Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Blues empty-handed so far in 2011

Team trying to snap 0-3-1 winless skid on
west coast swing, on pace for 92 points

ST. LOUIS -- When the Blues turned the page on the 2010 calendar year, it ended the kind of beginning the team had hoped for.

Staring right smack in the face of 2011, the Blues were on a five-game winning streak and right in a crowded pack of hopefuls fighting in a fierce Western Conference battle.

But as the Blues (20-15-6) begin a three-game western road swing tonight in Anaheim, 2011 still has an empty feeling to it.

The Blues are 0-for-2011.

They're 0-3-1 in the last four after Monday's 4-3 home loss to the Phoenix Coyotes, a game in which they led by a goal with 10 minutes remaining.

Coupled with losses to Dallas (4-2), Toronto (6-5 in a shootout) and the New York Rangers (2-1), coach Davis Payne may not see a common theme in the way they're losing, but what is common is: they're losing. Not just the games but ground in the standings as well.

"I don't see a common theme. I see differences in these games," Payne said after Monday's loss. "The Dallas game was not a very good hockey game for our club. The next couple (were) sporadic. ... Certainly the Toronto game. The New York game, if we had some plays towards the net, perhaps it's not a one-goal loss. Tonight's performance is a pretty solid performance that we'd take most nights. We had some pressure there and their goaltender held firm at times. They found a way."

The Blues are at the halfway point of the season and are on pace for 92 points, which would put them on the cusp of being one of the last teams to make it into the postseason dance but considering the fact they finished with 90 points a season ago and were five points away from eighth place, they'll have to pick up the pace here in the second half.

"They're all important from here on out," said forward Matt D'Agostini, who has six points in four games after a goal and an assist Monday. "If you look at our conference, it feels like you can't lose any. ... We'll be better and we know it. Every game is like a playoff game from here on out.

"... We've got to work right to the end. We've been on the bad side of a couple close ones lately, but hopefully things turn around quick."

The Blues are ahead of last season's pace (they were 17-18-6 for 40 points), and considering that they were going through the coaching change from Andy Murray to Payne a little over a year ago and laboring in the standings, this year's squad is in a better spot considering the injuries they've dealt with and still are dealing with at the forward positions (Andy McDonald and David Perron with concussions and T.J. Oshie with a broken ankle).

"We're aware of what's gone on here in the last little bit," defenseman Eric Brewer said. "We just have to keep it reigned in and limit what's not going on and improve on what is going very well for us. It's easy to get lost in the mix, but we're not going to get lost in the mix."

The Blues will look to avoid their third losing streak of five games tonight.

"I think we're a mentally strong enough group where we can put those losses behind us and focus on the next game," defenseman Erik Johnson said. "... The 'W' streaks are good. It's the losing ones you want to get rid of."

After today's 9 p.m. start in Anaheim, the Blues play at Los Angeles Thursday and San Jose Saturday. These are all teams directly ahead of them with games in hand.

"We're in the mix," Payne said. "We're one win away from feeling better about ourselves. We've put ourselves in a position to this point ... not in a (playoff) spot but within striking distance and we know how quickly things can change in this conference."

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