What’s Wrong? A Little Bit of Everything
Lack of offense. Solid goaltending one night, shaky the next. Poor (if not awful) officiating. Lackluster effort. Sloppy passing. Ineffective defense. These are just a few of the reasons why the Blues likely will be left on the outside of the playoff picture. So which one is the main culprit? The answer you hear will depend on who you ask, but for me it is a little bit of everything.
On Super Bowl Sunday, prior to the TV switching to football, I was focused on the Washington/Pittsburgh game – a matchup of two of the best teams in the league. With my vision mostly focused on the Blues specifically of late and absent on the rest of the NHL, I was surprised at just how noticeable the differences between our Blues and these teams were. Now I know the Blues are far from being a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, but I still anticipated this team finishing in the top-8 in the West and securing a playoff spot.
Instead, I find the team in 13th with just 59 points. Once again the games played total (58) has climbed to just shy of the total points mark – a mark your team never wants to be close to.
Washington leads the NHL in points (88) and Pittsburgh isn’t too shabby (72). Obviously these sides have their stars such as Crosby and Ovechkin, but aside from the star power, so much more overwhelmed me about this game. Crisp passing. Inventive and creative offense. Quick outlet plays and few instances of cycling back into one’s own zone. Speed.
Frankly, the WAS/PIT game was one of the best I have ever watched. These two sides have their faults, but clearly they have built a model of success.
Last night I turn on the Blues game. This was the first (aside from a few minutes of the PHI/NJ game) NHL action I had watched since that WAS/PIT game. With that game fresh in my mind, the Blues came out and found themselves on the losing end of a 5-2 score. The score was ugly but more so was the play on the ice and the overall attitude and schemes this team uses on a regular basis.
Countless times a Blues’ defenseman will skate to bring the puck out of his own zone, approach the blue line, then loop back into his own end to start over. Again and again, the Blues wait rather than breaking out. This is not only a schematic issue, but a personnel issue. The Blues squad and style just are not ones that can win regularly.
So then why did this team win so much at the end of last season? They hustled and showed desperation. How many games this season have the Blues played with that sense of urgency? Not many. This team looks confident in letting the play develop rather than dictating and bringing the play to their opponents.
The speed of that WAS/PIT game was ridiculous. Two fantastic offenses that can move the puck, with accuracy.
If you are scratching your head reading this article, consider watching a St. Louis power-play and comparing it to one of the better teams in the league. The differences are painfully obvious. The Blues approach usually is very predictable and rarely comes off as threatening. Tic-tac-toe passing has become a rare sight rather than the norm, which when you are skating with a man advantage, there is no excuse for flagrant passing.
Do you want to know how to shutdown a Blues’ power-play? Pressure the points. This usually leaves a man open low, but the team can not seem to manage to find him. On the occasions where the open man does get the puck, we can usually expect a one-timer to sail several feet wide.
Obviously offense is an issue for this team, that is more than clear. Obviously motivation, urgency and effort have been called into question as well. But it’s not until you watch the higher ups that the differences between “us and them” seem so great. The Blues not only need to figure out their roster for next season, but need to preach that getting hemmed into your own end won’t score you many goals. The passing and power-play still need a lot of work to be threatening on a consistent basis. Players need to crash in, and maintain possession of the puck instead of constantly losing it down low (Kariya).
This team has a lot of moving parts, but frankly I’m beginning to wonder just how many will be a good fit for this side moving forward. This year brought hope and great expectations, but the Blues look to be in worse shape than they have been in quite some time. At some point, more changes will come and this time it is bound to be player related.
A coaching change was already made, now it’s coming time for a trade.