(HockeySTL )-- There’s been a recurring theme in games for the St. Louis Blues lately. The team has been searching for consistency in its play for a chunk of the season, and of late they are seeing glaring flaws in their play. It was more of the same on Saturday evening against the Anaheim Ducks, where the Blues fell for the third time in their last four games. It was the result of another slow start by the team.
The Blues, before returning to Scottrade Center this past Thursday, embarked on a road trip to California. The club faced off against the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings on the trip and fell behind early to both. It was an early 4-0 deficit to the Sharks, a 3-0 deficit to the Kings, and most recently a 4-0 fall-behind to the Ducks.
The Blues were outscored 14-7 in those losses and 9-0 in the first periods of those games. The Blues have just one first period goal since Nov. 27, which is puzzling considering this Blues team was known for its dominating starts just a few weeks ago. In their three most recent losses, the team eventually battled back, but it was too late by the time they decided to switch on the “go” gear.
“(Coming from behind) is not the way this team is built,” said defenseman Barret Jackman. “It is built on getting strong starts and getting leads early.”
In the locker room after Saturday’s game, the mood was one of disappointment and frustration. The Blues were searching for more against the tough Ducks at home, but they didn’t get what they wanted from their squad until the end of the game, much too late to overcome the four-goal deficit. The team’s frustration was evident when team captain David Backes declined a media interview request. The decision to decline was out of the ordinary for the captain who always shares his thoughts postgame.
Some of his teammates, specifically Patrik Berglund, Jaden Schwartz, and Jackman were similarly perplexed and frustrated by what is happening to a team that got off to its best start in franchise history this season.
“If it was an easy fix it would have been one game and that’s it. I don’t know what it is,” said Jackman. “But we’ll search every avenue and we’ll change things around. We had a fast start and we’d hate to lose it now due to bad focus and lack of preparation for the game.”
In between losses, the Blues were able to take down the New York Islanders, scoring five goals against the Eastern Conference’s last-place team. However, even in that matchup the Blues started out flat, but were lucky enough to secure momentum later on.
"We got away with (a slow start) in the Islanders game (because) our goalie made big saves. (On Saturday), he didn't,” said Hitchcock.
The Blues went through an eerily similar stretch of play last season, when they dropped seven of their 14 games in March. That rough stretch nearly put the Blues outside the playoff bubble, but the team eventually rebounded and re-discovered their way. Head coach Ken Hitchcock thinks this rough patch could take the same amount of time to get over, but he says the end result will be the same.
“We went through this last year,” Hitchcock pointed out. “It was a month where we went through this. We had to change our attitudes towards what’s important. We will score lots if we check better. We are just chasing the game. We’re not determined.”
“I think you just have to go through it. We will come out the other end. It’s going to be some rough water here for a little while. We figured it out last year. We’re going to have to work at it. The players are really going to have to gauge this as something really important if we want to get back to where we want to be.”
The Blues’ next game will be in Winnipeg on Tuesday evening. The team flies out on Monday to face a team that has beaten them twice already this season. The key to success in that game, as well as future matchups is not only a better start, but a better checking game. The two go hand-in-hand according to Hitchcock.
“I think it’s the same for every game. When you don’t have a mindset for checking, then that affects your competitive level,” he said. “When your mindset is something other than checking to start with, then that affects everything.”
“We are allowing the other team to dictate the checking tempo. You can’t be a good checking team without skating. It’s why we look slow. We are second place everywhere.”
The players realize what needs to be corrected. Nothing was more evident than that on Saturday. How long it takes for them to make the necessary adjustments is what matters at this point. Berglund said the players are holding each other accountable, which is the first step for the team getting out of their current rut. If it takes too much time, the Blues could see themselves fall in the tight Western Conference standings.
"I think we have some soul-searching to do,” said Berglund. These starts are unacceptable."