(Scott Rovak/Getty Images)
Since the NHL’s return from the holiday break, no line in the league has been hotter than St. Louis’ combination of Alex Steen, T.J. Oshie, and David Backes. They’ve got the Midas touch lately, and it’s putting St. Louis back in the picture for top spot in the Central.
Heading into the holiday break, the Blues were a middle of the pack team in the Central Division, trailing the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators and sitting a mere two points ahead of the Winnipeg Jets. When the Blues returned to action on Dec. 27, coach Ken Hitchcock reunited the top unit – the trio of Steen, Oshie, and Backes – and since then the Blues, and the line, haven’t looked back.
Over their past 12 outings, the Blues could be considered one of the hottest teams in the entire NHL. No team has had a better 5-on-5 goals for percentage than St. Louis’ 67.3 percent, only Dallas has a better teamwide shooting percentage than the Blues' 11.5 mark, and there are only three teams who have gotten more of the 5-on-5 scoring chances than St. Louis. And while the team’s puck possession numbers put them just on the edge of the top 10, all of these numbers are overshadowed by the incredible scoring rate of the team’s top line.
Since Dec. 27, including the Blues first game back from the holiday break in which they beat the Dallas Stars 4-3, the combination of Backes, Oshie, and Steen has tallied 23 goals and 53 points. They have a combined shooting percentage of 28, and that’s just shots that they themselves have taken at 5-on-5. Their on-ice shooting percentage at 5-on-5, which adds in those shots by the defensive pairing or factors in those that have stepped on the ice alongside any of the three, is a combined 16.2 percent. The simplest way to put it is that this line is shooting out the lights.
What’s most incredible, though, is just how fast they’re scoring. From the game one post-break until now, for every 60 minutes of ice time, the three forwards are all in the top five in scoring. Backes, thanks in large part to a monster four-goal game, is the leader with 5.4 points per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time. Steen and Oshie barely trail the Blues captain, their marks of 4.4 and 4.3 respectively are good enough to make them the fourth and fifth best scorers since the break.
The top line, playing right now like they've never played before, has scored one shy of half the total goals for the Blues since being reunited on Dec. 27. And while some worry may be valid due to the exorbitantly high 5-on-5 PDO totals for the three – Backes leads the group at 109.9, Oshie is sitting at 109.8, and Steen at 107.7 – the St. Louis faithful will certainly take the top line clicking and carrying the team on their collective shoulders for the time being.
The nature of hockey, which can be statistically volatile, lends itself to runs like this. And Blues fans have suffered worse than being the beneficiary of the hottest line in the league, so they’ll take it for now.
It’s in large part because of the trio that those same Blues who were just barely ahead of the Jets and in a battle to stay among the division’s three best teams are just two points back of taking the top spot in the Central. Since the trio has been together, the Blues have gone 8-3-1, good for a five percent increase in their winning percentage.
With Brian Elliott back in goal and returning to the same form he had before an injury sidelined him in late November, the Blues are pushing towards, and looking like they'll take, a top-two seed in the Central Division. And even if Backes, Oshie, and Steen start to slip by the slightest bit, things are still looking good in the Show-Me State.