The St. Louis Blues had two enormous games this past week against the LA Kings and the Anaheim Ducks. While these games only amounted to four points on paper, they were big tests for a team which has been widely labeled as one of the favorites for the Stanley Cup.
The Blues had been enjoying a month of success which only featured one blemish when the club dropped two points to the Vancouver Canucks. The narrative, as a whole, has been extremely positive. This narrative took an ugly turn when the Kings and Ducks invaded the Scottrade Center. In front of some of their largest crowds of the season, the Blues didn't show up. They played small periods of strong, successful hockey, but the bulk of their effort was beyond disappointing.
Fans are panicking. Are their concerns justified?
Let's look at this as objectively as possible.
It's important to remember a few key things:
– Every team goes through slumps.
– Every team will eventually drop important games to successful opponents.
– There's a lot of hockey left.
I think the concern over the Blues' most recent four performances is valid, but I don't think it's time to hit the big red panic button just yet. We all know that this team is capable of big things and that's why so many of us are freaking out over what we may look back on as a minor hiccup during a long season.
With that being said, the Blues have looked awful at times during the last four games. If you stand back and view their efforts against Vancouver (2-1 loss), Phoenix (2-1 win), Los Angeles (4-1 loss) and Anaheim (3-2 loss), you may be wondering how anyone is picking this team to win the Cup. The difference between what we've seen lately and what we're accustomed to seeing is drastic.
The broadcast has been quick to point out how different the bench feels during these games. Ken Hitchcock is angry and shouting. Players are mostly quiet on the bench. Something just feels … off.
Who deserves the blame?
There's only one correct answer for this question – everyone.
Fans are eager to find one person to blame. Lately this blame has been on the men in net. When Jaroslav Halak made a really, really silly decision and lost the puck along the boards only to have it wind up in the empty net, all fingers were pointing at Halak. Everyone seemed to forget about the poor defense against the Kings. The out of synch power play against the Kings. The fact that Halak's one blunder alone doesn't matter much as the Blues couldn't muster any offense.
Let's not forget Ken Hitchcock. He mostly deserves a free pass for all of the success he has brought to St. Louis, but we still need to question some of his recent decisions. The Blues were rolling. Several lines looked dominant. The Blues were forced to tinker with their lines as players returned from injury, but Hitchock decided to shake up lines which probably should have been left alone. As they say, if it ain't broke.
Now the Blues look like a lost team. The long winning streak seems like a distant memory.
How do the Blues rebound?
Learn from your mistakes. Big tests against LA and Anaheim will be the norm come playoff time. Things will not be getting any easier. Fans are no longer appreciative of a strong regular season. It's a plus, but the time has come for playoff successes.
Play with confidence. It's incredible that this team could look so lost over a three to four game stretch. Look around the room and realize how much talent there is and go out and play like the team you're capable of being.
Play all three periods. This is probably the most overused expression in hockey. There isn't a single team out there which plays a "hard 60" each and every night. However, the best teams seem to be able to play a strong 50 or strong 40 almost every single night. The Blues have barely played a hard 20 over the last few games. It's maddening. They looked overwhelmed by Anaheim only to start playing in the third period. You can't give a good team a two period advantage.
Is all of this panic and worry premature? Yes and no.
The fans jumping off the ship probably weren't really fans in the first place. In fact, the whole notion of giving up on a squad with a 32-10-5 record is insane. There's still a lot to be excited about. There are always going to be areas of concern, but the positives in 2013-14 dwarf the negatives.
However, this slide is troubling and fans have every right to question what's happening as long as they keep the big picture in perspective. The Blues can beat good teams. They defeated Chicago three times this season. They just need to carry that mental edge against the other good teams around the league.