(HockeyStL) -- Since the Olympic break, the Blues have earned points in six of their eight games. They have earned 11 of a possible 16 points and have taken over as the NHL’s No. 1 club. But the team is far from happy with their performance this close to the season’s end.
Of the Blues’ post-Olympic games, two have been comeback victories, one has been a shootout winner, and all have been much too close for the Blues’ liking. It’s reaching for one to say the Blues have been in control in any of them.
Tuesday’s game against Dallas was another example of the type of game the Blues want to get far away from. The Blues never had the type of control over the Stars that they like to have, and were even pushed back on their heels for a portion of the game. Costly mistakes and an ineffective game style led to an overtime loss and a frustrated Ken Hitchcock.
The Blues head coach saw it coming, though. He had watched his team make the same mistakes for the past three games. They had been lucky enough to emerge with points in each of those games, but their luck is inching towards empty.
“I don’t think we are playing very smart,” said the coach. “We got away with this is Colorado; we got away with this in Minnesota; but we didn’t get away with it (on Tuesday). We are just feeding teams’ transition. We are not putting pucks in deep, we are not getting in on the grind, and we are turning way too many pucks over.”
The Blues gave up three goals on Tuesday. One was off a turnover in the Blues’ zone by David Backes and another, the overtime winner, was due to missed coverage. Those are the types of mistakes every team makes at some point in the season, but if they become consistent issues, the Blues could be in trouble.
“The times we did things right, we were really effective, we had a lot of good play,” Hitchcock said. “We just have too many inconsistencies within our group about putting pucks in deep and playing the right way, and we paid for it.
Hitchcock made it abundantly clear that converting back to the desired and necessary way of play falls on the shoulder of the team’s leaders. If they make a statement, the rest of the team will follow. If they don’t, the same type of play will persist.
This isn’t the first time Hitchcock has had to use a loss as a statement. Throughout this season, the Blues have had similar stretches, albeit they weren’t so lucky to come out with points during some of those earlier contests. Losses give Hitchcock a tool to use for teaching, something consistent winning can take away. That teaching though, will have to come not just from the coaching staff, but from the leaders in the locker room.
“We are going to have to get our leaders to invest more into playing the right way so we can sell it to other people,” said Hitchcock. “But if they aren’t going to invest, it’s going to be a hard sell. But I’m sure they are going to. Hopefully this is a good wake-up call.”
And even if the coach wasn’t happy with Tuesday’s performance, some good can still come from it.
The Blues have been accustomed to winning all season. With just one month left in the regular season, the Blues are nearly a lock for making the postseason. A confident group like the Blues can also grow confident in their own abilities, and the team’s ability, even when they are not implementing the proper formula for winning. Confidence in the wrong method has proven to be a dangerous thing.
“You don’t want to be doing the things we are doing right now and think you are going to grab it a month from now,” Hitchcock said. “You aren’t going to do it.”
And the coach says the Blues have to find a way to get back to the elite level they have been on for most of the season.
“We are winning games where we are the same as people, or a little bit better, but we aren’t controlling the games,” he said.
Hitchcock pointed to issues with the components of the team losing their team-first mentality. Forced plays, too much puck handling, and an unwillingness to drive north with the puck are all issues the coach wants to address.
“We are becoming more and more a one-and-done team,” he said. “That’s not how we are built, that’s not what makes us effective.
“We’ve got too much East-West in our game and we are paying for it right now. When you play this way, it is hard to grab it during a game. Players are going to have to start digging in and playing the right way.”
The Blues have a chance at redemption on Thursday when the Oilers come to town. After that, the Blues finish off the season with 16 games in 30 days, followed by the postseason. It’s certainly rough traveling for the Blues, who are competing for the NHL’s Presidents Trophy. And if the Blues are looking towards a successful finish to the season, they have to use Tuesday’s game as a reality check.
“This should be a wake-up call; we have to make it a wake-up call,” said Hitchcock.
There is little reason to believe that the Blues won’t respond to the adversity, as they have done all season. But with the postseason creeping closer, a response has to be imminent.
“We will see,” said Hitchcock when asked if he thought Tuesday’s effort would ignite his players. “Right now we are just playing. We are not playing with a purpose that we need to play with moving forward and hopefully we get this changed.”