Blackhawks notice new Blues: More puck, less pounding
BY MARK LAZERUS Staff Reporter October 17, 2013 9:25PM
Updated: November 19, 2013 6:36AM
That the St. Louis Blues are among the NHL’s top teams in the early going isn’t much of a surprise. That they’re the second highest-scoring team certainly is, though.
Entering Thursday night’s game against the Blackhawks at the United Center, the Blues were averaging 4.2 goals per game, up from just 2.7 last season. Only the unbeaten San Jose Sharks were averaging more, at five goals per game.
The Blues have long built their team around sound defense, solid goaltending and aggressively physical — often agitating — play. But Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said this year’s squad is a little different. Maxim Lapierre’s boarding of the Sharks’ Dan Boyle on Tuesday night aside (Lapierre is suspended pending an in-person hearing), Toews said the Blues are toning it down a bit.
‘‘I think there’s maybe less stuff after the whistles — that was probably the one thing I noticed,’’ said Toews, a frequent target of Barret Jackman and David Backes last season. ‘‘Maybe they’re focusing more on their skill game and controlling the puck — focusing their energy where it really matters. I might have seen that.’’
Before the game, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock agreed with Toews. To an extent.
‘‘That goes with the game of ice hockey when you don’t like the other team,’’ he said of the extra-curriculars. ‘‘I don’t know that we’re more focused on the offense, but we’re more focused on puck control. We’re more focused on the ability to maintain possession of the puck. But I think our game’s evolving, and we tried to work on getting balance more than anything.”
Then Hitchcock smirked.
‘‘We’ll try to not hit Jonathan today,’’ he said.
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said the Blues are better on offense than they get credit for.
‘‘You look at their lines up front, they can do a little of everything,’’ he said. ‘‘They’ve got some guys that check, and they’ve got some guys that can score and make plays. But there’s a lot of skill up front for them, and they’ve got a very active defense that complements them as well. They attack, but they defend pretty well.’’