ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Too many blown leads, no home ice advantage until too late to count. That's the St. Louis Blues' season in a nutshell.
Team president John Davidson was as disappointed as anybody a day after the season ended. But he noted the team has a very young core and fell only two points shy of last season's playoff-worthy 92-point total.
The Blues will stick with the game plan, counting on a batch of recent high draft picks including Erik Johnson, David Backes, T.J. Oshie, David Perron and Patrik Berglund to keep improving until the franchise is a perennial contender. Davidson told the AP in a telephone interview that it's unreasonable to expect too much too soon from a franchise that tied for ninth in the Western Conference."I have the feeling some people think this was a real step backward," Davidson said. "This season isn't a total loss. Ninety points isn't a lost season."
Fan feedback is "99 percent" in favor of sticking with the game plan, Davidson said.
"Why would we blow it all up?" Davidson said. "Teams that have won the Stanley Cup, every single one of them, grow from within. This is just what it takes."
The Blues were 23-15-4 under interim coach Davis Payne after repeated home failures led to the firing of Andy Murray in early January. Davidson said there was no timetable on a decision on whether to retain the 39-year-old Payne, the youngest coach in the NHL.
"He did a nice job, considering the circumstances," Davidson said. "Once he got his feet under him."
Goalie Chris Mason had a career-high 30 victories, forward Alex Steen had career bests in goals (24) and points (47) and was perhaps the team MVP, and the penalty kill was the league's best.
There's money available for free agents now, too. They're out from under Paul Kariya's three-year, $18 million contract and 38-year-old forward Keith Tkachuk ($2.55 million) has retired.
On the flip side, no cushion was safe much of the season -- especially at home. They were 18-18-5 in the Scottrade, among the NHL's worst, despite a six-game winning streak to close it out.
Brad Boyes, who had averaged 38 goals the previous two seasons, slumped to only 14. Defenseman Eric Brewer, the team captain, was a franchise-worst minus-17. Backup goalie Ty Conklin was winless at home.
Boyes' puzzling slump left the team with no go-to threat.
"Just because you made the playoffs the year before, it doesn't automatically mean that you're going to be in the playoffs again," Tkachuk said. "It takes a lot, that's why you play an 82-game schedule."
While playing catch-up and watching the scoreboard late in the season, players were haunted by the games that slipped away. The lowlights: They led the Red Wings 2-0 before losing 4-3 in a shootout on Nov. 28, had the Oilers down 3-0 in a 5-3 setback Dec. 11, surrendered four straight goals to the Predators on Dec. 29 and gave up a 3-0 lead in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Canucks on Dec. 31, also Murray's last game.
"We've constantly been on the wrong side of the pile all the time," said Brewer. "You really can't take that month off or that big stretch of games where it doesn't go very well for you.
"The slow accumulation or non-accumulation of those single points throughout the year, they make a difference at the end."
The situation improved under Payne, but was far from perfect. The Predators scored twice in the final four minutes March 21 for a 3-2 victory in St. Louis, a devastating blow to playoff hopes.
"The bottom line is we have to learn the lessons that occurred throughout the course of the season, so we don't face this situation again," Payne said. "Our standard has to come up. We have no choice."
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)