Blues' left side of defense improving after miserable February -

Blues' left side of defense improving after miserable February

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By Scott Bierman By Scott Bierman

(HockeyStL) -- The St. Louis Blues could use an upgrade on the left side of the defense, but the recent play from the position makes it hard to argue against any such move.

It’s easy to harp about the left side of the defense when the right side, primarily Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo, is scoring twice as many points this season. The realization is that the Blues are not expecting Barret Jackman, Kris Russell, Ian Cole or Wade Redden to put up Norris Trophy-worthy numbers.

Don’t tell Jackman that. In his last five games, Jackman has six points (all assists) with a plus-four rating.

“I come streaky so I’ll probably cool off here pretty quick,” Jackman said after a 4-2 win over the Sharks Tuesday.

With seven seconds remaining in the second period Tuesday, Jackman simply backhanded the puck on goal which deflected off the right pad of San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi and to the stick of Chris Porter, who was racing down the left side and finished the play off with a goal to take a 3-1 lead.

It was an innocent-looking play, but it was also a play the Blues spend time working on during practice. The veteran-minded Jackman made that play happen by not trying to do it all himself. He also assisted on an empty-net goal scored by Chris Stewart to seal the victory.

After the game, Porter jokingly compared Jackman to a future Hall of Fame defenseman: “He’s (Nicklas) Lidstrom back there. He’s playing extremely well for us. He’s a leader, he’s been around and we’re trying to follow his lead for sure.”

February was a rough month for the other three left side defenseman. It was so bad that the Blues were rumored to be interested in making a trade for a more consistent left side defenseman. The revolving door of Russell, Cole and Redden wasn’t working as the Blues lost five-straight games after starting 6-1-0.

As of late, it seems that Cole has been chosen as the odd-man out after playing in just one of the last seven games. That one game didn’t help Cole’s case as he finished with a minus-four rating in 18:20 played in a 6-4 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on March 5.

Russell has worked his way into the daily lineup and has been a quiet catalyst in the team’s last five games. He has put eleven shots on net and recorded a plus-five rating during that span. His recent play hasn’t gone unnoticed either as he played a season-high 19:30 against the Sharks Tuesday.

While Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo are amongst the defensive league-leaders in points, Jackman and Russell have outplayed the pair in recent games.

Below are the stats over the last five games:

Pietrangelo/Shattenkirk: 2 goals, 6 assists, -1 rating
Jackman/Russell: 0 goals, 8 assists, +9 rating

Obviously, I don’t think the Blues should trade Pietrangelo or Shattenkirk. This is more about the left side stepping up their performance as of late and hushing the critics.

Will this trend keep up? That’s highly unlikely considering Jackman and Russell aren’t meant to carry an offensive load.

What this means is that the Blues will need Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk to step up on the defensive side of things if the team has any chance at making (and succeeding) in the playoffs. The team can't afford minus ratings for its best defensemen.

The young pair have a promising career in the NHL, but let’s hope this is just a learning experience and not something more permanent.

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