(HockeySTL) -- As the Blues look to continuous improvement, they are looking to one area in particular. The Blues have been involved in a lot of close games of late, and are addressing what they need to do to get on the right side of those one-goal games.
The Blues lost two of three on their most recent road trip, but both losses could have easily ended up in the Blues’ win column. The Note fell to Vancouver 3-2 and to Calgary by the same score. The score was not only the same, but the script was also identical as well. The Blues can’t seem to play a complete game of hockey and the stretches of the game that they take off are leading to losses.
“The loss in Calgary was typical of our season,” Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock said in a video posted on the team’s website. “We play well, and then we turn down the volume. We can write the same script from Vancouver.”
The Blues had more than 30 shots in each of those two losses and limited their opponents to fewer than 20 shots as well. The difference was conversion. The Blues had many situations where they had opportunities to up their score, but instead they either misfired or the opponent’s goalie made a great stop. The Blues will have to start converting on their opportunities as they will become fewer and farther between as the playoff push begins.
First, the Blues must figure out how to consistently defeat the opponent’s goaltender.
“At the end of the day you have to outwork the goalie, said Hitchcock. “Nothing more infuriates the coach than when the (opponent) goalie is the first star. We’ve made the goalie the first star two of the last three games. You can’t just live on scoring opportunities; there is a job to finish there.”
The biggest problem of late has not been a lack of first opportunities, but rather a lack of second and third chance opportunities. Too many times, the Blues only get one shot off on their zone entry, only to see opponents take control of the puck and take it the other way.
The Blues are also doing a good job of controlling the puck and the tempo, but are not getting solid scoring chance to show for it.
The days of being blown out appear to be over for the Blues, but now the Blues must figure out how to win close games.
“I don’t think we had enough second and third opportunities in our two (road) losses,” Hitchcock admitted. “We played awful well, but there is playing awful well and then there is finishing the job.
“We’ve had a lot of games like that and the teams that are really doing well right now are the teams on the right side of those one goal games. We’ve seemed to be on the wrong side.”
Part of the Blues’ problem is their poor power play effort. The Blues started the season with the league’s hottest power play, but now have seen their power play conversion rate fall to 22.6 percent, which is still fifth best in the league, but far below their earlier league-leading 30.6 percent. The Blues’ power play fueled the Blues hot start to the season, but when it cooled off, so did the team.
“I would say a sense of urgency (has been our biggest problem on the power play),” said Hitchcock. “One of the things we had when we were first in the league was we fed off of each other; one group took onus when another group was struggling. We had to mix and match (due to injuries).”
“There are periods of time on the power play where we let the opposition off the hook. We don’t keep the puck on or we don’t have quick enough puck support on board battles. Little things that go on that make you look like a one-and-done.”
Perhaps part of the Blues’ power play struggle stems from a lack of shots. Despite having the league’s fifth-best power play, the Blues are averaging just barely over one shot per opportunity. Anyone will tell you that to have success on the power play you have to have an abundance of shots being funneled toward the net.
The power play is keeping the Blues from winning their one-goal games right now, and it is separating them from the group of teams that are having success.
“If you look at the teams that are winning on an ongoing basis right now, it’s all in their special teams,” said Hitchcock. “Their penalty kill is keeping it out of the net, and their power play is scoring. That’s the small difference in our games right now.”
The Blues look to re-discover their winning ways quickly as the season winds down. Many more close games are likely and Hitchcock hopes that his team learns quickly what it takes to win competitive games.