There isn’t much one can say after a loss like Thursday’s to the Columbus Blue Jackets, except: “We’ve got to play a better game.”
These were some of Mike Yeo’s words after Friday’s practice (and yes, they’re a no-brainer), but the embattled Blues head coach used the phrase to describe what he hopes will be a turning point in his team’s season, as well as one they can bounce back from Saturday against the visiting Blackhawks.
“Whatever you want to call it,” Yeo said. “Shock to the system, the low point, but something that we can rally around and come together as a group. Obviously, there’s a few things we identified that we’re going to keep in the room, but we’ve got to play a better game.
“What that comes down to is we don’t need heroes (Saturday) night. We don’t need anyone to go out and play the best game of their entire life and score highlight-reel goals,” he added. “We need everybody to go out and do their job. We get 20 guys doing that shift after shift, then more often than not you like the result.”
Yeo’s words fit a theme which can be best described as a pragmatic one, as it doesn’t appear to be lost on the Blues how bad their record is and how bad it looks when they don’t play hard for three periods on a given night. Coaches and players know they can’t dig themselves out in a day, but must rather do so in one shift, then another, and another, etc..
Forward Ryan O’Reilly touched on this Friday, also adding to another noticeable theme on the season: The fact the team is playing as individuals rather than a cohesive unit, bringing GM Doug Armstrong’s infamous ‘independent contractors’ speech from 2017 to mind.
“It’s such little things that can make such a huge difference and get us to where we want to be,” O’Reilly said. “We’re going to have to work so hard to get out of this. We’re not getting bounces right now, either and it’s going to take every single one of us trying to play that perfect game.
“If one of us makes a mistake, we all make that mistake. If one of us scores a goal, we all score a goal. It’s finding that, and that’s going to build us to where we want to get to and establish that identity that we need.”
Has the season’s disappointment caused some quicksand? If so, are individual players churning to get out, thereby making things worse?
“Sometimes you get scared to get beat and that’s when you get beat,” Yeo said. “Sometimes confidence isn’t there and you try to do somebody else’s job and the next thing you know, you’re not doing your job as well. Regardless, we can’t allow those things to get in the way.
“We’ve got to be strong enough and tough enough mentally now where you just get prepared,” he added. “You remember what your job is, what your game is, and a team game that we have to play, that we have to be committed to and find a way to do all game long.”
As far as Yeo’s current ’embattled coach’ title, there’s no clear inkling the players have tuned him out or aren’t picking up what he’s putting down. Vladimir Tarasenko tried to make this clear after Thursday’s stinker when he told The Athletic‘s Jeremy Rutherford: “We support him, we believe in him, that’s why he’s our coach right now and we will fu—– play for him so hard. So there’s no questions about team doesn’t believe in the coach.”
O’Reilly echoed the sentiment Friday without the expletive.
“It’s on us in here. Our system’s good. When we do it right, you see when we dominate games. You can only do so much,” O’Reilly said. “It’s got to come from this group of guys in here. We’re the ones on the ice; we’re the ones going into the battles. It’s up to us to push each other and work for each other.
“I think Yeo-sy and the coaching staff have done an outstanding job. We know what to do. Our system’s effective when we use it and get it going. It’s just we have to self-reflect on ourselves and find a way to bring more.”
And it’s true the system’s worked, but it working 30-40 percent of the time isn’t going to equate to many wins. They’ve proven they can score goals, but also that they can allow plenty.
“We know we can score on the power play; we know we can score with our lineup. We just, we have to be committed and willing to play good defense and I think good defense leads to good offense,” winger Patrick Maroon said. “We just have to have a really good mindset (Saturday) that defense is first and everything else will fall into place.”
Yeo believes the team’s defensive woes lie in execution rather than system, again using that ‘individual’ word that applies to so much of his team’s troubles.
“We’ve given up some (goals) in D-zone coverage, but not even close to the amount in turnovers and rushes. A lot of that, for me, is more on focus and mindset,” Yeo said. “If you’re not completely engaged in the way that we need to play the game, then individual breakdowns happen. Individual mistakes happen.
“Just because we say, ‘Hey, let’s go do it now,’ doesn’t mean that it’s just going to come together. There’s a lack of confidence right now, or trust, or belief, but that’s not going to just be given back to us. We’re going to have to earn that back. The only way to do that is shift after shift, guy after guy goes out there and does their job and does things the right way.”
Stay connected to 101 ESPN for plenty of Blues talk and analysis as the season rolls along.