(HockeySTL)-- After putting the finishing touches on a roster that consisted of enough forward depth to adequately sprinkle skill between four lines, the Blues didn’t envision that three players would be creating almost all of the team’s offense.
Relying on a single line is not typically a recipe for success, but Jaden Schwartz, Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko have developed into anything but typical.
“They really play the right way,” Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock said of the line. “They have success because they have skill, but they really play the right way. When you play the right way and you’ve got that level of skill, it’s a good thing.
“It’s gratifying for us because they are doing the things that we are trying to ingrain into the whole group here.”
Whether it’s the 25 points combined in the last six games or the plus-31 rating of the linemates this season, the further one delves into the numbers, the more ridiculous they are.
Tarasenko (9), Schwartz (6) and Lehtera (6) are the Blues’ top three goal scorers. The trio, in the same order, stack up as the Blues’ top point-getters. Tarasenko has a six-game point streak (five goals, five assists), Lehtera has at least one point in his last five (four goals, four assists) and Schwartz rounds out the line with points in four straight (one goal, six assists).
The Blues have won eight of their last nine games, but the offense outside the Schwartz-Lehtera-Tarasenko line has been nearly non-existent. In fact, 14 of the Blues’ last 23 goals have been scored by a member of that line.
“Quite frankly, we are sitting on one line doing everything for us,” Hitchcock said. “We are going to need a lot more from people if we expect to be good in this division.
“The onus is on everybody else. Before we can even start producing, we need to start spending more time in the offensive zone. Those guys know they can play better and they know they are going to have to play better.”
But it was essentially more of the same in Tuesday’s 6-1 win over Buffalo. Lehtera had a natural hat-trick and members of the line combined for eight points. Had it not been for a late-game sustained power-play opportunity, the scorching line may have been the Blues’ only offense.
Lehtera’s hat-trick was the Blues’ third of the season. The other two came earlier in the year from Tarasenko and Schwartz.
“I haven’t seen this many hat tricks on a team before this early in the season,” said Schwartz, who notched his hat-trick on Oct. 18. “Hopefully we can keep that going.”
The chemistry between the three players is unmistakable. Lehtera and Tarasenko have been slotted together all season, whereas Schwartz, more or less, had been a frequent visitor on the line early in the year. Now, he has cemented himself with the Blues’ two hottest players and the result is pure dominance.
The main reason the line is so successful, aside from its overwhelming skill level, is familiarity. Tarasenko and Lehtera played together in Russia before the former joined the Blues in 2012. In the three seasons he has been with St. Louis, it’s not been uncommon to see Tarasenko playing with Schwartz.
“I’ve played with Tarasenko before and I know where he likes to be and what he likes to do,” Schwartz said. “Those two played together in Russia so they know that. Jori is an easy guy to adjust to and play with. It’s nice to see us having success right now. “
The astounding statistics aside, the Blues are living dangerously with just three players accounting for 44 percent of their total offense. Of late, just one team, the Nashville Predators, has been able to limit the line. That performance resulted in the Blues’ only loss in their last nine games.
“When you become a one-line club, like what has happened, teams sit on you,” Hitchcock said after the loss to Nashville. “We don’t want to become a one-line club. We’ve got more than that.”
One thing Hitchcock is hoping will help spark more team offense is the return of T.J. Oshie. The concussed forward’s return date is not yet known but is growing closer by the day.
“When ‘Osh’ comes back, we have the chance to have some real beef that plays the games the right way,” Hitchcock said. “We have a real opportunity to do some damage with more than one line when ‘Osh’ gets back and that’s going to be good for us.”
But in the end, it’s all about winning and that’s what the Blues have been able to do, even if it has been with just one line producing. So, while they wait for other players to step up, member of the club will sit back and marvel in the skill of the NHL’s hottest trio.
“Those guys click together, eh,” goaltender Brian Elliott rhetorically asked the media on Tuesday. “They’re leading our team right now.”