Blues not the same team as last year -

Blues not the same team as last year

(Hockey StL) -- It’s been awhile since the Blues have looked as bad as they have the past four games. In fact, the Blues did not lose more than three consecutive games in regulation last season under head coach Ken Hitchcock. This year’s team is going to have to establish a new identity for itself, something that hasn’t happened yet.

Last year’s Blues allowed the fewest shots on goal per game, as well as the lowest amount of goals. After seeing the team struggle in the recent home stand, the realization is that this year’s team is simply not the same as the one that forged their way into the playoffs last year.

“We worked really hard last year to gain that accountability,” said Hitchcock after Monday’s loss to the Los Angeles Kings. “(This year) we aren’t all in; we are only part of the way in. We have to regain it. The guys know it, and there is going to have to be a much higher all-in mentality if we are going to win games.”

“This is NOT the team that collected all those points last year. This is the team that played in the playoffs. The team that collected all those points was a worker bee team. This is a team that has to find itself.”

After watching the Blues’ first seven games, one would never have guessed only a short time later the Blues would be winless in five games, especially after a four-game home stand, where the Blues proved lethal most of last season. The same consistency that was present last season has vanished.

The Blues are struggling at both ends of the ice, and have made little progress towards cleaning up their game.

“It’s an easy time to beat everybody up,” said Hitchcock. “We aren’t playing with the collective urgency throughout the lineup for 60 minutes that is necessary to win in the National Hockey League. We are playing in spurts, 40 minutes, 30 minutes, but we’re not playing for 60 minutes.”

“There’s no cavalry coming, there’s no rescue party coming to take care of us; we have to do it ourselves. The guys are going to have to find a much higher compete level from within.”

Hitchcock first noticed his team was losing momentum five games ago in a 5-3 loss to Detroit. It wasn’t a huge issue, Hitchcock just noticed that his team looked tired, and weren’t playing nearly as hard as they needed to. The Blues were hoping a return to home ice, where they had lost only six games in regulation the previous season, would rejuvenate them, and give them momentum moving forward. It did the exact opposite.

“This was the home stand from hell,” said Hitchcock. “We lost our goalie, and we didn’t play as well as we needed to. Now we have to take this on the road and be much more accountable.”

The Blues will play their next three games on the road, and their confidence is lacking. After all four home losses, Blues players were adamant that they knew what they needed to do. So far the buy-in just hasn’t been there from the team. Captain David Backes was quick to point this out after Monday’s 4-1 loss.

“It’s no secret; it’s going out there and playing for the group,” said Backes. “We have too many guys that are out there looking at the stat sheet and wondering how many goals, assists, and cookies they have rather than taking a hit to make a play to get the puck out so maybe your teammates can have a three-on-two, or blocking a shot or killing a penalty when we really need it so we can stay in a game. We just don’t have that desperation or accountability. We need to have all 20 guys willing to sacrifice every night.”

“We are not working hard enough on both sides of the puck, we aren’t playing our game, and we aren’t playing 60 minutes,” added defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. “It takes a lot to win in this league and we aren’t there yet.”

It’s hard to pinpoint what is wrong with the team that started 6-1 and is now 6-5-1, but the urgency simply isn’t there. The team has been unable to establish pressure in the offensive zone, and have looked weak defensively. The Blues’ goaltending, which was worthy of the Jennings Trophy last year for the fewest goals allowed, now has the National Hockey League’s lowest save percentage. The team appears to be in complete disarray, and in a shortened season, they have very little time to work out the issues.

Last year the Blues were 6-7 when General Manager Doug Armstrong elected to fire Davis Payne and replace him with Ken Hitchcock. The shakeup was exactly what the Blues needed. Though Ken Hitchcock won’t be getting fired, it is not farfetched to think that, unless the team steps it up, Doug Armstrong will have no choice but to try to spark something. The team has plenty of time to respond to what has been a disappointing season thus far, but in a season where two points are much more valuable, Hitchcock’s team better form a new identity, and fast.

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