The coach may be gone, but the issues for the St. Louis Blues persist.
Just seven weeks into the season, the Blues fired Mike Yeo in a move that probably needed to happen considering the unfortunate resemblance the team’s recent trajectory bears to an Enron stock chart after the turn of the century. While it’s nice to have a scapegoat, the early returns since Yeo’s unceremonious departure don’t do much to indicate anything has changed for the hockey club. The team has dropped two of three games since Craig Berube took the reins, including an ugly 8-4 drubbing by the Jets on Saturday at Enterprise Center
What happened to that new coach smell?
When St. Louis fired Ken Hitchcock in February 2017, the Blues rose like a rocket, winning 22 of their final 32 games of the regular season and making the playoffs--with Yeo as their coach. Hitchcock is widely considered a demanding and difficult coach to play for, so it stands to reasons that the stark contrast in styles injected the Blues players with renewed vigor during that run into the playoffs.
If the players enjoyed life under Yeo in the spring of 2017, perhaps they had since come to enjoy it a little too much in the year-plus that followed? That’s not to say for certain Yeo wasn’t hard enough on the players--we don't see everything that goes on behind closed doors. But again, coming off a Hitchcock regime, it’s not hard to imagine life under Yeo was more palatable for a player.
That concept makes it all the more curious that the Blues haven’t responded following their coach’s firing this time around.
If players on the Blues liked playing for Yeo, should they not be playing with a chip on their shoulders right now, out to avenge their coach after their poor performance got him fired? Perhaps a 1-2 record in three games is not a damning enough sample to determine that an inspired run isn’t just around the corner, but there’s also a difference between losing games and losing games the way the Blues did in their most recent one.
Craig Berube spoke of missed defensive coverages and a lack of energy after that loss to the Jets. Questions of effort and fundamentals--or as Berube put it, their “brains kind of turned off”--are not the type of criticisms you like to hear this soon into a new coach’s tenure.
To turn things around, the Blues are going to need improved focus--and on a consistent basis. Last-place teams with playoff aspirations don’t get the luxury of turning off their brains here and there. Even fresh off a pair of emotionally taxing battles with the Predators, that’s not a satisfactory excuse.
It’s the Blues’ poor play to this point that has put them in such a position, already without margin for error in November. Not only will it require the leadership of their interim coach to lift them out of that hole, but also the commitment of the individual players to show that they care enough about this team to play up to the expectations bestowed upon them.