(HockeyStL) -- After securing a playoff spot and the top spot in the NHL, the Blues’ recent road trip left plenty of room for concern. The Blues finished off their seven game road trip in Phoenix with a win, finishing off their seven game road trip with a 3-2-2 record. This is obviously a disappointment considering on their previous road trip they were able to boast a 5-1 record. Does this mean the Blues are slowly returning to the style of play they previously inherited under former head coach Davis Payne?
There is no definite answer to this question, and it can be viewed differently by each and every person. There is no doubt that the Blues have left considerate room for improvement of late, but to say they are the same team as they were when Davis Payne was the head coach is slightly overreacting.
Looking at the Blues under Ken Hitchcock, you notice that the team has faced little adversity. Yes, the team has had injuries all year, and has had a road dominant schedule since the All-Star break, but the team has handled those obstacles and has come out with flying colors. Under Hitchcock the Blues are 41-13-9 and have climbed atop the NHL standings to secure a playoff spot. The next goal for the Blues is to hold onto that spot and secure home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, but the Blues are coming to the realization that this particular goal won’t come as easy as they once expected.
Lately the Blues seem to have forgotten how they have to play if they want to remain an elite NHL team. Consistently winning throughout an entire 82-game NHL season is certainly not easy, and the Blues are finding that out at arguably the worst time in the season. The recent road trip left a lot to be desired in the Blues’ play, as they exhibited little passion and little tenacity which are two qualities that have become a signature part of their game.
The Blues’ goaltending remained excellent on the road trip and the Blues continue to create chances offensively, but sloppy defense and inability to finish were the ultimate killers for the team, and were the signs of the “old Blues”. The Blues seemed to let off the gas pedal the moment the second period started, and never regained control of the game. Opponents capitalized quickly, building momentum to close out the Blues. These are traits that the Blues possessed under Davis Payne.
Is it time to panic over the Blues’ recent play? This is certainly a valid question as it appears that the Blues have strayed from the hard-working 200 foot game that propelled them to where they currently sit. That said there are still many reasons to remain optimistic.
As mentioned before, the goaltending has remained excellent regardless of whose turn it is to stand between the pipes. The Blues have also shown that despite missing key players (McDonald, Russell, Polak, Steen, and D’Agostini) they can battle with the best in the NHL. While nothing can be guaranteed, the Blues appear to be becoming healthy for the first time all season, as the return of Andy McDonald and Matt D’Agostini appears to be right around the corner. The Blues are also looking forward to playing four of the remaining six games at Scottrade where they have the best home record in the league (29-4-4).
Sunday night’s game in Phoenix gave fans another reason to “keep believing” as Brian Elliott recorded his eighth shutout of the season, and the Blues rallied behind him to defeat the Coyotes. The 4-0 win was exactly the kind of style the Blues must play down the stretch as they limited their opponent’s opportunities and capitalized on their own. The effort on Sunday was a team effort and was hopefully a sign of things to come for the Blues.
The Blues should still be considered one of the top NHL teams despite their current stretch of play. It is premature to give up on them because of their recent play, but okay to be slightly concerned. The Blues have given fans no reason to doubt how effective they can be, and while they must improve in a few areas, there is no reason to expect a different team come April.