Hazelwood, Mo. (HockeyStL) -- Work harder. Play smarter. Score goals. Simple words from St. Louis Blues center Jori Lehtera before he and his team headed to the airport. Not so simple since the Blues have struggled to put those plans into action. Now the team will play their next five games on the road while trying to correct those mounting problems plaguing them on the ice. And a road trip may provide the answer.
The Blues have lost three of their last four games, all by two goals or more. And even in their wins, goals have been hard to come by. Five of their last eight wins have been by one goal.
"What we're doing is not paying any respect to checking," head coach Ken Hitchcock said, "Then in the offensive zone, the sense of urgency that we're not playing with - that we've played with all year - is not there. That's why we don't score, That's why we don't get second and third chances. That's why we don't win front of the net battles. Those combinations are lethal the wrong way."
The anger and disappointed feelings were palpable in the locker room following Tuesday's 5-2 loss to Montreal. So then before heading to Winnipeg for their next game, the team held a 45 minute closed door meeting. While no one discussed specifics, players made it clear they need to find a solution to their problems quickly.
"You can talk until you're blue in the face, but you have to go out there and do it," said captain David Backes, "As the leader, the first thing I can do is be the first guy to up my game and lead by example."
More than just the next five games are on the road. The Blues will play 11 of their next 14 away from Scottrade Center through March. As they push for position in the playoff race, the Blues won't get many opportunities to pick their on ice match-ups being the visiting team, as the home team gets to choose last when putting lines out on the ice.
"The epitome of good road hockey is simple games," Backes said, "that you hang around and you're able to play that ugly style and just find ways to win games and get points. We're in desperate need of maybe a little simplification and having some time on the road together."
"You've got to do things a lot simpler on the road and compete harder to win those match-ups," Barret Jackman added, "I think we have to get back in sync. There's a way to simplify our game and success will come from that."
St. Louis went through a similar stretch this season back in December. They dropped six of seven games heading into January, but came out of that by earning points in 13 straight and Backes admitted this new stretch of struggles feels similar to the one in December. He believes the team can learn from how they survived that time.
"The solution was everyone buying into the team game," he continued, "It seems simple, but it's a process and it took a bit in December and it's going to take a bit now. But we liked the way we played right after that so hopefully we get to that sooner rather than later."
Could there be a difference with how intense opposing teams are playing as more are fighting for their playoff lives? Has that affected the Blues game?
"It factors into the equation, but is it the reason for us not to have great effort? I don't think so," Backes responded. "We're going to play teams that are desperate to keep their seasons alive. We need to make sure we're as hungry as anybody else."
To get back on track, the Blues will have to increase their fore-check and keep pucks behind the opposing team's defense. It's the system that has propelled them into the second spot in the Central Division and yet, why they have lost focus on that boggles not only fans, but Hitchcock and the coaching staff, too.
"I think that's probably a question you should ask in the locker room," Hitchcock said, "because those directions aren't coming from [the coaches]."
"There isn't an easy answer," Jackman said, in response to his coach's challenge, "A lot of it is just communication. Nothing's easy in this league, especially when you're struggling like we're doing right now."
To stop those struggles they will face a big test Thursday against the Jets, who are fighting for a Wild Card spot into the playoffs while only seven points behind St. Louis in the standings. The season doesn't get easier from this point on, so the Blues hope the elongated time on the road will provide the answers they're seeking.