Two hat tricks, a dozen goals and a Midas-like touch around the net this post-season has turned Jaden Schwartz into a powerhouse for the Blues this post-season.
Jaden Schwartz|Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
It wouldn’t be fair to say that Jaden Schwartz was a non-factor through the first four games of the St. Louis Blues’ post-season run. He had one assist in those outings against the Winnipeg Jets, had skated upwards of 16 minutes per outing and he had thrown the body a bit, put some pucks on net and took a regular shift. So, while he wasn’t really helping, he wasn’t really hurting, either.
And it probably is fair to say that’s about what the Blues had come to expect from Schwartz given his regular season performance. On the heels of what had all the makings of a breakout campaign, an injury-shortened 62-game, 24-goal, 59-point campaign in 2017-18, the expectation coming into the 2018-19 season was that Schwartz would build off of his performance and assert himself as top-tier secondary scorer in St. Louis. Instead, he was just OK. He scored 11 goals and finished the regular season with 36 points in 69 games as a top-six fixture for the Blues.
But somewhere around the late stages of Game 5 against the Jets, not long after St. Louis coach Craig Berube shuffled his lines, something seemingly clicked for Schwartz. With mere seconds left in that contest, he played hero by batting home an airborne centering pass, and then he closed the series out by delivering a natural hat trick in Game 6, which included the game’s opening goal and the eventual game- and series-winning tally. And since then, my friends, Schwartz has been on what some in the gambling community might call a heater. He’s been white hot and a scoring star for the Blues.
In fact, in Game 5 of the Western Conference final, Schwartz put himself in some exclusive company. With his second hat trick of the post-season, and second in little more than four weeks, Schwartz became the second player in the post-lockout era to record two hat tricks in a single post-season, joining Johan Franzen, who managed the feat in 2008. Schwartz also became the third player since the beginning of the millennium to post dual hat tricks, one of only six players to do so since the 1990 season and joined a club that includes only 18 other players in NHL history.
If Schwartz keeps this up, too, he can etch his name in the Blues history books as the most lethal single-season playoff scorer the franchise has ever seen. His dozen goals put him one shy of Brett Hull’s single post-season record of 13 goals, which was set during the 1990 playoffs. And while Schwartz’s pursuit of Hull’s mark is somewhat unexpected, the simplest explanation as to why the 26-year-old been able to do so is that his luck has turned.
During his 11-goal regular season, Schwartz was snakebitten. Throughout his entire career – since he got his first taste of the NHL as a 19-year-old in 2011-12 all the way through to his pseudo-breakout season as a 25-year-old in 2017-18 – Schwartz has been a 13.7 percent shooter on more than 800 shots and he’s never had a single big-league season in which he’s fired at a rate of less than 10.6 percent. That is, until this past campaign, when he shot a flat six percent on 183 shots. Given his career rate, he should have been a 25-goal scorer this season. Instead, he finished with the aforementioned 11 tallies.
That’s where this post-season surge comes in, though. Including the 52 shots Schwartz has let rip this post-season, his full-season shooting percentage is climbing back up towards his career rate. Combined, he’s scored 23 goals on 235 shots between the regular season and playoffs, which gives a 9.8 shooting percentage across 87 total games this season. That’s much closer to his career number, which is a sample that more accurately reflects Schwartz’s actual shooting talent than his career-low six-percent success rate during the regular season.
Granted, there’s more to Schwartz’s uptick in scoring than so-called puck luck. He’s been prolific not just because he’s been getting the bounces, but because he’s been dangerous.
Of all Blues who have taken a regular shift and played more than 150 minutes at 5-on-5 throughout the post-season, Schwartz ranks first in individual shots (9.1), second in shot attempts (16.4), third in scoring chances (8.9) and second in high-danger scoring chances (3.6) per 60 minutes. Furthermore, at all strengths, Schwartz ranks second (9.9), second (17.7), first (10.3) and first (4.4) in the respective categories when averaged across an hour of ice time. This is to say that, yes, Schwartz has started to see attempts find twine that weren’t earlier in the campaign, but he’s also getting to the prime scoring areas with a regularity either akin to or better than that of St. Louis’ recognized top scoring talent such as Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly. That shouldn’t be overlooked.
Nor should the fact that Schwartz has become a legitimate Conn Smythe Trophy candidate with the Blues one win away from advancing to the Stanley Cup for the first time since the early post-expansion years. And if he can equal and surpass Hull’s franchise record, help St. Louis advance to the final and then play a part in powering the Blues to a league crown for the first time, his regular season performance will make him among the most unforeseen post-season heroes in St. Louis’ history, if he isn’t there already.
(All advanced statistics via NaturalStatTrick)
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