The St. Louis Blues are sick and the doctors cannot figure out why. Goaltender Brian Elliot looks as though he’s lost in the net but to worsen his situation, the Blues once dominant defense, seems to have been solved by every team they’ve played in the last 5 games. The Blues have given up 26 goals in 5 games dropping the save percentage among the whole team to .829, while only scoring 11 goals, 5 of which came in one game, in the same period of time. Two of the top 5 point producers for the Blues are Kevin Shattenkirk(13) and Alex Pietrangelo (11), both defensemen, while just 6 of the 21 players on the roster do not have a negative plus minus rating, and rookie stallion Vladimir Tarasenko has been silenced since hitting the 10 point marker and being named the NHL Rookie of the Month in January of this year.
We’ve been told that it’s a product of them cheating in an effort to get offensive play, but with their current offensive look, I think everyone can agree that is not the only issue. It’s been said that they weren’t in shape because of the lockout but I’ll cite you January where they went 6-1-0, and could seemingly score at will while only allowing 14 goals. Watching them skate in practice, they look like they did the first period against the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday, February 9th, where Anaheim couldn’t get out of their own end because of the fast and furious offensive pressure the Blues were applying. Even during the games, they skate like the flash for a solid period per game, give one period of garbage and one period of medium effort. To call them frustrating is a start but doesn’t paint the full picture of hos lost for words everyone has become about a team coming off such a strong year; a team picked by many to not only be competitive this year, but to complete that quest that has eluded St. Louis since 1967 — to put their stamp on Lord Stanley’s Cup.
One interesting bit of information is this: Elliot seems to struggle when Halak is not on the bench. The playoffs last year were the start of that trend when the Los Angeles Kings dominated St. Louis both home and away. Not to discount what the Kings put together nearly a year ago, but once Halak went down with the injury, Elliot’s production fell and the Blues ultimately tapped out against the eventual 2012 Stanley Cup Champions. There is no doubt that Elliot has lost the mental edge he had last season, but coaches are yet to find the cause.
Tonight, the Blues travel back to where this nightmare 5 game losing slide began in Detroit, Michigan. The Joe Louis Arena has historically been a difficult place for any team that isn’t wearing the Red Wing to win, and the Blues are not excluded from that group. The Blues have not earned a win in, what has been dubbed simply ‘the Joe,’ since March 30th, 2011. After taking a 4 game home stand beating (0-3-1), where they were 2nd in the league only to the Wings last year, the Blues go back on the road in hopes of a change of pace. St. Louis needs to get back to their winning form they established early on this season. A win on the road, at the Joe, against one a huge central division rival, could be the spark the Blues need to get it going again.
Coach Ken Hitchcock has announced that Peoria Riverman’s starting goalie Jake Allen, will get the start tonight. If Allen is able to bring his AHL game up to the NHL tonight, in the most hostile of hostile territories, he could raise some eyebrows and potentially earn himself some serious NHL playing time. His current save percentage sits at .903, with a 2.94 GAA, which are leaps and bounds better than his .750 save percentage and 3.87 GAA numbers in the very limited NHL time he’s seen. He’s see 31 games in Peoria compared to 2 periods of NHL hockey. He was cast into the net by Hitchcock during the 6-1 loss handed to the Blues by Nashville on Tuesday, February 5th, faced 8 shots and saved 6.
Tonight, Allen will get his shot at the full work load. The key to the game is simple for Allen; don’t let them in the back of the net. The key to the game for the Blues is simple as well; get back to fundamental, positional hockey and play physical. The defense needs Alex Pietrangelo to be physical and sound, and the offense, which Hitchcock switched back to the same lines he started the season with, needs to move the puck and get shots on goal. To beat the dead horse, fundamental hockey is what keeps teams alive. At this point, the sense of urgency for the Blues has to be in the back of their minds given the shortened season and dismal last few games. While it’s not an absolute must win game by season ending standards, there is no doubt that they are in immediate need of a momentum shift. For the fans of the Note though, it doesn’t matter if the Blues pull a page from the Minnesota Wild’s book and pluck a fan to sit between the pipes; we just want to see this losing streak end.