ST. LOUIS - Alexander Steen had a breakout season in 2013-14. He collected career highs with 33 goals and 62 points, while opening the season with goals in 10 of his first 11 games.
This season, however, his early production was unsatisfying. Through his first 26 games of 2014-15, Steen ranked 110th in the League with 16 points and only five goals.
At that point, the seventh-year Blue did what any master of their trade would.
In nine previous NHL seasons, the first-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2002 had used the same stick, one that slid home back-to-back Game 1 overtime-winning playoff goals in 2013 and 2014 and accompanied him on a silver medal-winning trip to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
But like the Righteous Brothers, Steen lost that lovin’ feelin’. So he parted ways with his familiar heel curve and embraced a toe curve. He also decreased the shaft flex from a 97 to a less rigid 95.
These changes may not mean much to the average Joe, but to a hockey player, they mean everything.
In theory, the alteration would allow him better puck control and the ability to shoot with equal or greater velocity and accuracy from more positions – crouched or upright, from the heel or the toe. Not to mention, it also comes with the residual benefit of an increase in confidence.
But for all the tech talk and analysis that can accompany such a switch, it’s not complicated in Steen’s mind.
When I pried, ‘Why switch curves? You scored 30 goals last season' - Steen quickly rebutted, “Yeah, but I have five now.”
Hockey is no different from other sports. Its athletes are creatures of habit. They rely on confidence and their unique feel for the game. When the aforementioned are missing, finding a remedy can be a process of trial and error. They may change their route to the rink, the color of tape they use or the style of visor they wear. It can be a lengthy ordeal. In Steen’s case, it was a short study.
He conducted his new experiment for the first time on Dec. 11 against the New York Islanders. The equipment exchange resulted in two goals and an assist, and more than two months later, his prescription continues to payoff.
Since that point, Steen has been among the NHL’s most productive. His 14 goals are tied for sixth-most overall while his 32 points are fifth and just six shy of League-leading Alex Ovechkin (38). What’s more, Steen strung together a 10-game point streak from Dec. 30 – Jan. 19 (seven goals, 11 assists) – one of just six streaks of that length in the NHL this season. He also had a five-game goal streak from Jan. 8 – 17 – one of just eight of that span.
While the individual success has been welcome, Steen realizes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
“It’s been nice to have a little personal success recently, but ultimately that isn’t what it’s about,” he said. “I think the guys playing around me and up and down the lineup have been the biggest part of mine and the team’s success to date. So I have to give all the credit to our guys.”
As a team, the Blues are 19-8-2 (.690) since Steen made the change, including an NHL-best 15-4-1 (.775) mark in the 2015 calendar year. The offense, in particular, ranks fourth overall with a 3.28 goals per game average since the genesis of Steen’s substitution.
With just 25 games remaining until the final exam, Steen and the Blues hope the data continues to curve in the right direction.