Daily Grind 3.16

Has the Note figured it out? Did the Rams get screwed? Plus, free agency news and the World Baseball Classic.

I wrote on Thursday how the Blues were enduring an identity crisis. After Los Angeles swept them out of the playoffs, coach Ken Hitchcock talked about implementing adjustments that would avoid getting pinned in the defensive zone. It’s fair to say those changes were offensive oriented. Hitch has gradually unleashed the scoring hounds in hopes of becoming a more offensive threat.

The tradeoff is a vulnerable defensive unit — especially considering their youth. The growing pains have led to countless odd man rushes, sloppy passes, and the so-called “track meet hockey”.

Hitchcock is asking more of the entire team with the new approach. It’s a quicker overall game. It’s all you got up and down 200-feet for 60 minutes. Take into account the condensed, arduous 48-game schedule and it’s even more demanding.

The Blues averaged 2.51 goals per game last season, 21st in the NHL. They relied on blocked shots and rode a pair of goalies too good to repeat. Through 27 games, the Blues rank 7th in the NHL averaging 3.00 goals per game. Hitting the 3-goal mark in hockey typically includes a victory. The Blues are 13-2-1 this season when scoring three or more goals.

This is why Chris Stewart is invaluable. The team is 8-1-1 when Stewart scores a goal compared to 2-9-1 when he doesn’t register a point. When Doug Armstrong surprisingly traded Erik Johnson to Colorado, acquiring a young goal scorer was the key trigger. A year ago, Stewart became the goat of the team. In 79 games, Stewart only scored 30 points and lacked chemistry. He re-engaged himself this offseason and it’s translated to the ice. He’s challenging every puck and his compete level uncovered his scoring touch. Playing on a 1-year contract, Stewart, 25, will certainly cash in.

Getting to my point … the Blues played their best game Thursday against Phoenix. Jake Allen was again fantastic while the Blues staggered through five early power play opportunities. But, they peppered 30 shots on goal, and though mostly low percentage, they outworked the Coyotes and pucks eventually went in. The Blues blocked 18 shots as a team.

They played exactly how the blueprint says to win. Alex Steen made an immediate impact in his first game back from a shoulder injury. Steener netted a goal and added two assists playing alongside Stewart and David Backes.

The Blues desperately needed a strong home stand, and a win tonight against the Anaheim Ducks would set the tone for their upcoming Western Canada swing.

JAKE THE SNAKE

Tennessee Titans v Miami DolphinsJake Long played the Rams. He came in, did his dog and pony show, left, and is now using the Rams as a leverage for other suitors, namely his former team.

It’s apparent the Rams weren’t willing to offer top money to the four-time Pro Bowl left tackle after checking him out. Long’s wife loves South Beach (who can blame her), and the Dolphins active free agency probably sparked mutual interest.

Long’s approach seems to have paid off. Trick St. Louis and scare the crap out of Miami.

Then again, maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps the Rams offer turns out as Long’s most lucrative — and Sam Bradford has a new best friend.

If not, perhaps they’ll turn to former Patriot Sebastian Vollmer (28 years old).

Want some good news? The 49ers are bringing in Craig Dahl for a free agent visit. Yes, Craig Dahl.

Detroit Lions v Arizona CardinalsDELMAS STAYS PUT

The Rams had early interest in free agent safety Louis Delmas but that plan sizzled when he re signed with Detroit on Friday. The veteran signed a two-year, $9.465 million contract.

While the Rams were busy with Long, prospective free agents flew off the board…and St. Louis still has serious holes at safety.

WBC

Puerto Rico upset Team USA Friday after winning two straight elimination games.

Yadier Molina and Carlos Beltran occupy the 3rd and 4th spots in the Puerto Rico lineup. Molina earned raves for how he managed the pitching staff. 

This event is all about emotion. It’s patriotism 101. The players celebrate like kids in the World Series … and it’s awesome.

Plus, the Latino fans are quite entertaining. Flags, pots, pans, sticks, drums, horns, and anything else one can make mind-numbing noises with. Good stuff.

Puerto Rico joins the Dominican Republic, Japan, and the Netherlands in the Championship round.

Thanks for reading. Let’s Go Blues.

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