(HockeyStL) – Six games into the season and the St. Louis Blues are off to a disappointing start. With their 4-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks Thursday, the Blues fell to 2-3-1 with only 5 points on the season in an always tough Western Conference.
Now the most important games of the season won’t truly happen until April, but the Blues haven’t found their groove as a team and cracks are showing in the foundation.
The first two goals they allowed to the Canucks Thursday came on odd man rushes, something a stingy Blues defense doesn’t usually give away.
“We’re not playing the right way,” said Blues head Coach Ken Hitchcock, referring to the odd man rushes and forced offense he sees his team using, “We’ve had shoot first mentality that has allowed us to be at the top of the league, but we don’t want to play the right way. We want to play a different game right now and until we buy into that we’re going to have some rough water. And that’s what we’re in right now. We’re in rough water.”
And unfortunately for the Note, their schedule doesn’t afford them any time to get things right with the rival Chicago Blackhawks making their way to Scottrade Saturday. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said the team has taken the time to have closed door meetings in an attempt to right the ship, but the talk has to become action. And if the Blues play against the Blackhawks the way they played against the Canucks, they won’t stand a chance.
“We’re not playing detailed. We’re not playing disciplined,” Shattenkirk continued, “We’re not following our structure and doing what makes us good. We always hear [Hitchcock] say it, [when] you put skill ahead of work, these are the results we get. We’re facing an even scarier opponent Saturday and we won’t be as fortunate to be coming out of that first period one-nothing against the Blackhawks.
However, Hitchcock disagrees with Shattenkirk, insisting instead that his team isn’t making plays in the moment.
“This is an attitude about making the next play, and the next play,” he said, “This is forcing the offense and putting yourself in a very vulnerable position defensively. We’ve given up more odd man rushes in six hockey games than we did in two months last year. You can’t live like that. This is a wake-up call, the alarm bell is going off.”
“There’s no panic,” said Blues captain David Backes, “but it’s nothing that we’re close to being pleased with. We’re a team that brought in some personnel that we’re supposed to be better than last year and I think we’re maybe focused a little too much on the skill that we think we all of a sudden have.”
Despite taking recent criticism for not taking enough shots, Hitchcock said his team can live on the amount of shots and scoring chances they’ve had in their games, but they are giving up too many quality chances to the opposing team. He argued that his team isn’t respecting all three lines through the neutral zone, leading to giving up more pucks and odd man rushes.
“You can’t have half the group buying in and half the group not,” Hitchcock continued, but when asked if he thought the new players were hindering the process, Hitchcock vehemently denied that excuse, “You can’t put this on the new players, there’s like two or three players. This is, ‘I can do more. I want to do more,’ and then you end up doing less.”
Then in true Hitchcock fashion, he put the brunt on the work onto his best players.
“You can’t go anywhere if our best players aren’t our best players. That’s the first thing we need to do, get more players playing better. And then we need to get the whole group taking pride in playing the game the right way,” he added.
And the best will need to be present at Scottrade Saturday night if the Blues hope to take a step in the right direction.