(HockeySTL) -- When a team’s power-play is facing adversity, nothing will go its way. Bounces will go to opponents, zone entries will be problematic and seemingly nothing will get past the man in net. The Blues and their top-ranked power-play aren’t facing any of those problems right now.
“It really is,” forward T.J. Oshie said when asked if this is the best he has seen the power-play. “(Kirk) Muller is doing a really good job of keeping us structured and keeping a game plan. Even in meetings, he tells us make the plays. He’s got guys going together that play well together and it really plays to our strengths.”
Muller, who is an assistant coach, is in charge of the power-play units. Before joining St. Louis in the offseason, Muller was the head coach in Carolina. He also spent 19 seasons in the NHL. Under Muller, the Blues have a red-hot power-play that has scored 8 times in its last 18 opportunities and sits atop the NHL with a 26.4 percent success rate.
“Due to our success, it has caused teams to think a little more,” said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who has an NHL-leading 23 power-play points. “Right now, it has maybe put them on their heels a bit and I think that’s something that we have been able to take advantage of.
“We go out there with the mentality that we are going to shoot the puck and get to the net and win that extra man-advantage at the net-front but you have seen over the last few weeks more opening up.”
A lot of the credit is being given to Muller. During his time in Carolina, the Hurricanes’ power-play was never phenomenal, failing to rise above 16.7 percent in his three years with the team. But he hardly had the personnel that the Blues possess.
With names like David Backes, Alexander Steen, Kevin Shattenkirk, Paul Stastny, Vladimir Tarasenko, etc. to choose from, Muller has been able to put together two units that are deadly.
“I think that’s the other reason we have been successful is that we have two units that can go out there and score at any time,” said Shattenkirk. “Really, we go out there to get momentum for the team. We want to score, but at the very least we want to get momentum for the team.”
Last year, assistant coach Gary Agnew watched over the power-play and it wasn’t bad. The units finished 7th in the league with a 19.8 percent rating and scored 56 goals with the man-advantage.
“Our power play was really good last year,” said head coach Ken Hitchcock. “We were top-four or five in the league. The big change, for me, is that we have become more dimensional in the movement of players into different positions.”
This year, the Blues already have 38 power-play goals and are on pace for 72. It hasn’t always been pretty, though. In fact, the team has gone through two four-game stretches without a goal on the man-advantage.
“I’m sure it helps that we are doing well but he’s not afraid of mistakes,” Oshie said of Muller. “He lets us make plays and understands that mistakes happen. When they do, he tells us good try and keep it going. When you have that kind of positivity and trust from coaches, as a player it gives you the confidence to go in and make the plays you need to make.”
One reason the advantage was off to a slower start earlier in the year was because the Blues were taking too many penalties, which wore down the power-play talent.
“It frees up guys and really just allows them to get on the power play and feel the offensive side of things, get going offensively and not worry about rushing around and blocking shots on the penalty kill,” Shattenkirk said. “I love being on the power play more than the penalty kill. I think anyone would tell you that.”
The Blues have also made some adjustments. Last year, Oshie spent the majority of his power-play time firing pucks from the blue line. The coaching staff has now moved him down low due to his chemistry with Stastny.
“The biggest adjustment we have made is a collective adjustment to adapt to what the other team is doing rather than ram our power play into a hole,” Hitchcock said. “We maneuver around and use more options than we have used in the past.”
But when the club has two units going like it currently does, it is nearly unstoppable
“We’ve not had a stale period where one or both units have gone quiet,” said Hitchcock. “It seems that one unit is going, one is not at different times. There hasn’t been a ten-game segment where there has even been balance. We have been lucky there. That’s the one point that has worked for us.”
As the Blues play the remainder of the seven-game homestand, they’re looking to keep their red-hot power-play rolling. The Blues have scored 20 goals in their past three games, but the explosive scoring will die down. At that point the team will look to its power-play for a necessary goal.
“The boost it has given our team when we have needed a big goal to pull away in games, we have been able to get,” said Shattenkirk. “Things are pretty timely with that and I think it has driven our five-on-five game. We’ve really played well and smart.”