Saturday, January 19th, 2013 marked a very important moment for the St. Louis Blues and their fanatic following. It meant hockey was coming back from an extended absence because of the NHL being locked out. Blues fans couldn’t be happier after an opening night at the Scottrade Center that resulted in the shellacking of the hated Detroit Red Wings in a 6-0 victory for the Note. The Blues roster, from top to bottom, looked composed, synced, energetic and deadly as their passing was sharp and fast, their breakouts looked both effortless and seamless they entered the offensive zone with ease and unprecedented tenacity, and, oh yeah — they scored at will. Having beaten the Wings in the fashion they did, who over the last 20 years have been the dominant force in the division, not mention the NHL, almost every single season, The Blues looked like they were on a bus bound for Lord Stanley’s cup.
Fast forward to February 7th, where what should have been a tremendous celebration of Blues defenseman Wade Redden’s 1,000th career game, turned out to look like someone let their air out of the tires of the bus. St. Louis couldn’t string together a solid offensive stand, let alone stop those same Red Wings that they’d so effortlessly handed a 6-0 beating to not even 3 weeks prior, from scoring 5 times on St. Louis’ William M. Jennings’ trophy winning goal tender, Brian Elliot. The game capped off an insufferable three game downward spiral for the Blues, who have recently lost 1/2 their amazing goal tending tandem in Jaroslav Halak to injury.
As a die hard fan, who didn’t actually get to watch the game live, but rather had to suffer through the frustration of notifications on his phone telling only a portion of the awful story of his Blues taking a beating at hands of the miserable Red Wings, Coach Ken Hitchcock’s post game comments echoed my own frustrations. “100%…we’re cheating all over the ice. We’re cheating to get on the offense, we’re cheating to score, our puck – our puck support is poor, our team game’s not good right now – because we’re cheating the game. We’re cheating each other and we’re cheating the game and we’re paying the price for it, and you hope that sooner or later that the players have had enough and uh, they’re willing the make the changes necessary, but right now we’re cheating the game,” Hitchcock said in obvious frustration.
Hitchcock continued saying he felt the game was still within grasp after Alex Pietrangelo scored a power play goal at 15:45 during the second period, but cited a common theme of mistakes being made in the last two games. Hitchcock told reporters “when you have this many players playing under the bar, it’s hard to win hockey games.” When asked what lead to all the cheating, Hitchcock responded saying “Individual agendas — what’s good for me? How many times were you folks sitting in the stands saying shoot the puck onto the net? How many times? How many times did you say why did you pass it there to a covered person when you could have put it on the net?” Clearly not satisfied with his team’s performance, Hitchcock’s comments to the press likely were shared with the team itself in the locker room as Elliot, Alex Steen and Alex Pietrangelo also spoke of the areas that the team has been cheating itself in.
“It’s not our normal selves. We have to figure out a way to get back to that and everybody working on the same page, just doing those little things that make us successful. We’re a team that needs all four lines to play and everybody to pitch in, including myself, so we just have to get back to that winning attitude and work ethic that we know we have,” Brian Elliot told reporters. Elliot, who fell victim to several rebound chances that turned into goals for Detroit, hinted at his frustration of the team failing as a defensive unit. “It’s pretty specific as far as each rebound goes. When a guy gets 3 or 4 whacks at it, you know it’s obviously my goal to cover it up or get it in the corner, but you know it’s a whole system thing that we have to clean up in our ‘D’ zone,” Elliot said in the post game interview. Being the other half of the air tight defense that shut down nearly every team during the 2012 season, Elliot said that he believes the trick is figuring out the issues faster than everyone else to get on track.
Blues winger Alex Steen took a page out of Hitchcock’s press conference book saying “I think we’re cheating on the details, small things out there and that’s what’s costing us. Turnovers, individual mistakes, and they’re in the back of our net so, for us, we’ve got to get back to square one, re-group, do what we do well, it starts with hard work. It’s the only way to get out of this.” Steen, who with 7 points, none of which are goals, stands at a plus 3 while averaging over 18 and a half minutes on the ice per game. Steen has been skating primarily on the 2nd line with Andy McDonald and the NHL rookie of the month, Vladimir Tarasenko, which has been the most productive line for the Blues so far this season.
Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis’ stud defense man has been the only offensive highlight for the Blues the last two games tallying the only two goals for the Blues. The 23 year old is in his 4th season in the NHL and is making a very strong case for the Norris Trophy in this shortened NHL season. The last time a Blues player won the trophy was in 2000 when Chris Pronger was awarded the prestigious award following Al MacInnis earning it in 1999. Pronger also won the Hart Memorial Trophy in 2000. After the game, Pietrangelo also spoke on the Blues recent shortcomings. “We just got away from our game that we know we’re good at. Can’t be getting behind teams here every single game and trying to play comeback hockey, you know it’s just not going to work.” Pietrangelo was spot on with his comment, as the Blues have trailed the past three games from the start and have been unable to amass any kind of comeback. A three game losing streak couldn’t possibly have hurt more than this one as the Blues only scored 5 times on 85 shots (less than 6%), allowed 16 goals on 77 shots (just over 20%), and collected zero of the available 6 points in the 3 losses to two division rivals. This allowed the Nashville Predators, at 13 points, to leapfrog the Blues, at 12 points, for the second place spot in the division. Both teams trail the division leading Chicago Blackhawks, who with 20 points, leads the division as well as the NHL standings with a record of 9-0-2 after a decisive 6-2 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes last night.
Pietrangelo made it known that the team is aware of their ferocious home record saying “Usually we’re pretty solid at home, we don’t give too many opportunities not to mention goals, I mean it’s uncharacteristic of us so we’ve just got to get back and when we take care of our end we score more goals too and we’ve gotten away from that the past couple games.” AP also spoke about the hometown fans being disappointed following such tremendous losses saying “when you lose 6-1 at home, 5-1 at home, that’s got to be a reason for it and we’ve got to find away to answer that,” giving Blues fans some love and showing they players do care about pleasing the fans.
Approaching the ¼ mark of the season, the Blues need to dig deep and get back to that January 19th form they were in. The team is known for their overwhelming pressure they put on the opposition and are notorious for outworking opponents; however February so far has only hosted a weak, slow Blues club that isn’t fundamentally sound on nearly any level. Seeing Hitchcock spit fire following such a tremendous disappointment of a game should leave St. Louis fans feeling hopeful, but until that fire translates into on ice production again, hope is all it is. Saturday, February 9th, the Blues host the Anaheim Ducks which should be a solid chance for the Blues to step their game up against a team that is hot, winning their last four games. An area that could help solve the issues for St. Louis would be if the Ducks end up shorthanded. The Blues currently top the league right now in power play percentage at 33%, while the Ducks penalty kill ranks near the bottom at 72%, which is 26th in the NHL. As always…let’s go BLUES!
Tags: Al MacInnis Blackhawks Brian Elliot Chicago Chris Pronger Coyotes Detroit Division Halak Hart Trophy Hitchcock Jaroslav Jennings Nashville NHL Norris Phoenix Pietrangelo Predators Red Wings Redden Saint Louis Scottrade St. Louis St. Louis Blues Steen Trophy Vladimir Tarasenko Williams