Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Home ice primary reason Blues won't get in playoffs

12-18-5 record is among worst in franchise
history as team is on outside looking in

ST. LOUIS -- When the Blues' current playoff string runs dry after only one season, they'll look back on an unusual campaign that saw the team play admirably on the road.

But the reason they will be on the sidelines watching the other 16 participants battle for arguably the greatest trophy in all of sports: a borderline pathetic home record.

With the Blues eight points out of a playoff spot after Detroit's 3-1 win over Pittsburgh Monday and with only 10 games to play, the margin for error is gone.

Actually, the margin for error disappeared when the Blues continually piled on loss after loss at Scottrade Center.

So it begs the question: how can a team be among the best on the road be at their worst at home?

The Blues are 22-11-4 away from Scottrade Center, where they are tied with Washington for most road victories. But they're just 12-18-5 at the not-so-friendly confines of home. If you consider one of those "home" wins came in Sweden on opening weekend, that's 11 home wins at 14th and Clark.

Sunday's 3-2 loss to Nashville was a microcosm of the way things have gone at home -- Blues lead a game in third period, only to somehow walk off the ice empty-handed.

"We needed those two points tonight and we didn't quite show enough to get the job done," forward David Backes said after the game. "We got the lead and then we got a few shifts that we were still on the attack. (The Predators) raised their game a little bit, and rather than counteracting that and raising ours and staying on the attack, we kind of went into that shell and tried to hang on. Obviously, the result was what we were not desiring."

Obviously right, and it was an all-too-familiar script for this team that curls up into a cocoon instead of protecting it's home, something they have been criticized for in the past, particularly under Andy Murray's days as head coach.

Blues chairman Dave Checketts issued a brisk and stern warning to his players following a lethargic 3-1 loss to these same Predators that dropped the Blues' home mark to 2-6-1 in mid-November.

"We better never get outworked at home," Checketts said at the time, "because the hallmark of our club even when we didn't have the talent was we never got outworked at home. ... When we come home, this has got to be a very tough place to play. You see it in our fans, the building is either full or nearly full every night."

The building was once again full, and the sulking demeanor of 19,150 that dragged out of the building Sunday night was another reminder of everything gone awry here.

Even team president John Davidson was on board at the time Checketts made his comments and felt like something needed to be addressed.

"I think our home record is something that should be a lot better and if it was a lot better, we'd be in good shape," Davidson said then. "Our road record has been fine (4-1-3), ... and our home record has not.

"Anybody in this league that's going to be a playoff club ... and it's hard to make the playoffs, especially in this conference, you've got to be better on home ice than we've been. I don't want that to be our bugaboo at the end of the season saying, 'Gosh, we've been terrible on home ice. I don't know what went wrong.'"

Unfortunately, that's going to be the focal point when fans want to know why they should renew season tickets and believe in a team that has taken a step back in 2009-10 after a 2008-09 season in which maybe it wasn't expected to make the playoffs. But this season, the Blues' expectations were higher, and the home ice drawback is at the peak of discussion. And rightfully so.

The Blues (34-29-9) have 29 points on home ice, by far the fewest among the 30 teams in the league. Should they not get another point on home ice this season, it would be the worst in franchise history (the 2005-06 team accumulated 30 points).

"It's unacceptable," Blues goalie Chris Mason sternly said after Sunday's loss. "Bottom line, one team came to play to win, the other team just came to play. End of story."

Here is a list of games the Blues led in the third period and failed to come away with two points:

Nov. 28 vs. Detroit: Blues led 3-2 when Henrik Zetterberg tied the game for Wings with 56.7 seconds remaining, Detroit eventually wins 4-3 in a shootout.

Dec. 11 vs. Edmonton: Blues led 3-0 in the second, 3-1 after two periods when Oilers tie it with 8:41 to play, get the go-ahead goal with 6:08 to play in a four-goal period and win 5-3.

Dec. 27 vs. Buffalo: Blues led 3-2 in third, but the Sabres tie it 3:15 in and score three times to claim 5-3 win.

Dec. 31 vs. Vancouver: Blues blaze out to another 3-0 lead, they led 3-1 after two, but Canucks get two third-period goals which included the tying goal with 1:56 remaining, then win 4-3 in overtime. It would be Andy Murray's final game as Blues coach.

Jan. 23 vs. Anaheim: Blues jumped out to -- you guess it! -- a 3-0 lead on the Ducks when T.J. Oshie scored 3:35 into final period, but Anaheim would eventually tie it with 30 seconds left and win 4-3 in a shootout.

March 21 vs. Nashville: Blues led 2-1, getting the go-ahead goal from David Perron 3:29 into the third period. But the Predators scored twice within 48 seconds, once with 3:34 to tie it and with 2:46 left to win 3-2.

And here is a game the Blues were tied in the third period late and lost:

Nov. 12 vs. Nashville: tied 1-1, Predators score with 3:43 remaining, add empty-netter with seven seconds left to win 3-1.

They also lost a 3-1 lead on Feb. 9 against Detroit, saw the Wings score twice in the game's final five minutes before winning 4-3 in a shootout but Detroit gained a valuable point.

And to think, the Blues are eight points out of a playoff spot heading into Wednesday's road game at Detroit.

"You can talk about it all you want, but it's going out there and doing it," Backes said. "The end goal has not changed. Our route there is just a little bit more up hill."

* Cole signs contract -- The Blues did announce on Monday the signing of 2007 first-round pick Ian Cole to an amateur tryout contract.

Cole, the 18th overall pick of the 2007 entry draft, will report to Peoria and play with the Rivermen the rest of the season and forego his senior season at Notre Dame.

Cole, 21, played three seasons with the Fighting Irish, where he played in 111 games and totaled 17 goals and 65 points.

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