The Blues muscled their way to the Stanley Cup in 2019. They were big and brawny and left bruises. They dominated possession at five on five by turning into human bumper cars. On many occasions when the Blues set up in the offensive zone, they wouldn’t leave. Their opponent could not escape the cage.
That and Jordan Binnington’s guardian goaltending is how the Blues went 30-10-5 in their final 45 regular-season games in 2019.
Over the 45 games that led into the postseason and their continued ownership of the puck, here’s what the Blues did at five on five:
No. 1 in the NHL with a 54.67 percent share of shots on goal.
No. 1 with a 58 percent share of high-danger scoring chances.
No. 1 with a 59.8 percent share of goals – outscoring opponents 97-65.
No. 2 with a 60.8 percent share of high-danger goals.
And this was no fluke. Based on the underlying metrics the 2019 Blues had an expected goals share of 56.2 percent at five on five. That team had to work extra hard to score goals, and a large volume of shots was necessary. The percentage of five on five shots on goal that went into the net – 8.16% ranked 13th in the league during the final 45 games.
Berube Hockey, boys! That’s how you have to play the game to succeed under the coach. Craig Berube, a tough guy as a player, became the first and only Blues coach to win the Stanley Cup by implementing a stubbornly tough style of hockey.
The 2021-2022 Blues are not playing Berube Hockey.
At five on five this season the Blues have attempted 365 fewer shots than opponents, and their Corsi percentage (47.1) ranks 24th in the league.
They’ve had 170 fewer shots on goal at five on five; their shot share (47.6%) ranks 23rd.
They’ve had 104 fewer high-danger chances than opponents and their danger-zone shot share of 46 percent ranks 26th in the league.
With opponents clawing for a significant advantage in shot volume and quality, the Blues should be scoring less and losing more. Their expected-goals share of 46.9 percent at five on five ranks 25th among the 32 NHL teams. Six of the seven teams that have done worse than that have lost records.
And here’s how the Blues probably think about that expected-goals thingy:
Go fish the puck out of your net boys, because we just scored again. And we’ll be scoring again here in a few minutes. And scoring again after that. We’re probably good for about five goals tonight.
The Blues may have an expected goals rate under 50 percent… but in actual goals at five on five the Blues have outscored the other side 175-144 for a 54.8 percent goal share that ranks 6th in the league. And despite having only 46% of the high-danger chances, the Blues have scored 56 percent of the high-danger goals in the competition.
Berube Hockey in 2022?
It’s fast, creative, opportunistic, loaded with firepower, highly entertaining, gorgeous to watch, and extremely successful on the scoreboard. The Blues frequently score on the rush, they score in the close-range areas, they score on the power play, they score after making beautiful passes, they score from the parking lot.
The Blues have seven guys with 20+ goals led by Vladimir Tarasenko’s 31. The others (as you know) are Pavel Buchnevich, David Perron, Jordan Kyrou, Ivan Barbashev, Brayden Schenn and Brandon Saad. There are only eight games left in the regular season, but the Blues have a chance to get two more players (Robert Thomas, Ryan O’Reilly) into the 20 Goal Club.
And what about all of these glorious assists from Robert Thoma, Tarasenko, Buchnevich and Kyrou? Have you ever seen a Blues team with so many forwards that pass the puck like this? Defenders Justin Faulk and Torey Krug have done their part to ignite the offense with smart, timely passes.
The instincts are sharp. So many playmakers. So many scorers in the perfect position.
This reminds me of this Wayne Gretzky quote: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be. ”
Thursday’s 6-2 win in Buffalo marked a new Blues franchise record of 10 consecutive games with at least four goals. And though the Blues usually come out on the low end on shot attempts and shots on goal, they make those shots matter. They make those shots hurt.
This season 10.1 percent of their shots on goal at five on five have gone into the goal. That blistering rate ranks No. 1 in the NHL.
And 12.04 percent of their shots on goal at all strengths have gone into the goal. That bounteous rate is also No. 1 in the NHL.
Three years ago, if you would have told me that Berube Hockey would transform into a combination of Whitey Herzog baseball in the 1980s, and the “Greatest Show” Rams in 1999, I would have responded in several ways.
1) Are you feeling OK? What you just said is crazy. A Berube team would never play that style of hockey.
2) Put down the bottle of Jack Daniels. You’ve had too much to drink.
3) You must have fallen asleep and had a dream about Brett Hull and Adam Oates.
4) The 1980-81 Blues had nine 20-goal scorers – but Wayne Babych, Jorgen Petterson, Perry Turnbull, Bernie Federko, Brian Sutter, Mike Zuke, Tony Currie, Larry Patey and Blair Chapman have all retired. So wake up.
5) Berube would HATE to coach a free-wheeling team that puts on a dazzling show for the customers. Sorry, you must be confused. Or are you wishcasting?
Except that Berube LOVES what the Blues are doing. And though he reminds them of their responsibilities on the forecheck and in the defensive zone – and stays on them about winning puck battles – he trusts the boys to use sound judgment and lets them play.
The Blues are on a 9-0-1 streak heading into a weekend set of games with Minnesota on Saturday at home – and Nashville on the road come Sunday.
I can’t wait for the postseason to begin. The Blues (44-20-10) will take this form of Berube Hockey into an intriguing postseason, and this is the team’s best chance to make a playoff run since winning it all in ’19. Skeptics will tell us that the Blues can’t win in the postseason by playing pretty hockey. Is that a scowl, or a smile, that we see on Berube’s face?
Thanks for reading and have a wonderful weekend.
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 pm and Friday from 4-6 pm You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com – the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store .
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Please email your “Ask Bernie” questions to BernScoops@gmail.com
All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.