Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Struggling Blues hit road for tough stretch

Recent stretch of poor performances will be 
tested; 11 of next 14 away from Scottrade Center 

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues held a very optional practice on Wednesday before boarding a flight to Winnipeg to begin what will amount to be a five-game trip.

The Blues, who ended a four-game homestand with their third loss to the Montreal Canadiens by a 5-2 score Tuesday, are 38-18-4 on the season, good for 80 points. Only four teams had higher point totals and two were tied with the Blues heading into Wednesday games, which not bad all things considered.

But after losing their fifth in nine games and allowing 14 goals this past homestand (13 in losses to Dallas, Pittsburgh and Montreal), the Blues are no doubt in a funk as a result of poor play. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Barret Jackman (left) said on Wednesday that
the team could help from playing away from home.

They play 11 of the next 14 games away from the all-of-the-sudden not-so-friendly confines of Scottrade Center, and why not try and take what ails them and fix it on the road, where the Blues have won seven of the past eight.

"I think a road trip could help," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "You've got to do things a lot simpler on the road and compete harder to win those matchups. That'll be a good test for our team."

"It can," captain David Backes said when asked if a road trip can help. "We can bond on the road and use that to grow as a group and get back to our ways. It's not going to be easy, it's going to take a lot of hard work, but this is why you play a sport, to (face) challenges, to conquer them and to be better on the other side of them."

In losses to the Penguins and Canadiens, two of the quicker teams in the Eastern Conference, the Blues exposed themselves to countless odd-man rush after odd-man rush among other in-game errors, and coach Ken Hitchcock voiced his displeasure over it in his postgame comments after losing to Montreal.

There may not be a simple answer as to why, but center Jori Lehtera had a simple fix.

"Work harder," he said.

"When you're winning a lot, you think you can win a bad game or you don't have to work that much," Lehtera said. "It doesn't go like that. It's weird thing. Everybody knows it, but they can't do anything about it. Now we're in a bad spot again and we have to come back.

"I think it's a good time for us to go on a road trip. We know on the road, you have to play 100 percent every game. ... I think we play a little bit different, yeah. We have to find our way. There's not just one problem. I think we have to find a way. When we get one win, it gets easier."

Jackman said the results are just not translating to what the general ideas are right now.

"We have the right intentions, but the way that we're thinking, we're just not putting it on the ice," Jackman said. "We're a little bit disconnected, we're not talking enough. There's a way to simplify our game and success will come from that.

"We have a lot of turnovers, too aggressive and too close in our forechecks which allowed way too many odd-man rushes. There's a lot of things that we need to clean up. The sooner we get out of this funk that we're in, the better we are looking forward to this last 21 games."

When it falls on effort, that's a player fix. A coach can't solve effort.

"Absolutely, that's the solution to the problem," Backes said of more effort. "It's each individual guy going back, reflecting and seeing how he can be better and help the team win in any way possible. Together we'll be a lot better as a group."

Maybe leaders can voice their opinions and be more vocal at times like this. The Blues met for roughly 45 minutes before departing for the first of what will be a tough three-game jaunt that concludes with back-to-back games in Edmonton on Saturday and Vancouver on Sunday. 

The NHL trade deadline is Monday, and the Blues could very well be in on some activity and then finish the trip with games at Philadelphia on March 4 and Toronto on March 6.

"Trust me, we've had meetings," Backes said. "You can talk until you're blue in the face. You've got to go out there and do it. As a leader, the first thing I can do is go out there and be the first guy to up my game and be a better player and lead by example."

"We've still got to play for each other," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We've got to lead by example. The leadership group is here for a reason. We've got to lead by example on and off the ice. That depends on us to do that and we'll take full responsibility.

"... Sometimes you don't always have the matchups that you want (on the road). You don't have a choice. We'll see. We're going to have to play a more simpler game, whether it's at home or on the road. That's all it comes down to right now. Winnipeg will be our first step."

And in that first step, communication will be key.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues captain David Backes (right) battles with Canadiens defenseman
P.K. Subban during Tuesday's 5-2 Montreal victory.

"I think it's just collectively all being on the same page in our game," Jackman said. "We have a system that works, that's been proven in the past to work. Right now, we're a little bit off on a lot of things with our checking because we're either too spread out or we're too close. There's a lot of things that we looked at today that we can correct and we'll do that.

"Whether it's a lack of communication, guys not helping each other out with support. A lot of it is communication, just letting guys know what the next play is and having the trust of the guys there and having the patience to make plays. ... It's a dip that happens, but it can snowball if we don't do something about it right now. We've got a lot of intelligent guys in the coaches room and in our locker room and know that we're not playing a winning recipe right now. We're ready to correct that and I think guys are chomping at the bit to prove ourselves tomorrow night."

* NOTES -- Hitchcock did not address the media before the Blues departed but it's expected that Brian Elliott will make the start in goal against the Jets. ... Skaters on the ice Wednesday included forwards Joakim Lindstrom, Chris Porter and Dmitrij Jaskin, defensemen Chris Butler and Petteri Lindbohm and goalies Jake Allen and Elliott.

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