ST. LOUIS - Coming out of the All-Star Break, the St. Louis Blues have played 7 games in 11 days and the lack of rest seems to be catching up with the team during their stretch run to the playoffs.
After earning points in 13 consecutive games from January through the beginning of February, St. Louis has failed to earn points in their last two games - taking a 7-1 loss in Columbus Friday and a 4-2 heartbreaking loss at home Sunday to division rival Chicago. A two-game losing streak doesn't constitute panic, the most important games aren't played until April, but there's a more disturbing trend surfacing. The Blues have gotten away from what makes them successful, pinning the opposing defense deep into their own zone.
"I think we got away from what we had a lot of effectiveness [Sunday]," captain David Backes said, "That was shooting pucks from everywhere, making them face their goaltender and then shoot again. We got cute."
In the two losses, the Blues turned over 23 pucks while punishing opposing skaters by handing out 62 hits. At no point in time Sunday did the Blues have a lead over the Blackhawks, playing catch-up through the game. With their lack of rest, they had to exert more energy while already being exhausted.
"It takes a lot to chase a game against a good team. Having to mount a comeback [Sunday]," said head coach Ken Hitchcock, "we ended up exerting a lot of energy. We shortened our bench more than we usually do. I really thought based on the way we played in the second [period] that we had a real push going, but we didn't sustain much in the third period."
The consensus Sunday in the Blues locker room was that the team played better against Chicago than they did in Columbus, and yet better doesn't put the Blues in first place.
"This is a tough part of the season. We play a lot of games in a lot of nights," said net-minder Brian Elliott, "It's the energy management that's going to be the key for every team going forward."
The deciding goal in Sunday's loss came on the penalty kill. Jay Bouwmeester went to the box on a hooking minor and left his team without his valuable skills on the kill. Add to the mix that Kevin Shattenkirk is out and Hitchcock had to call upon defensemen not accustomed to playing on the penalty kill unit, namely Carl Gunnarsson and Chris Butler.
"We've lost two in a row," Backes added, "before that we found ways to win games and get points. Now you start to realize we've got to get back to our principles and get back to playing the hard way. When those things are back in affect, then you go on runs where you have points in 13 straight."
The Blues will attempt to get back on another consecutive game point streak Tuesday when they take on the Arizona Coyotes at Scottrade. It seems they will likely get a big piece back to their line-up. Forward Ty Rattie was re-assigned back to the Chicago Wolves (AHL) which indicates center Jori Lehtera could be close to returning to the ice.