Thursday, December 31, 2009

Home issues beginning to take toll on Blues

They'll host Vancouver tonight looking to snap 1-7-1 slide at Scottrade

ST. LOUIS -- There comes a time when even all those that are directly involved in orchestrating and piecing together a team don't have an answer.

Such was the case Wednesday for Blues President John Davidson, who had to sit through another baffling home defeat Tuesday night.

And as the Blues usher out 2009 tonight after facing the Vancouver Canucks at Scottrade Center at 6 p.m., they have to find some way to break this hex that has been put on their home building, where they now sit at 6-13-2 -- including a win in Sweden.

"I can't answer it, I don't know. How can we play like we play on the road and play like we play at home," Davidson said. "There's got to be some form of a mental block of some sort that has developed. ... Our power play let us down. And I think that when you're power play struggles at home, it creates a negative vibe, a negative feeling."

The Blues (17-17-5) outshot the Nashville Predators 12-4 in the third period of Tuesday's 4-3 home loss and outscored them 2-1. They were just as good in the final 20 minutes as they were bad in the opening 40.

Which poses the same, old question: how can that be?

"All we can do is build off the third period and try and go win a hockey game (tonight)," Davidson said. "There's no magic wand here. You talk to other teams every day. You talk about every scenario. There's just no magic wand. We've got to, as a group, persevere and deal with it.

"It's a mental part that has become a struggle for us, for whatever reason."

Call out the shrinks, are the Blues going crazy?

Not so, says Davidson, who likes that there is still time on the schedule to get the team's direction leveled out.

"We've got a lot of season left, and if we start winning at home, we're going to be OK," he said. "But we've got to start winning at home. There's no other way around that. We've got to deal with whatever pressure there is with not winning at home and turn that pressure into a positive. Enjoy the pressure. The most pressurized games you'll ever play are the playoff games and they're the most fun to play and the easiest games to get ready for. We have such great support here. The fans have been unbelievable, and I don't say that lightly. I say that with conviction. We've just got to go out and play."

The Blues, who sit in 12th place in the Western Conference with 39 points -- eight points out of a playoff spot -- will reach the halfway point to the season after they host Chicago on Saturday. Game No. 40 is tonight, and after 39 games a season ago, they 15-21-3 and in last place in the West.

"We're .500 right now and we're a lot better than we were last year at this time, won-loss record wise," Davidson said. "All we've got to do is start winning at home. Pretty simple arithmetic."
If the math is that easy, the Blues seem to be making it look like rocket science, and the complexity is of it all is very puzzling.

"We all know the situation. There's either winning or misery," Davidson said. "There's no in between. All of us have to work at everything every day.

"I'm not going to sit here and tell you that somebody's job is on the line, or we're going to make a major trade. We have to assess things as they move along here. Then when we do make decisions -- try to make the decisions -- no matter what it is, that's the best decision on behalf of our hockey club to become a better club."

The team will go into tonight's matchup with the Canucks (23-16-1) with a 2-0 mark against the team that swept them out of the Western Conference quarterfinals a season ago and they'll do it with a new addition to the club, as former LA King Derek Armstrong was called up from Peoria Wednesday under emergency conditions.

With Paul Kariya (upper-body) on injured reserve and Jay McClement dinged up resulting from blocking a Shea Weber shot, the Blues are hoping the 36-year-old veteran can induce some enthusiasm around a home locker room that has resembled a mausoleum.

"I think he brings a Danny Hinote personality to our room, which is good for us," Blues coach Andy Murray said of Armstrong, who played for Murray when he coached the Kings. "I think we miss Danny's personality.

"I think 'Army' is a great addition and brings a lot of energy and so on, but Derek Armstrong is not going to ride in here on a white horse (tonight) and save the group. It's up to the group itself."

The Blues were feeling good about themselves after a 3-0 sweep of western Canada, the first of its kind in franchise history, but what a difference a week makes.

"Tough times only make you appreciate the good times better," Murray said. "It's amazing. In this sport, you go from week to week. There were a lot of smiles getting on that plane in Calgary. Guys are enjoying life and come in here (Wednesday) and it's a bit of a grind. But that comes with the territory. Lots of people would trade jobs with me."

* NOTES -- Blues defenseman Roman Polak has been named to the Czech Republic 2010 Olympic Team Roster. The Ostrava, Czech Republic native served his country at the 2009 World Championships as well as the 2005 and 2006 World Junior Championships. ... Defenseman Erik Johnson, a healthy scratch Tuesday, is not certain to return to the lineup tonight. ... Forward Alex Steen has nine points in six games, including three goals in the last two contests. ... Besides missing tonight's game, Kariya will also be out for Saturday's game against the Blackhawks.

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