Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Coaching staff trying to fit pieces together of offseason upgrades

Blues' 1-2-2 start pointed in many directions, not everyone 
clicking as cohesive unit; team feels it will find its stride soon enough

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The buzz created by the offseason acquisitions by general manager Doug Armstrong was quite evident, and met with unanimous approval by Blues fans.

Acknowledging that the Blues needed to strengthen positions on the ice, Armstrong going out and making the Blues a stronger and deeper club on paper was the easier of the two.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Alex Pietrangelo (right), Chad Johnson and the Blues are off to a slow 1-2-2
start to the 2018-19 season.

Putting those players into action was the challenge, is the challenge and will continue to be until coach Mike Yeo and his staff find the right pieces to fit together.

Consider a puzzle of 500 pieces. One wants to put it together and see the picturesque finish but the start of that puzzle is a big, garbled mess.

Who plays with who, and what roles blend in to make lines and defensive combinations the right fit?

Through five games of a not-so-stellar start at 1-2-2, that's been the challenge for Yeo and his staff.

"When I look at sort of where we're at right now, that's probably the one thing as coaches that we have to figure out first here and get on top of is the right combinations and also with that, the right roles, and I don't know if we've necessarily had that yet where people kind of know exactly what their job is," Yeo said.

The Blues started the season with the following lines and d-pairs on the game night roster against Winnipeg:

Pat Maroon-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Jordan Kyrou

Alexander Steen-Tyler Bozak-David Perron

Ivan Barbashev-Robert Thomas-Sammy Blais

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Vince Dunn-Colton Parayko

Chris Butler-Jordan Schmaltz

Of course, injuries (Joel Edmundson, Robby Fabbri, notably) altered some of the components when the season started, but on Tuesday before departing for Montreal, the Blues looked like this:

Jordan Kyrou-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-David Perron

Alexander Steen-Tyler Bozak-Pat Maroon

Ivan Barbashev-Robert Thomas/Zach Sanford-Sammy Blais

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn-Jordan Schmaltz

Jakub Jerabek-Robert Bortuzzo

Nobody said it was going to be easy. Nobody said it would be seamless. In fact, Yeo said 

"I think if you want to retrace a lot of my comments from the start of training camp, we knew that we had a lot of new players and with that, a lot of new roles, a lot of new combinations, a lot of things to try and get to," Yeo said. "We were hoping that we would come flying out of the gate, but we also knew there was a possibility that we might not."

Goal scoring hasn't been the issue. The Blues have put in 16 goals, or 3.2 per game. But among the forwards that would be in the lineup against the Canadiens, only five of them have scored, and four of them have multiple goals. In fact, Tarasenko has scored in just one of five games (Oct. 6  against Chicago) and Schenn has his two goals against the Blackhawks on Oct. 13. 

"We have a lot more offense, everybody's kind of going out there with the same mindset right now," Yeo said. "We need guys that can score, but we also have to make sure that we have guys who are together and they're on the same page and they're trying to play the same type of game and understand what their role is and take pride in that role and do their job. I don't want to say it's been a challenge, but obviously it's been a bit of a factor in why we haven't gotten off to a great start here."

Defensively it's been an issue. A team that was sixth in goals against last season and missing the playoffs by just one point, the Blues have always been that staple of consistency when it comes to limiting opposing scoring chances and keeping pucks out of the net.

But they've allowed 20 goals in five games (four goals per game), they're near the bottom of the NHL in primary scoring chances against and tied for 28th in the league with 14 goals against in 5 on 5 situations.

"I think we've gotten better as the games have gone on," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "I still don't think we've pieced together a full game. We've got to get there. We can't afford to keep losing games, especially this early against divisional opponents too. This is a big trip for us to kind of get away and build this thing to play a better game.

"... I just think we've got to be consistent throughout our lineup. It starts with the 'D' and goes up to the forwards. We've got to know when each line goes on the ice that the other line's going to be doing the same thing than the line before."

Pietrangelo admitted Tuesday he has to be better. He is the minutes leader on the team and leader wearing the 'C' and knows the buck starts and stops with him.

"I need to do better," said Pietrangelo, who has no points and is a minus-5 through five games. "I'm the one that leads this group and we've won one game, so it starts with me. I know I need to be better. A good practice out there today. I think it's gotten better the last couple games, but it's still on me. I'm the leader of this group. When we're not winning hockey games, that starts with me.

"... Defense isn't just playing six guys. It's the whole group. We obviously need to defend better as a group of six, but the whole team needs to kind of find our stride in terms of playing in our end and getting up forward."

The Blues have a new defensive coach in Mike Van Ryn, who replaced Darryl Sydor. Getting acclimated with Van Ryn's style could take some adjusting, too, but the Blues are not the kind of team that gives up so many Grade A chances. Playing a different system where they're playing more man-to-man instead of playing as a unit of five clogging up the middle of the ice has not worked effectively thus far.

"It's adjustments for everybody, especially the new guys, but again, we had a pretty hard training camp, so it shouldn't be an excuse," Pietrangelo said. "We just kind of all need to get on board, do it for a full game.

"... We should be able to get past that. It's not really an excuse."

Yeo would like to find the right combinations and make them click right away, but that process continues to be a work in progress. Maybe a trip together can help begin to alleviate those challenges.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ryan O'Reilly (90) and the Blues haven't gotten off to the love affair start
Blues fans were looking for after all the offseason acquisitions.

"I guess what I'd say is if we're not making wholesale changes all the time, maybe we have a little better chance of something clicking and something developing there, so it's a fine line between being too stubborn and not switching anything at all and also not being too quick to switch where nothing has a chance to develop," Yeo said.

The Blues will get it together. They just don't want to have something linger while the rest of the pack, particularly those in the Central Division, begin to get a bigger head start.

But just because they added Ryan O'Reilly, Tyler Bozak, Pat Maroon and Chad Johnson and brought back David Perron didn't mean the Blues could just throw them on the ice and hoped it would click instantaneously. 

Asked if he's put pressure on himself being the leader of group trying to pull it together, Pietrangelo said, "There's a lot of veteran guys in here. I don't think anybody's really too worried about that."

1 comment:

  1. Again, so pleased that you’re out there providing such excellent Blues coverage for us fans. Thank you!