perron. “It’s amazing what those guys do back there. They attack and counter-attack so quickly and we get right back into the offensive zone.”
The Blues are scoring by committee, and what makes the team so special is its ability to be a threat from anywhere on the ice. The Blues’ forwards will get the credit for leading the team offensively, but it’s the defenders that round out the team. The team’s success starts on defense. After all, good defense does create offense.