(HockeySTL) -- Several weeks ago, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock reunited Alexander Steen, David Backes and T.J. Oshie to form a trio that had experience making opponents cringe. The results are similar this time, as well.
The line has rejuvenated the Blues, leading by example, while also being the team’s hottest-scoring group. It is a result of the players performing the right way.
“They’re a perfect example of playing the way we need to play to have success,” Hitchcock said. “They are on the page defensively, they are on the page offensively, they are on the page in puck support, on chemistry. They look quick because they are managing the game the right way. They effective and a perfect example of what good players can do when everybody is on the same page in every shift.”
The line has combined for 44 points since being joined back together. The three players spent the latter part of last year dominating the league in many of the same ways they are doing so this season, but were broken up due to a need for a lineup shuffle following injures. With the club healthy, it has been possible to re-form the line.
But even earlier in the year when the line was in existence, it wasn’t producing.
“One night I would be trying to do everything, the next night Backes would try to do everything,” Oshie said. “Now, we are just trusting each other to do the job. It saves so much energy.”
The line is a combination of three high-caliber players playing the way it takes to win. As evidence of that, the trio has combined for 48.7 percent of the team’s total goals and 38.2 percent of its total points during the ten-game stretch. It is reminiscent of the way the Jaden Schwartz, Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko line was playing at the beginning of the year.
“It’s all three of us playing the exact same way in our own selves,” Oshie said. “All three of us are getting pucks deep; all three of us are working for each other. All three of us are working hard together and it’s making it easier on us.”
Oshie said something clicked immediately when the coach put the group together this time around, remembering the very point when he knew something special was in formation.
“I think it was the very first period that ‘Hitch’ put us back together,” Oshie said. “I wasn’t very good that period but still that game it felt like everything was crisp and quicker and we didn’t have one guy doing all the work.”
Two of the line’s components, Oshie and Backes, have owned the title of the NHL’s No. 1 weekly star in consecutive weeks. Each line member has more than 25 points and ten goals. Backes’ 16 goals trail only Tarasenko for the team lead.
The captain is an integral part of the lineup and, despite his offensive output, has been preaching for weeks, along with Hitchcock, the need for a more physically-based game.
“I think we were trying to look for different ways to play the first half of the season that weren’t the ways we had been having success,” Backes said. “We thought since we brought in different personnel that we could get a little cuter or play a little more skilled game. The fact is, to win in this league you have to put work first, go to the hard areas, put pucks behind other teams in the offensive zone. We have done that and skill kicks in and the result is some wins.”
And the wins and points are continuing to come. The club has secured 11 of 12 possible points in its last six games, posting a 5-0-1 record. The team’s recent five-game win streak was ended on Thursday, but once again the Blues’ top line cashed in with points, including a late goal by Steen to tie the game and send it to overtime where the club would eventually fall.
“My linemates are playing pretty good right now so that makes it a lot easier,” said Oshie. “Steen and Backes and myself are all taking pride in playing the same way and playing a very north, direct game. Now we are starting to get that chemistry back and it’s extending our zone time and that’s where the goals are coming from.”
Though the line has been dominant offensively, none of its components claim individual success, something that has been a trademark of this club for the past few seasons. Instead, the players are refining their game to be more team-based and the end result has been equaling success.
It’s not an easy sell, but it’s a smaller challenge when the top players are using their actions to speak louder than their words.
“It’s fun playing with guys that work for each other,” Oshie said.