The Blues came out in their first game after the All-Star break playing better than they had been, but not yet good enough to net any points in the standings.
The slide for St. Louis got steeper Tuesday in a 5-3 home loss to the Jets. The game had some of the kind of characteristics of improved play that could eventually pull the Blues out of this hole–but according to Ken Hitchcock, they’re still not giving a consistent effort across the board.
“We had some people who played really well tonight,” Hitchcock said. “We made mistakes and we're paying for them right now. We've got to minimize our mistakes. We've got to get more players playing to the same level that some of the guys played at today. There was some really good performances by some people today. We just have to get more people doing it.”
Even in a downtrodden presser, Hitchcock doled out praise for more than a handful of his players–the guys whose efforts he appreciated more than that of some others.
“Bergy's line was good, Lehtera's line ... Schwartz was excellent, Tarasenko played very hard,” Hitchcock said, cherry-picking his noteworthy performers. “There's a lot of good stuff there.”
It’s hard not to feel as though Hitchcock’s words were less about the names he did say and more about the ones he left out.
In what has been tabbed as his final year of coaching in St. Louis, Hitchcock has stopped short of calling out individual players on multiple occasions. His token line has revolved around ‘getting more people involved,’ as it did again after Tuesday’s loss.
Reading between those lines, one can speculate as to the group in which Hitchcock is disappointed. Some of the missing names are supposed to be leaders of the team. Hitchcock–in such a way that is becoming less and less subtle as time goes on–is asking for more out of them.
Blues' Captain Alex Pietrangelo recognizes where he needs to give more. Not necessarily in effort, but as the leader of the team and its defense, he has a responsibility to ensure the group is working cohesively.
“Yeah, a couple of breakdowns,” Pietrangelo said. “I thought we did some good things there five on five. We talked a lot today about keeping our unit tight in our own end. I thought we did that. (But) again, we've got to clean up those errors that we made when they did score."
In one instance late in the first period, the Blues were bit by one of those mistakes by Pietrangelo himself. Instead of entering intermission with a lead, St. Louis coughed up the advantage for good.
"That's a mess up, especially on my part there at the end of the first,” Pietrangelo said. “But we crawled our way back. We got down there and then we started playing the game we wanted to play. But obviously I've got to be better on that play, can't let that one happen."
The team didn’t appear in poor spirits after the loss–compared to some losses in recent memory, the performance Tuesday was definitely better. Still, better doesn’t cut it when yet another loss means a tie for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference (Calgary and St. Louis both have 53 points, though the Blues have a couple games in hand).
Time is ticking away, and the Blues are hurtling toward a crash landing. What will it take to snap out of it?
"I don't know,” Allen said of the difficulty of climbing out of such a deep hole. “There's a lot of ways you can describe it. But these are divisional opponents right now. They're four-point games for us and we lost a big one to (Minnesota) last week. Tonight was a chance to gain some points and we let it slip. We definitely played really well in spurts of that game, but just got to find ways to execute a little better."
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