Blues Need to Improve on the Road

Blues Need to Improve
on the Road

Alex Steen

Hidden behind an incredible record at home and some outstanding performances in net there has been a troubling development – the Blues are very average on the road. While they have rattled off a 22-3-4 record at home the Blues have struggled on the road with a record of just 8-11-3. With the majority of the team’s games on the road the Blues must figure out their game away from the Scottrade to ensure their spot in the playoffs.

First, it’s important to know that outside of a few teams such as the Boston Bruins (16-7-0) and Vancouver Canucks (17-9-1) that the majority of teams in the NHL have a very modest winning percentage on the road or are near the .500 mark. The belief is that a team can make the playoffs by simply winning the bulk of their games at home while maintaining a .500 record or slightly better than .500 record on the road.

To date the Blues have the first part of the equation down solid. They have been a force at home. They have the most victories at home prior to any NHL action on February 6th. However, when it comes to their play on the road the Blues have been less than impressive – as their record indicates.

The conversation here begins and ends with offense – or the lack of offense the Blues have had on the road.

Compare their ratios at home with those on the road.

Goals forced: 82 – 8th in the NHL
Goals allowed: 48 – 3rd in the NHL

Goals forced: 43 goals – 30th in the NHL
Goals allowed:  51 – 3rd in the NHL

Pretty obvious where the problem lies, isn’t it?

We all know the offense hasn’t been a strong point this season for the Blues but you might be surprised to see just how well they have performed at home, as evidenced by their ranking of 8th. By comparison, their mark of 43 goals on the road rank worst in the league.

When you examine the team’s offensive stats on the road you might be under the impression they just aren’t forcing chances on the opponent’s net – a belief that couldn’t be any further from the truth. The Blues have forced plenty of pucks toward the enemy’s net but haven’t been rewarded for their efforts.

For example, in a tough 3-1 loss in Nashville the Blues forced 43 shots on Pekka Rinne with only one puck finding twine. To be fair, Rinne is one of the NHL’s elite netminder but the fact remains the Blues should have capitalized on more of their chances. A team should be able to score more than one goal when forcing 43 shots on goal.

If you’ve been a regular viewer this year you’ll know that the Blues have had plenty of chances. We’ll see a St. Louis forward have the puck in a high percentage area only to fire the puck wide, directly at the goaltender or fail to get good wood on the puck entirely. This has had fans clamoring for the team to go out and trade for a “finisher”, an act that is much easier said than done.

To be fair, we all should expect to see the offense improve once Andy McDonald and Alex Steen are cleared to play. The big question is – when will that be? Are we expecting too much from these two skaters?

This leaves GM Doug Armstrong in a difficult position. Armstrong can’t be too hasty in making an improvement to the team’s offense but he also can’t wait too long in making an improvement. Armstrong’s timing must be perfect.

Ideally, McDonald and Steen will make a prompt return and give Armstrong plenty of time to evaluate the team’s offensive needs with these two in the lineup before the NHL trade deadline passes on Monday, February 27th. That’s the ideal situation.

Perhaps more realistically is the fact that we might see Steen and McDonald return close to the deadline and have rust to work through. It may be tough for Armstrong to form an accurate analysis with so little time before the deadline passes.

Regardless of what happens two things are perfectly clear: 1) The Blues must improve on the road and 2) The Blues must generate more offense on games away from the Scottrade. How or if that happens remains to be seen.