Friday, October 26, 2018

Building from the back out will help solve Blues' woes

Focus to their identity, which is playing shutdown 
defense, key to figuring surprising early-season woes  

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- If Thursday's 7-4 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets was rock bottom for the Blues to what has been a disastrous start to the season, then there should be brighter times ahead.

That's part of the attitude players took after an intense practice Friday at St. Louis Mills on the heels of another blown game, blown points in the bank off a blown game in which the Blues (2-4-3) led 2-0, only to somehow be on the losing end of it at the end.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen said enough  of the talk. Team has to get it going
or "we're toast." 

Players are frustrated, coaches are frustrated, management is frustrated and fans certainly are frustrated to what amounts to be a wasted month of October and a start to a season filled with so much promise.

Talk is cheap anymore, and the Blues, who host the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday in the second game of a season-long seven-game homestand, know fans don't want to hear excuses of it anymore.

"I don't think it really needs to be said anymore, to be honest," said goalie Jake Allen, who was pulled Thursday after allowing four goals on 21 shots. "Everyone knows we have to get it going. If we don't, we're toast. But we just have to focus on ourselves."

The two wins through nine games is the fewest for the Blues since that ill-fated 2005-06 season, a year after the lockout in which they were 2-5-2 through nine games before finishing with the worst record in the NHL at 21-46-15. But that team was stripped of much of its talent, and this Blues team was loaded up in the offseason by general manager Doug Armstrong. So much so, that the Blues are at the top of the cap with no excuses available.

"I just think we need some urgency, some desperation right now," said forward Pat Maroon, one of four free agent signings by Armstrong in the offseason. "We know what we're capable of and we talk about it and we always talk about it with the media, but I think it's just time to go out there and do it. Just pretty desperate hockey. We can't worry about the outcome right now. We just have to worry about getting back to being ourselves and going out there and being a hungry team and being a desperate team. Obviously we have the skill set up front but giving up four goals, five goals a game is not going to win hockey games. I'd rather win a 1-0 game than a 5-4 game. We have to learn to play defense and help our goaltending out. We haven't given them the chance to be their best. As a collective group, everyone has to figure out their task and focus on the task at hand and I think we'll be OK."

To win that 1-0 game, the Blues have to build their game from the back out, a staple in their systems for years upon years that has brought them great success. 

But the Blues are tied with Los Angeles and Calgary for the most goals allowed in the Western Conference with 36 goals and only trail Philadelphia (40) and Detroit (39) in the league.

"Hopefully, this is the turning point that does it for us," said Blues coach Mike Yeo, who is on the hot seat in the early going with just the two wins in nine games. "It's going to be a tough challenge tomorrow. Just because we say, 'OK, let's go do it,' doesn't mean that it's just going to come together. There's a lack of confidence right now or trust or belief, but that's not going to just be given back to us. We've got to earn that back. The only way to do that is shift after shift, guy after guy goes out there, does their job and does things the right way. We're big boys now. It's time to get to work and man up to the situation and find a way."

Until the Blues figure out they're not the run-and-gun Edmonton team from the 1980's or the current version of the Pittsburgh Penguins or Toronto Maple Leafs, these kinds of results will become quite common.

"It's not about winning 5-4, 6-5," Maroon said. "It's about winning the 1-0, 2-0 games. We're not doing that now. We're giving up too many chances and it's not even chances that are coming from outside shots that are going in. It's tic-tac-toe plays that could be solved there. We're giving up too many Grade A opportunities that are costing us right now. It's one lapse after another lapse. I think if we fix that and nip that in the bud and be committed to playing good defense, I think everything's going to fall into place offensively. We just can't get too excited when we're down. If we're down tomorrow, we can't think we have to jump off and score a goal. We have to keep playing the way we're playing and find ways to be committed. It's a long year.. Now we just have to take it one game at a time. We can't focus on the outcome tomorrow. We have to focus on the task at hand."

Center Ryan O'Reilly agreed.

"You look around the league, you see all these high-scoring games and I think we all want to put up points and do good," O'Reilly said. "It doesn't matter. It sucks losing. We have to win and the identity that has been established before that we got away from is that hard to play against is that tough, every day mentality, and that's what we're going to get back to and I know we will. It's going to be tough, it's going to be hard, but I have faith that we're going to turn it around and get back that identity and defend well. It starts from our own end out because our goatending has been great. We're giving up these Grade A opportunities. If we're playing harder, every shift, every guy, they're not going to get as many of those.

"... We all had much higher expectations of ourselves. We got away from our identity and we have to build that back up. That's our focus right now. We've got all the tools in here. We see it when you look at our best games, we play Toronto and we defended well. We know what we can do. We know we can play and beat anyone. We have to establish our identity and we got away from it. We had a good practice today, we're focused, and we have a big challenge tomorrow."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues forward Pat Maroon (left) feels that the way for the Blues to get this
2-4-3 funk out of the way is to play with some urgency and desperation.

Allen, who is 2-2-3 with a 3.93 goals-against average and .876 save percentage in eight games, knows he's the start to building the game on out

"We're playing some good good players out there, but from myself on out, we've got to be better defensively," Allen said. "No question. It's harped on a lot. We've got to tighten up Every team's got to play well defensively. It's more than that. We've just got to pull our full game together now. There's not a whole lot to be said anymore, to be honest. I've tried to come up with words, but I think we all know deep down what we have to do individually, collectively, as a group, as an organization to take that step and we've got to figure it out soon here. It's tough going out there over the last seven or eight games in losing games the way we are. We're right there, we're not that far off. If we can pull it together, we'll turn this thing around."

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