Sometimes the best way to correct mistakes in hockey, or any other professional sport, is to watch yourself making those mistakes — over and over again — on video.
That’s how the Blues spent part of their Sunday, watching Pittsburgh’s power play score — over and over — against them. Four power plays resulted in four Penguins goals in Saturday’s 6-1 romp over St. Louis at Enterprise Center.
“I think it’s important to see what you’re doing wrong and what you need to improve,” forward Oskar Sundqvist said. “It’s good to see that, even though you’d rather not see it.”
The Blues have been a top 10 penalty-killing unit for much of this season. Fueled by a streak of 23 consecutive successful PKs, they ranked as high as fourth in the league in mid-December.
But that streak was snapped Dec. 14 in a 4-3 overtime victory against Colorado. Starting with that contest, the Blues have allowed 11 power play goals over a seven-game stretch, culminating with Saturday’s four-bagger against Pittsburgh.
The Blues have killed off a mere 59.3 percent of their penalties during that span, which of course ranks last in the NHL.
Even so, interim coach Craig Berube isn’t planning wholesale changes on his penalty-killing unit.
“They’ve done a pretty good job most of the year, you know,” Berube said. “The Calgary game here at home and (Pittsburgh) really are the only two big glitches. The PK was top five in the league for a long time.
“When you have a couple bad games like that, though, it drops pretty quickly. It’s not that the personnel can’t do it. They can do it. They’ve just fallen off a little bit lately, so we’ll get them back going and regroup.”
The Blues gave up three power-play goals Dec. 16 in a 7-2 loss to Calgary. That game, and the four power-play goals allowed against Pittsburgh, mark the only times all season the Blues have given up more than two power-play goals in a game.
A 7-4 home loss to Columbus on Oct. 25, a game in which the Blues allowed two power-play goals, is the only other contest in which the Blues have allowed multiple power-play goals. In their other 33 games, the Blues have allowed either one power-play goal (17 times) or no power-play goals (16 times).
But the recent woes have dropped the Blues’ penalty-killing unit to 18th in the league at 79.0 percent.
“I don’t think we’re aggressive enough,” Sundqvist said. “We’re giving them way too much time with the puck. I think most of the blame is on us forwards — it starts with us to start the pressuring and not give the flankers too much time.”
Sundqvist is among four forwards who see the most time on the Blues’ PK, along with Ryan O’Reilly, Alexander Steen and linemate Ivan Barbashev.
Against Pittsburgh, the Blues were simply too passive on the penalty kill, frequently packing all four skaters in too tight.
“Against such a skilled power play, it’s gonna pay off for them,” Sundqvist said.
The last thing you need to give talented players such as Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist and Kris Letang is time and space on the power play. That group accounted for three of the four Penguins power-play goals Saturday.
“When you give good players time, too much time, they can capitalize on things,” Berube said. “The other thing is we gotta do a better job of just being in shooting lanes and blocking shots.”
For the entire game, including even-strength situations, the Blues had only five blocked shots against Pittsburgh, easily a season low. Entering the Pittsburgh game, the Blues were averaging 15½ blocked shots a game and had been below double digits in blocks just three times all season.
Blocking shots definitely falls into the category of dirty work, if for no other reason than it can be painful or result in injuries. It’s a mindset, Berube said.
“For sure, you gotta want to,” Berube said. “But also, you gotta be in position to do it.”
“’We’ve got to find a way to limit the shots coming to the net,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “The more opportunities you’re going to give teams _ (if) they’re getting five or six a game, they’re going to get an opportunity (to score). Yeah, we’ve got to kill them, but we’ve got to limit those opportunities, too.”
The Blues are among the most penalized teams in the NHL so far this season. Entering the Pittsburgh game, they had averaged 9.4 minutes in penalties per game. Only eight teams were in the penalty box more minutes.
So the PK issues start with the fact that the Blues are committing too many penalties, including too many penalties that can be avoided. Such was the case on the Blues’ first two penalties Saturday, both committed by Steen. Both came immediately after faceoffs, something you rarely see.
“The first one was an accident,” Berube said. “He’s just trying to get through there, and his stick comes up and got him. But it’s a penalty.”
Steen’s stick actually struck two Penguins as he was trying to get to open ice off the game-opening faceoff — Crosby and Bryan Rust.
The second penalty came when Steen tripped Dominik Simon after a faceoff in the St. Louis offensive zone.
“He knows the second one that you can’t do that,” Berube said.