Last postseason, the Blues were so bad on the power play, one wonders if they hired the wrong Marc Savard? Sure, the former NHL player hired this summer to fix the power play made for a sensible choice. But after trying seemingly everything — and going 1-for-18 in the Stanley Cup Final (and 2-for-22 against Dallas) — one wonders if they should've brought in Marc Savard, the famed Vegas Strip hypnotist?
“What's better than one Marc Savard? Two Marc Savards!” the hypnotist said with a laugh by phone. He's a Canadian and a die-hard hockey fan — and has become friends with his St. Louis coaching namesake.
“His offensive hockey sense is incredible,” the Vegas performer said. “There's no doubt in my mind that he's going to be able to help the team. … Though when you go 1-for-18, anyone can help the team! You can only really go up from there.”
Now that it's over, and the Blues' names are on the Stanley Cup, it's easier to look back and laugh at the futility of the power play. It was like a one-man disadvantage. The Blues had a series go seven games twice, in part because they couldn't put away teams via the power play (though, if they had been better against Dallas, they might've won the series earlier, and St. Louis would've been deprived of Patrick Maroon's Game 7 heroics).
In the playoffs on the power play, the Blues' success rate was 12th of 16 teams (16.3 percent). Only two teams that won a round — Colorado and Carolina — had a worse power-play percentage. Going forward, it's hard to think that any team — St. Louis or otherwise — could be that bad in two rounds on the power play and still win the Cup. But of all the possible assistants to bring in, it was curious that coach Craig Berube went with Savard, who lacks NHL coaching experience. But as we've seen in modern sports, sometimes the best thinkers are the fresh thinkers.
“There are a lot of guys,” Berube said, “and you can choose coaches who have been around and have experience, but I just wanted a guy who played the game not that long ago, so players know what he's like and what kind of a player he was. I think that has clout. He was a real good power-play guy. And his personality and stuff, he's going to relate to our players. I think that's why I chose him.
“He's a funny, witty guy, in a good way. I think the players will really catch onto that, hopefully. And that he'll have a good rapport with all those offensive guys that are on the power play. He had some unreal years on the power play, stat-wise. He knows what he's doing.”
So, what is he doing?
Savard is trying to get the Blues to buy into puck movement. No hesitation. No second-guessing. No “dusting” — the concept of a player possessing the puck and tapping it back-and-forth in place, as if to dust the ice off.
“The puck moves a lot faster than any person,” said Berube (the Blues don't make assistant coaches available to the media once camp begins). “So his philosophy is moving that puck quick, attacking and getting shots. That's what we're working on, that's what we're talking about, trying to get the terminology across to the players. Don't be hanging onto it, taking your time. Move it quick and attack as much as possible, whether it's off the face-off or off the rush or anything.”
Berube believes in Savard. He knew Savard as a player. Admired his mind. Some of the veteran Blues knew him, too.
“Just a real intelligent offensive player offensively,” center Ryan O'Reilly said. “The stuff he would do was just really smart. I think it's nice to have another set of eyes looking at us. … He definitely provides a lot of insight for us that can hopefully help spark us — and get us going in the right way. … It's a key thing that we're looking to improve. It starts with our work ethic, and being on the same page.”
If you look back at the Blues' 2018-19 season, some of it was peculiar, other parts spectacular. The Blues finished 10th in the NHL in regular-season power play (21.1 percent), yet 18th at home (18.5) and fifth on the road (23.9). Remember, of course, the Blues were road warriors during the playoffs, too. And before the All-Star break, the Blues were 17th on the power play (19.4), while after the break they were third (23.7). And the addition of power-play specialist Justin Faulk, a confident defenseman, should help ignite Savard's system.
The goal, of course, is winning the Cup again. But to do that, the Blues will first have to make the playoffs in the absolutely loaded Western Conference.
Last year, 10 of the top 12 NHL teams in power-play percentage made the playoffs.
And now the Blues are savvier with the player who used to go by “Savvy.”
Savard was an All-Star in 2008 and 2009. He had one of those what-if careers — concussions forced him to retire. From ages 28-31, he had point totals of 97, 96, 78 and 88. But by 33, he was done. He did play 25 games for the 2010-11 Boston Bruins. Savard was so beloved, his name was added to the Stanley Cup, even though he didn't meet the playing requirements (the team had to file an exemption with the league). Really, that's all you need to know about the guy's character.
Will that translate to power-play success for St. Louis?
“He expects us to execute,” captain Alex Pietrangelo said.