Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Break gives Blues time to pause, reflect

Team will return Saturday looking to 
snap first three-game winless streak of season

ST. LOUIS -- At 21-10-3, the Blues are still in a pretty good position at this point in the season.

They sit in third place in the Central Division, just a point behind second-place Nashville and three behind first-place Chicago. If the playoffs started today, the Blues would be on the inside.

However, after a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday that left them scratching their heads heading into the Christmas holiday, it marked the first time the Blues have gone three straight games without a victory.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Paul Stastny (left) and Kevin Shattenkirk celebrate a goal in a recent game.

That type of culture is a good place to be in when one considers a three-game winless streak feels almost catastrophic. It only means you're a winning team and one that normally ends the day on the winning side. But for this Blues team, the culmination of a 0-2-1 trip means that the time has come for a gut-check point.

There are too many teams that are too good, and a prolonged winless streak will wind up being detrimental. And after this three-day break before resuming the grind of the schedule Saturday with a home game against Dallas, the Blues know it's time to nip it in the bud.

"There's ups and downs for every team, every season," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "This is a time where we have to take a second to reflect on it and get back to work on the 27th.

"... There's new waves of emotion every year. This happens every year, but at the same time, that's part of the game, that's part of hockey, and you have to grow through that as a team. Whether it's, I don't want to say the same lesson, but whether there's a lesson to be learned there or not, it's going to come every season. You're going to have times when it's not working for you and you have to work harder to get through it."

Much of the play from the Blues against the Avalanche on Tuesday was uncharacteristic. They chased pucks most of the game, were never engaged physically and trading punches on scoring chances, which is against everything this team stands for.

The Blues were outscored 14-6 in three games against Los Angeles, San Jose and Colorado, or an average of 4.66 goals allowed per game. Two of those losses were blown third-period leads.

"Teams know what type of team we are," forward Steve Ott said. "We're not a surprise coming into buildings anymore. They know we're one of the top teams in the league. We've got to give them that top team in the league every single night. When we do that with that type of workload, we're tough to handle, and when we don't play that way, you see glimpses of (Tuesday).

"We've been talking about it. It's times like this when you have an unsuccessful road trip like we just had ... I guess no better chance to have a three-day break from it all and get the work boots back on, on the 27th."

Panic has set in for some Blues fans who are wondering whether a shakeup of sorts is in order. But one thing within the locker room walls is for sure: the belief from players isn't shaken.

"This group can get it done," captain David Backes said. "We've shown we can get it done. ... There's not many teams, if any, that can play with us when we have 20 guys playing on (the same) page. It's a tough thing to do, but it's very effective. We've got to come to that realization and bring that every night.

"I think we've shown we can play great hockey against good teams, even on the road. We do so in L.A., we do so in San Jose for most of the game. We just need to stick with it and have the right mentality in those situations, times of games, momentums and make the right play at the right time. I think the frustrating thing is that we didn't have to learn these hard lessons in this vast quantity. Last year, we were bought in and doing the right things at the right time. The result was a lot more wins, but it's not dire right now. We've got to regroup, look ourselves in the mirror, come back and put this behind us but not forget our lesson learned. You need a great effort against every team and especially good ones that can fly around like Colorado can."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues captain David Backes said nobody is making excuses for the
team's recent three-game winless slide.

The Blues, who just finished a stretch of 12 games in 17 away from the comfortable confines of Scottrade Center ice, will play two at home before another stretch of four away from home. The balance of performance whether home or away last season was consistently good. The road has been somewhat of a rocky road this season thus far at 9-7-2.

"We play well at home," Shattenkirk said of the team's 12-3-1 record. "We just have to be better on the road. We did it well against L.A. early on. We have to make sure we realize that and build on that, and it's a matter of simplifying our game; just doing things what makes us successful. Putting pucks in their zone, hitting them, being quick in our zone and communicating. That's what Blues hockey is."

Not just Blues hockey but winning hockey.

"We're not making excuses," Backes said. "I'm first in line to take blame. We'll all shoulder that and we need to be better against Dallas when we come back from Christmas."

"We'll see if this is a wake-up call for us," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Hopefully, it is."

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