Back to .500
Tired of hearing it? Well I’m tired of saying it. The Blues fell last night bringing their record back down to .500 on the season. Just when you thought the team was starting to put everything together by winning four out of five games, they blow a lead against Detroit at home and fall to Columbus on the road. The Blues are 5th (last) in the Central by a five point margin and 12th in the Western Conference, six points removed from a playoff spot. Fans are frustrated about many things following the loss to the Blue Jackets, including how the Blues are handling young Alex Pietrangelo.
Six points? That’s all that seperated the Blues from the playoffs even after their mediocre play? Surprisingly, yes. However this is a team that clearly does not belong in the playoffs, and wouldn’t last long even if they did make it based on their play this year. Don’t let the number of points from a playoff spot, six, fool you into a sense of calmness and acceptance over the Blues’ play this season. Overall, the play on the ice just has not been that good. The mentality displayed by the team as a whole has not been that good. Coaching, particularly which line is out and the coaching on the power-play has definitely not been that good. Finally, the handling of the young talent (Alex Pietrangelo anyone?) has been it’s own category of bad.
What is this defensive shell the Blues shrink back to when they are tied or have the lead? Is this system all about playing for the tie? If not, then please make it evident on the ice – coaching staff and players alike. If the game is close, or if you have a lead, keep your foot firmly on the gas and bring home a win in convincing fashion. All you have to do is examine the past two games (Detroit, Columbus) to see where the Blues shifted from offense to “protect” mode. Against Detroit, the team jumped out to a 2-0 lead but then shut down in the 2nd period. Last night, it was somewhere after the Blues leveled the contest. The team obviously plays their absolute best when they don’t let up, keep applying the pressure, and most importantly, deploy a line other than the stopper line. Look to the win against the red-hot Nashville side as an example of what can go right when you keep throwing pressure in the opponent’s face.
Mistakes and missed chances. Watch the tape from last night. One could have created a hell of a drinking game based simply on when the Blues making costly errors. Could we really have expected more from Jonas Junland? I don’t think so. He made a couple big mistakes, but that should be expected in his second career NHL game. However, the late penalties taken by veterans Darryl Sydor and Brad Boyes are inexcusable to take at that stage of the game. Both fall into the category of “bad penalty” and created a tough environment for the Blues to play any other game aside from “protect” hockey (Sorry for the flagrant use of the air quotes…once I start I can’t seem to stop).
Paul Kariya scored last night, shot seven times and now has three points in his last three games. While this is obviously a huge bright spot and something that needed to happpen, I’d like to note that while Kariya scored, it came on perhaps his fourth or fifth scoring chance of the game. His breakaway chance hit off the goaltender Steve Mason, off the post and out. Other opportunities were squandered for one reason or another. His goal was huge, and it is vital to keep him scoring, but let’s not forget it has been taking him four or five chances to put pucks away. A guy making around 6 million should not need multiple chances to bang one in. Take a Dany Heatley for example. Give him four or five legitimate chances at lighting the lamp as Kariya has had in numerous games and he will set the red lights flashing two or three times. Kariya thankfully has been collecting some points, but given the opportunities, one has to wonder whether he is really returning to his form of old or is just bouncing a few in because of the plethora of chances in front of him. Anyone can bang one in when given chance after chance, but a $6,000,000 man should be able to do it on a consistent and regular basis. I think Kariya has had a fantastic career and still could be an important piece to the offense, but he needs to start converting on a higher percentage of his opportunities.
Alex Pietrangelo has sat out nine of the last 10 games. The 19-year-old defenseman has been patient, waiting for his role on the team to emerge. The handling of Pietrangelo has irritated a great number of fans who are frustrated by the Blues using older defenders such as Sydor or Mike Weaver instead of the youngster. While Weaver has been one of the most consistent defenders (especially on the PK) this season, Sydor has offered more in the mentorship department than he has on the ice. Pietrangelo will get his shot. The question is when rather than if. However, is Pietrangelo’s development suffering due to his time on the bench? This situation should play itself out sooner rather than later, as the Blues will eventually have to move one of their pieces on the blueline before the season gets too much deeper.
Carlo Colaiacovo and Eric Brewer are not expected to miss a ton of time so get ready to say goodbye to Junland as quickly as you said hello.
Finally, I leave you with some thoughts based off the article by Rutherford of the Post-Dispatch that ran this morning. Rutherford was able to get a very interesting and thought provoking quote from veteran leader Keith Tkachuk. In response to the game, Tkachuk said:
“I thought we controlled most of the play, but the end result … it almost felt like we kind of changed our game in the third, which I don’t understand why. It almost seemed like ‘Get to overtime,’ and that’s unacceptable.”
Well said Walt. You said what all of us fans have been thinking for quite some time. Is this a player who is getting tired of the system used by the coaching staff, or are we reading too far into things? Tkachuk is my pick as best leader in the lockerroom, so I’m happy to see him speak out and talk about the situation that has caused many Blues’ fans to pull out their hair the past several weeks. In my opinion, his words are spoken like a true captain. Granted, it is tough to read much into just a one line quote, but I think it is clear that the rumblings about the coaching staff are happening not just in fan nation but within the members of the team as well.