They play a system that is heavily reliant on defense...and they play that extremely well.
The problem is that same system doesn't allow them to take chances in the offensive zone because Hitchcock doesn't want to turn the puck over high in the zone, so everything is dumped to the corners and cycled instead of passing across the high slot or being creative in other ways. The vast majority of the time, any pucks sent toward the net are either from a point shot (if they get through and if they are on net), or from one of those low percentage plays where they shoot the puck low from a bad angle that isn't meant to score, but it's to create a rebound for someone in front (I can't stand that play).
That play is fine occasionally, but they do it all of the time, and it rarely works and is a microcosm of the problems on offense when the play you always try is one that rarely works. They don't seem to force the issue in the offensive zone, they only work with what they are given, which isn't much down the stretch and won't be much in the playoffs either.
It would also help if Petro hadn't regressed this year in seemingly all aspects of his game. The point men are a key cog in generating offense, and Petro has regressed heavily...and Shattenkirk has disappeared the last half of this season as well.
The leash on the players needs to be let out some in the offensive zone. They are creative and talented enough to score more, but they simply aren't being allowed to be creative. Quite often you'll see players open on the other side of a couple defenseman when there is a bit of a lane but it takes a good elevated pass to get the puck there, but you never see them try it, they always dump the puck behind the net and the player that was open goes behind the net to get the puck and they cycle and/or work it back to the point...if they don't turn it over first.
It's frustrating to say the least, because you see options available for creative offensive opportunities, but they are passing them up so they can play their system. And I'm not saying their system can't score goals, because it can, but not at the clip needed to beat teams like Chicago in a 7 game series.
Everyone always says, offense wins games and defense wins cups...but you still have to actually outscore the other team more times than not in a 7 games series...and the Blues won't be doing that unless they can generate more offense.
Right now, unless something changes, they only way this team is going to go anywhere, is if they are allowing 1 or less goals per game...and that is asking an awful lot from your defense and goaltending. Plus it would probably wear out your team, as those kinds of games are usually more intense, require more hustle and mistake free hockey.
Free the offense.
I always figured this was the problem (You can't play both, you can't stop the puck and score with the same system, right? Right??), but then I look at the Stars team that Hitch led to the Cup and wonder what the difference between us and them was. Hitch's system looks the same and it would hinder scorers by making them play two-way D, which according to legend he was able to teach to Brett Hull. Is the learning curve behind that really steep or is it just that there's situations or plays that are more oriented to Offense than Defense, if that makes sense.
And please, don't give me a list of the players they had on that roster, I feel we're just as good, just as talented and if you believe Halak is still a serious factor (I'm willing to bet he's outright deadly if you get him into the swing of the playoffs, if we could keep him healthy enough to play) in our Goalie Trinity, so the difference has to be in the style or formation or whatever the system of D that Hitch teaches entails. I'm sorry if this reads weird, I've played pickup games and I understand the base concepts, so I find this intriguing and abit frustrating for our guys, but if it takes us the distance, why not?
In so many words, what's the difference?
Well, listing players they had on that team is certainly relevant. For starters, they had Modano and Hull up front...two superstars. Both of those guys were light years better at putting up points than anything we have right now.
This team has some excellent players, and I love the core of this team, but there are no offensive superstars. If we had a Modano or Hull-like player or two on this team, and if we had better goaltending over the first half of this season (thank God Elliott has returned to form), we'd be up near Chicago and Anaheim.
Dallas also had better scoring from the blueline then than we do now, and a better power play than we have now as well.
They had excellent goaltending. Belfour finished with a GAA under 2.00 that year...and Turek was backing him up, and he was widely considered to be a #1 guy on most other teams.
What's funny, is that the year the Stars won the cup, the Blues had a better PP and PK than the Stars, and we scored more goals that year (by one). But we allowed a half goal more per game...so that was the difference that year. We had bad goaltending...no save% over .900, we trotted out 5 goalies, including Jim Carey, over the course of the year because of injuries.
But it's not all about superstars, as that year, we had Hull, MacInnis, Pronger, Demitra...so we had our fair share of elite talent. But when you have the solid defensive system that Hitch plays, along with some superstars up front to take advantage of their chances so you don't have to win 1-0 and 2-1 games...that's a huge deal.