(HockeySTL)-- After their 4-2 series loss to Chicago, the focus in St. Louis was on the goaltending and on the lack of scoring. But the latter was the larger issue in the Blues’ second-consecutive first-round series exit, and it’s something the team will look to address in the offseason.
Ten Blues players failed to find the back of the net in the series against Chicago. Only two players –Vladimir Tarasenko and T.J. Oshie-- had multiple goals. Tarasenko tickled the twine four times , which accounted for 29-percent of the team’s scoring. Defenseman Barret Jackman and fourth-line forward, Chris Porter, were tied for third on the team in scoring. When looking at the big picture, it’s easy to discover where to point the blame.
“With all due respect, and not to come off as a smart (aleck), but when Jackman and Porter are tied for third in scoring, you need more from other people,” said Blues general manager Doug Armstrong.
The Blues scored four goals in each of the first two games of the series, but they lost their scoring touch in the final stretch of the round, averaging 1.5 goals per game in the final three games. Furthermore, the club went 2-for-29 on the power play and had 92 missed shots, many of them in good scoring areas. For the second straight year, the Blues’ top players weren’t as good as the opponents’
“There’s a reason (the Blackhawks) are champions,” Armstrong said. “Now we have to find a way to create that synergy and environment where we have those types of players that get us the goal when we need the goal scored.”
To do that, Armstrong is going to have to add pieces to the Blues’ roster. In a perfect world, one of those pieces would include high-end scorer, something that has alluded the Blues over the past few offseasons. But first, the general manager is going to let the hurt subside.
“I’m obviously going to let things settle in here,” Armstrong said. “It’s like going to the dentist. The freezing is coming out and now it hurts. I’m going through that freezing coming out and it’s tough. We have to figure out a way to get better.”
Before heading into the past few free agent periods, Armstrong has kept fans’ expectations in check, stating that the club would have to find offense from within. But the similarities over the past three postseason losses may force the general manager to pursue offense.
“We have to find out if the chemistry is correct,” said Armstrong. “It’s a difficult league to acquire players in. My job is to find a way to get it done. I look at what happened at the trade deadline, I look at people signing their free agents, I look at last year’s free agent pool that was available, what players are excelling. I’m not sure if free agency is the way to go and then it’s getting a team to move a top-scoring player and I know the cost of doing that.
“I haven’t found the team that really wants to give us the 50-goal guy yet. But I know the two or three names they’re going to ask for and that’s robbing Peter to pay Paul. There are good players out there. As I said, most of them usually stay with the teams that they’re at.”
However, while the general manager is open to searching for offense from outside the organization, he isn’t going to do so until he knows that the current offense is not fixable using parts that the Blues already possess.
“I have to sit with the coaches and see if there is a different way to complement this group,” Armstrong said. “We’re going to search the market and see how we can fix our team but we aren’t going to make a knee-jerk reaction.”
The Blues have brought in new faces in the past few seasons, but for the most part, they have been complementary pieces. The club did take a gamble on center Derek Roy last offseason, hoping that a true center would help other players find their scoring touch. That wasn’t a much of a problem in the regular-season, where the Blues ranked 7th in the league in scoring. However, in the playoffs, Roy was scratched in two of the six games and had just one point. He was as invisible as half the Blues’ roster.
The ideology behind the Blues’ wait-and-see approach over the last two seasons was to observe how big of an impact youngsters Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz would have. Their impact was large, but not enough to lead the club through a seven-game series all by themselves.
“I trust the group of players that are here,” Armstrong said. “I have trusted them for three years. The coaches trust them, but more importantly, they trust each other. I’m going to have to sit with these guys and get their assessment. We need to be better at this time of year.
“I have to look and see if we can work with this group to get to the necessary levels or if I have to make changes to get to a new level.”
That next level is something the Blues have been striving for for over a decade. It is attainable, but with the current group? That is what Armstrong will decide over the next couple of weeks, when the general manager is expected to sit down with the coaching staff and with players to decide a direction of travel.
“We are going to move forward, and we are going to do the best job possible over the summer into next year to take what has been a great regular-season team and turn it into a great playoff team,” the general manager said.
“We are going to have to peel back a layer. Each year you peel back a layer and hope you have gone deep enough. With this year’s disappointment, we are going to have to look a bit deeper to players and to starting with myself, areas where I need to improve to give them the better opportunity to have success.”
No matter what happens, or doesn’t happen this summer, the Blues will march on next season with confidence in what they have. They’re on the brink of success, and any minute detail could push them over.
“You get up and you start grinding. You don't grind on, 'We need this or we need that.' That's the general manager's job,” said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock. “My job is to find more from the group that I'm given. So you find ways and you try to create an atmosphere to even get more from your team.”