(HockeySTL) -- It’s not too often that a team gets 43 shots on goal and doesn’t convert on at least one of them, but the Blues did exactly that on Tuesday night as they were shut out by Nikolai Khabibulin and the youthful Edmonton Oilers.
After the game concluded, reporters were kept waiting for more than 20 minutes to gain access to the Blues’ locker room, a rare occurrence in St. Louis. To add to the rarity of Tuesday night, head coach Ken Hitchcock did not emerge for his postgame press conference until 67 minutes after the final horn sounded.
Hitchcock said that he and team leaders had addressed what is holding this team back. It is speculated that Blues general manager Doug Armstrong was a part of the meeting.
The Blues have now lost three of their last four games. In each one of those games they have outshot opponents, and by a pretty favorable margin as well. Hitchcock spoke before Tuesday’s game stating that he wants his team to avoid making the opponent’s goaltender the star of the game which has happened in the Blues’ two prior losses. It happened again on Tuesday.
When Hitchcock emerged to discuss Tuesday’s game with the media, he appeared to have a calm demeanor about him and was very frank about what needed to be accomplished. Throughout this season, Hitchcock has been preaching on a consistent buy-in from his team, or lack thereof. On Tuesday it was more of the same from the veteran coach.
“It’s a collective buy-in across the board of playing the game the right way all the time so at the end of the night, you give yourself a chance to win,” he said. “We are in and then we are out. We are not managing the game well. We are opening ourselves up. A good goalie can come in and beat us. Goalies are going to play good against us, but we still want to win those hockey games.”
These past two losses for the Blues are even more frustrating because they came against two teams sitting outside the playoff pack. The Blues have now fallen to eighth place, the last playoff spot, and only have 16 games to right the ship. It is certainly plausible that the Blues miss the playoffs this season if they don’t turn things around fast.
“In order to win in the National Hockey League, on a consistent basis, you have to have everyone on the same page,” said Hitchcock. “It’s not a good feeling when you don’t. That’s what we’re trying to get to. It’s a challenge to get there but once you are there, it becomes matter-of-fact on a nightly basis. We’re not there.”
“It’s going to require a deeper buy-in from the group for us to be successful. That is why we met with our leaders after the game. That’s going to be a deeper partnership between management, coaches, and players. It’s not deep enough (right now).”
Hitchcock touched on the reality of the situation, which is that the Blues, since their hot 6-1 start to the season, have fallen in the standings consistently. In a shortened season, that is simply not something a team hoping to make the playoffs can afford to do. With the April 3 trade deadline looming, all eyes are on Armstrong to see if he can bring in pieces to help the Blues.
The Blues have talent, but as Hitchcock has said before, talent alone is not enough to win. That was on display Tuesday night. The Blues must start working as a team if they want to win. Armstrong liked this Blues squad at the beginning of the season, but after Tuesday night, it is certainly evident that his patience may be wearing thin. The Blues know this is their window to win the Stanley Cup. It’s not too often that chances like this come around, and the Blues have to seize it. The roster, as is, is skilled, however, it is still lacking some pieces that could make the team better.
The Blues are still without a top defenseman to pair with Alex Pietrangelo. This is perhaps the team’s biggest weakness. It doesn’t seem likely that Armstrong can reel in a top defenseman with such a high demand for blue liners, and with ridiculous asking prices. Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero, who recently acquired Douglas Murray from the San Jose Sharks, listed the asking price for a rental defenseman at two second round picks. It’s assumed that for the caliber of defenseman the Blues would be looking to add, the price would be significantly greater. The Blues’ best bet is to wait until the offseason when prices may be down a bit. However, that would mean that several players will have to step up for the Blues.
The play of Wade Redden and Kris Russell has eased the pressure on Armstrong to find a top defenseman. However, one has to wonder if, after Tuesday’s breakdown, Armstrong has seen enough. No one player really stands out as playing solid hockey. The Blues are not playing as a team and are certainly not buying in as they did last year. Don’t be surprised if Armstrong mixes things up before next Wednesday, especially if the team doesn’t respond to Tuesday night’s postgame chat.