(HockeyStL)-- It wasn’t but three weeks ago that the Blues started a stretch which included a League-best seven-game win streak. That streak stretched from Dec. 28 to Jan. 9, and was ended a day later by the Vancouver Canucks. At that point, there was little concern about the club. But if there is any one thing that is evident in a sport like hockey, it’s that things can drastically change in a hurry.
With a 32-10-5 record and a point total lesser than just three other National Hockey League teams, it looks as though this season has been nothing but roses for this Blues team. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Perhaps the best evidence of the Blues’ struggles this year is their recent four-game stretch, in which they have lost three games, two of them on home ice. It’s a mirror image of the stretch the team went through earlier this season.
"It's really just the same movie, different day,” said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock following Saturday’s loss to Anaheim. “We're going to have to figure out a way to fix it. ... We're going to have to have better starts, we're going to have to have more people engaged; we're going to have to play on our toes. Can't beat good teams playing on your heels. That's what we did. On our heels, quiet.”
Two days before the club’s loss to Anaheim, they lost to another California team in the Los Angeles Kings. Of the Blues’ ten regulation losses this season, seven have come against teams based out of California. Of their eight meetings against San Jose, Anaheim, and Los Angeles, the Blues have come out on top just once. St. Louis isn’t concerned with what region of the country those teams are from, but rather the fact that they continue to come up short against quality opponents.
“It’s disappointing that we’re having that kind of record and kind of play against those teams,” defenseman Barret Jackman said.
Whether you believe in the “California curse” or not, it has to be more than coincidental that those teams are giving the Blues such a tough go this year. The Blues aren’t unaccustomed to beating good teams, as they have beaten the likes of the Eastern Conference-best Pittsburgh Penguins and the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks. Yet, when they face the best of the Pacific Division, they falter.
“Doesn’t matter where the team’s from, we need a maximum effort from everybody,” said team captain David Backes.” And that’s myself first.”
The Blues’ disappointing performances are coming on the heels of Hitchcock praising his team’s depth. The Blues are one of the deepest teams in the NHL, and Hitchcock liked how his club was playing as a deeper team this season. But in the blink of an eye, the depth has stopped producing and the Blues are using just a few of their roster members as a crutch.
Forward T.J. Oshie is one of those crutches. Oshie has four points in the club’s last four games, as well as three of their last five goals. Backes, Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and Vladimir Sobotka are the other forwards that have been playing consistently well for the club. But the list doesn’t extend much further.
"The same players (are) playing really well (every night),” said Hitchcock. “We all know who they are; they are playing exceptional. But we need way more people playing that way if we are going to win hockey games.”
“We’re a team right now that needs everybody engaged. We need four lines, six defensemen playing to their potential, and we need our goalies playing well. We’re not a team that can have one or two players carry us. We need everybody, and right now we don’t have everybody engaged.”
Players like Chris Stewart, Patrik Berglund and Derek Roy are expected to produce on a consistent basis, yet none of those players have a goal in the last four games. Roy has gone 16 games without a goal. Consistency as a team is hard to come by when it’s not found throughout the lineup.
“If you are counting on two or three guys to get it done every night, then that’s a different story,” said Hitchcock. “We have nine that we are counting on, sometimes even ten. We do it by committee.”
The Blues’ other issue is their slow starts, a topic which has been beaten into the ground all season long. Still, it’s hard to ignore that the club has just one first period goal in its last four games. Combining that with inconsistent scoring and it’s aperfect recipe for disaster.
"We talk about listless first two periods where they're down our throats, making us make plays we don't want to, and capitalizing on their chances while we are kind of disjointed and discombobulated all over the place,” said Backes.”
It’s hard to believe that as rough as the Blues have looked the past few games that there is a solution. The players don’t have all the answers and it will take a team effort to clean up. But the lack of focus by certain members of the club is an ongoing concern.
"Right now, we don't have everybody engaged,” said Hitchcock. “We've got too many cracks and holes in our game right now. Maybe against lesser opponents we could win, but not against significant opponents. And that's what's happened.”
"If we are going to figure this out, we are going to have to get more people coming up bigger."