The weekend was a great opportunity for the Blues to send a message to their top challengers in the NHL’s Central Division that they were far and away the best team in their group heading into the playoffs. Heading into the weekend, they were 21-2-2 against the division, with no losses to Colorado and one to the Blackhawks.
Well, instead of sending a message, the Avalanche and Blackhawks sent messages to the Blues. And that message is, “We don’t care what happened in October, November, December, January, February and March. The playoffs start in April, and come game 83, we’re going to present you some major problems.” Colorado stifled the Blues in a 4-0 scrum on Saturday at Scottrade Center, and the Blackhawks rallied for a 4-2 win on Sunday at Chicago’s United Center. In both games, the Blues held their opposition scoreless in the first period, but in each case a second-period letdown led to a loss.
From a very macro view, the Blues still have the best record in the Western Conference. They still control their destiny in regards to home ice in the West, and they still have tremendous season stats. And, we might point out that Alexander Steen didn’t play during the weekend, and Vladimir Tarasenko will be out until the playoffs start.
But in a more focused view, we must consider that the Blues were 8-0-1 in the first nine games after their trade for Ryan Miller and Steve Ott, and they’re 5-5 since. And more troubling than that is that in that 10-game stretch, they’ve allowed four goals in half the games, and three in another. The Blues are a three-or-more goal team. When they score three or more, they’re 38-1-3. But when they allow three or more, they’re 9-16-7. The Blues are 52-19-7 overall, so just three of their losses have come when they’ve haven’t allowed three or more.
While they’ve allowed three-or-more in six of the last 10, they’ve only scored three-or-more twice in that span. And while we can use the absence of Tarasenko and Steen, the Avalanche played without their leading scorer, Matt Duchene, and the Blackhawks don’t and won’t have Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews for the rest of the regular season, and each of those teams scored four goals against the Blues (although Chicago had a late empty-netter). If you’re going to win, you have to have capable depth. The Blues do have depth, but clearly with the two top snipers out, the Blues don’t have guys capable of rising to a top-two line and doing that job.
Coinciding with the 10-game slide for the Blues is Patrik Berglund’s 11-game goal drought, Derek Roy’s 17 games without a goal, and 30- and 12-game skids, respectively, for defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo. With the trade of Chris Stewart, guys like that, who are capable of scoring, must do so. There’s only so much T.J. Oshie and David Backes can do, and now opposing teams are focusing their defense on those two. Others must step up.
Many Blues fans, because of the franchise’s history, are already predicting a first-round playoff exit for the 2013-2014 squad. I look at the recent struggles of Anaheim and San Jose and can’t believe that perhaps teams that have a seeming stranglehold on playoff position aren’t matching the intensity of teams that are playing for first-round playoff position or being in the playoffs at all.
The Blues are capable of being great. Logical observers haven’t forgotten how good this team has been for six months, and know it’s not much of a leap to playoff greatness. But they need to tighten up their game before the postseason starts in 10 days, allowing fewer and scoring a little more. Otherwise, the naysayers thinking the Blues will break their hearts again will be right.