There was a time when the St. Louis Blues played smash mouth hockey. The Blues of Barclay (front) and Bob (back) Plager lacked the talent other teams brought to the game, so they made damn good and sure no one else outworked them. And work often meant playing right at the outer edge (and beyond) the rules.
The truth is that Lynn Patrick and Scotty Bowman built the original expansion Blues around the Bruins model of the late 1950′s (another Lynn Patrick team). That template was adopted about 1970 by Keith Allen in Philadelphia and the Flyers won 2 Stanley’s with the plan. It also helped they had Bernie Parent, but I digress.
Bob Gassoff (bleeding in photo) was the heir apparent to the Plagers and did a fine job upholding the Blues hard rock reputation until his unfortunate death in the late 1970′s. Gassoff was a very famous junior (the Medicine Hat Tigers of that era were a talented, brutal hockey team) and some of the craziest stories of the era surround the Gassoff boys (Bob, Brad and Ken).
This season the Blues are in the top 5 in PIMs and seem to be bringing a lot more of the old style aggression to every game. I hesitate to give new Blues coach Davis Payne too much credit (St. Louis has been trending this way for a couple of seasons) but there does seem to be some smash mouth to the Blues games these days.
The Blues have 4 forwards among the league’s leaders in PIMs. Cam Janssen is 6th overall (168), Brandon Crombeen is 14th (142), Brad Winchester is 36th (101) and David Backes is 41st overall with 96 pims. Backes is actually a key player because he’s more than a 4line/depth player and often bruises actual NHL players with his monster hits and aggressive style. Most of the Blues roster are strong, physical men with size and it is difficult for a fan to see a St. Louis 5 that doesn’t bring a lot of these elements to every shift.
Along the blue, St. Louis has a group of tough men that the Plagers and Gassoffs would recognize. Barrett Jackman (79) is 11th among defensemen, Erik Johnson (68) is 28th and Eric Brewer would be in the mix if he could stay healthy for an entire season.
Juxtapose this against the Oilers current numbers:
- Zack Stortini (153) 9th overall
- JF Jacques (78) 68th overal
No Backes, and certainly not the level of toughness offered by St. Louis depth forwards.
- Sheldon Souray (65) 36th overall
In fairness, Staios would have been in the top 50 and Peckham has 43 PIMS in 15 NHL games. But I think it is fair to say the Oilers enter tonight’s game with fewer physical players (and more small men) than the Blues bring to the rink.
There’s more than one way to win a hockey game and I’m not suggesting the Oilers goon it up (it is awful hockey, lasts 3 hours and the skilled men get killed eventually). However, the Edmonton Oilers have a lot of skill out with injury right now and I think at least part of the reason is that the club has no answer for David Backes and players of his ilk.