Friday, December 18, 2009

Can benchings shake things up?

Healthy scratches of veterans could take effect for Blues, play host to Lightning today at 7 p.m.

ST. LOUIS -- It's a question that the Blues hoped wouldn't have to be asked 32 games into a season, but when they're laboring around the .500 mark and looking up in the Western Conference standings once again, chances are it'll come up a time or two.

Why are the Blues so inconsistent? Why are they good one night and poor the next? Why does the level of consistency jump from good to bad and vice versa?

"For whatever reason, we're up and down a lot," Blues center Jay McClement Thursday, a day after the Blues looked listless in a 3-0 loss at Chicago which was preceded by a 4-3 home win over Calgary Tuesday. "We come out with a great effort and the next night, it's kind of a disappointing effort.

"I wish I could put my finger on it, but you're not going to be a playoff team if you're not going to be consistent. Even sometimes when you play well, you may not win, but it's disappointing when you don't create much for ourselves, don't win a lot of battles. Those are the disappointing losses."

So again, it boils down to 60-minute efforts, which is blatantly obvious the Blues are not getting those on a consistent basis.

So what else can coach Andy Murray do?

Well for one, he can take the example of Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet, who will bring his Lightning into town for a 7 p.m. drop of the puck today.

Tocchet, whose team was 1-7-2 entering Thursday's game at Detroit, benched two of his veteran players Tuesday night in Nashville. Jeff Halpern and Alex Tanguay were both healthy scratches for that game and were made examples that nobody is safe when it comes to accountability.

"We've got eight (losses) in nine and I don't like the trend, certain individuals and as a team," Tocchet told Tampa reporters. "And that's probably my fault for letting it go the past three or four games. Sometimes you put the onus on the players and certain people to straighten it (out). But ultimately it's on my (rear end). Hopefully we'll have 18 or 19 guys going and not just 11 or 12."

Does Murray sit some of his veteran players, whom he obviously was disappointed with during Wednesday's loss to the Blackhawks? He's done it before, with defenseman Jay McKee being the most recent.

Don't bet against it.

"There's guys that are in our discussion group every morning," Murray said following Thursday's practice at Scottrade Center. "There's guys that were in our discussion group that we talked about this morning; do they deserve to play tomorrow night, and so on. We've got a discussion group, and you don't want to be in that one.

"We've done it here. We haven't done it so far this year," Murray added. "... You have to have alternatives. We're carrying an extra forward, which has normally been Cam (Janssen). You're somewhat limited in what you can do. Obviously, we don't have any extra defensemen here right now, so we're somewhat limited in what you can do."

Each locker room is different, and each react accordingly, so how would a veteran shakeup affect this locker room? Veteran Barret Jackman recently said, "If guys need to be sitting or if guys need to be smacked upside the head by a teammate, it's going to have to happen."

"For me personally, I've been around here enough and I've seen it enough," McClement said. "It's always an option, and it's always something, too, where you need to earn your spot in the lineup. Guys that have been around a while always mention it and it's brought to the other guys' attention that there's always (other) guys, whether it's extra guys here or its extra guys in Peoria. You need to earn your spot and you need to earn your ice time. You need to get results. It's the bottom line. We need to get results no matter how you get them."

Added McClement, "It's obviously disappointing for the guys that aren't in the lineup, but for the guys that are in the lineup, especially for the guys that are in those spots, the mentality is show them some respect and play as hard as you can. It happens a lot around the league. For us here, I know we've done it in the past. It means we need to start performing in the present."

One consistent for the Blues this season has been their goaltending, and had it not been for the solid outing by Ty Conklin, Wednesday's three-goal loss could have been even worse.

"There's nothing to feel good about that game (Wednesday) night," Murray said. "You can feel good about your goalie, but you can feel guilty as a teammate because of what you put that goalie through and the fact that he gave you a chance when it was 2-0 in that second period. If you get that next goal at any time to make it 2-1, it's maybe a different game ... because he's giving you a chance."

The Blues gave themselves little chance to get "that next goal" because their red and blue units were, according to Murray outchanced by their gray and gold units. And for the Blues, that's not where they're looking for the core offensive production to come from.

"We need them to play; we need them to play good," Murray said. "I don't want you to think that I'm unhappy with our roster status. I'm not. I have no issues with it. ... I guess you do it (bench players) if you think it's necessary. We haven't done it. We haven't sat one of them out yet because we haven't felt that that was the best thing to do. The lineup we've dressed every night is the one we think gives us the best chance to win."

Heading into tonight's contest, the Blues sit in a familiar position at 14-13-5, one they were in for many months last season before going on their 25-9-7 tear to make the playoffs. They are at the bottom of the Western Conference with 33 points, eight points behind eighth-place Detroit after the Wings knocked off these very same Lightning 3-0.

"It feels like we've had disappointing losses this year, but if you look at the standings, we just need to start having good efforts every night and start putting some solid games together and have a solid stretch," McClement said. "There's a lot of games to go, but that's not our mentality, that there's lots of time. We need to turn it around right away."

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