The Blues had a winning western Canada portion of their five game road trip, but the wins against Winnipeg and Edmonton weren’t the most impressive victories the Blues have enjoyed this season.
I am a bottom line guy, so the wins are what I look at. And at the end of the day, they’re what the team looks at, too. But we had an interesting conversation with Coach Ken Hitchcock last week in The Fast Lane, and his approach is different than ours. He said “I really rely more on the way we play than the result. I really have a strong belief that if we play the right way, good things are going to happen.”
He says he knows that if the team is playing the right way and not winning, good things are right around the corner. But, “I also know that when you’re playing the wrong way, bad things are around the corner. And I differentiate between not winning and losing, and there’s a big difference. And it’s the not losing part of the way we play that bothers me a lot, and the not winning part…I don’t want to say I just blow it off and just move on…but I kind of get excited about that because I can see and feel that wins are just around the corner.”
Right now, the Blues seem to be somewhere between losing games and playing the wrong way and not losing. They’ve played eight consecutive poor-to-mediocre games, since a great outing in Tampa on February 12. In the four game homestand in which the Blues went 1-3, they didn’t play well at all. Even in the win over Boston, they were able to take advantage of a rookie goalie making his NHL debut. As a team that wants to score first and build upon the lead, they didn’t score first in any of the games.
At the start of this trip, they were outshot, outhit, and lost the faceoff battle in their shootout win at Winnipeg. They also went 0-2 on the power play. On Saturday night in Edmonton, the Blues did outshoot the Oilers, but once again were outhit. And they were 0-2 on the power play again. In the thirteen February games after Kevin Shattenkirk was injured, the Blues went 3-26 on the power play (11.5%), dropping them from first (24.5%) to fourth (22.8%) in the NHL. In the thirteen games before Shattenkirk got hurt, they were 10-43, 23%. Although the Blues rallied and played well in the late going Sunday night in a shootout loss in Vancouver, they didn’t turn in anything close to a great overall performance.
So the Blues need to play better in the last month and a half of the season to be primed for the playoffs. Hitchcock will take the wins, but he sees the same thing we do…that the Blues need to play better. They need to win more faceoffs and get more hits. Generally, a hit turns into a shot. Faceoff wins and hits provide possession, and the Blues did not do a good job of maintaining puck possession during February.
The other thing the Blues need to have happen is their STL line returning to form. At times during February they were split up, but the offensive numbers were glaring…Vladimir Tarasenko has scored just nine goals in the last two months after scoring eighteen during November and December.
He’s missed the net an alarming amount lately. After scoring 21 points in the first two months, Jori Lehtera scored just twelve points in December, January and February, and fell from a plus-14 in the first two months to a plus-2 in the last three. And Jaden Schwartz had his least productive points-per-game month of the season in February.
In the first game of March on Sunday night in Vancouver, the Blues built a quick 2-0 lead and squandered that before rallying to send the game to a shooutout, but wasted an opportunity to gain two points on first place Nashville.
More importantly, they lost a chance to put more space between themselves and Chicago.
Hitchcock says “I react well and sleep well when I know we’ve played the right way, regardless of the outcome, and I do not sleep well when we do not play the right way.”
There are some things for Hitchcock to be concerned about. The Blues need to have the puck more, they need to be better on the power play, and their most dangerous offensive line needs to be better than it has been so far in 2015. The Blues have the tools to be great, but it sure looks like they’re going to keep Hitchcock up at night trying to find the answers to why they’re not playing as well as they can.