Sunday, March 14, 2021

After another home ice loss, Blues better figure out how to win here -- and fast

Team falls to 4-7-3 at Enterprise Center, having taken only 11 of 28 points


Commentary by LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- There was once a time while watching a practice from up in the stands, one former Blues coach would occasionally not take the ice with the team and instead, sit in the stands with members of the media.

It happened quite often, and discussions would ensue. They'd lead to a number of topics, mostly regarding the game itself.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues Vladimir Tarasenko (middle) and Brayden Schenn (10) were stifled
on home ice again by Marc-Andre Fleury (29) and Vegas on Saturday.

I can remember one topic in particular, and believe me, there were many with this individual that stuck out and will stay with me forever, that stood out among the most.

"If they're not pissing in their jocks, they're not scared," this coach told me off the record at the time as we were watching a practice from the seats.

Yes, this very coach made it known that "if you want to show the intimidation of your building, the opponent should feel like they're down a goal even before they step off the bus."

That same coach, in his first season with the Blues, guided them to a 30-6-5 at then-Scottrade Center, and the Blues were one of the more dominant teams on home ice under his era, good for 85.3 percent efficiency in gaining at least a point, or taking 65 of a possible 82 points.

Heck, go back to the Joel Quenneville days when the Blues were 24-9-7-1 in 1999-2000 and followed that up by going 28-5-5-3. That's dominance. That's establishing your turf, or in this case, your ice.

Even last season under current coach Craig Berube, the Blues were 23-7-5, and it helped vault them to the top of the Western Conference standings because of it.

It's hard to maintain that kind of dominance year in and year out, but to be a viable playoff team, home has to be the safety net. Home has to be where teams play well, and get well when needed.

This version of the Blues, in the COVID-19 world with limited fans in the stands, home is not where the heart is, and that was evidenced again with a 5-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday that dropped them to a paltry 4-7-3 at what has become a visitor-friendly Enterprise Center.

And I don't mean visitor as in fan-friendly. Maybe it is, but it certainly is friendly for the opponent.

Vegas came in here and established itself, punched the Blues in the mouth and knocked them down a peg, or five, in their building.

Injuries or not, the Blues should be able to find comfort in their own home, and at the midway point of this 56-game season, they've taken 11 of a possible 28 points, or 39.3 percent effectiveness. And they've been outscored 48-37, or allowing an average of 3.4 goals per game as opposed to scoring 2.6.

Not good. Not acceptable. And they know it.

They better address it soon, or in this case, after they return from another marathon six-game road trip, because if they don't, they can kiss the postseason goodbye.

"It's got to be a lot better," Berube said. "I look back, we have four games that went into overtime that we lost, two in OT and two in shootouts. That changes a lot right there if we win those games. We don't score at home very often. We did last game. We scored enough goals to win (four), but a lot of games, we score one tonight. There's games where we scored only one against San Jose, I believe, at home. We've got to be able to produce at home. We had a 5-on-3 tonight, we don't score. We had good looks though, I'll give them that, but we've got to find a way to execute here at home and score goals on a consistent basis."

The Blues have lost five in a row at home (0-4-1), but to put it in perspective, they haven't won a home game in regulation since beating Arizona 4-3 on Feb. 2, or 39 days ago. They're 1-6-2 since then, and that one win is an overtime win over San Jose.

The Blues have one win thus far in which they've won on home ice by multiple goals (4-2 over Los Angeles on Jan. 23). It's been that kind of a bumpy ride.

They're 10-2-2 away from home, which is great, but the foundation of one's season is having a solid home record, and at this rate, the Blues are on pace to finish below .500 at home for the first time since going 18-19-4 here in 2006-07. They've finished under .500 just six times in the team's history, and a seventh isn't out of the question if this continues at this rate.

Players talk about playing a tighter road game and being more compact, so why is that so hard to translate to the home ice?

"I wish I knew. It’s a little frustrating for all of us," captain Ryan O'Reilly said. "We want to come here and make this building a very difficult place to play and we just don’t seem to right now. We’re confident we will. We just have to pay attention to details more and stick together when things aren’t going well, but it’s definitely an issue that we’re going to address."

Sure, a full house would help, and the Blues have thrived off their fans for years, but in this COVID world, the Blues should be used to limited or no fans in the building.

"Fans, that doesn’t mean (anything)," center Brayden Schenn said. "I don’t know what it is. We got to California and there’s no fans and we win. And here we have fans and we’re not (winning).

"Fans aren’t the issue, it’s us. ... We just have to get back to it at home, playing more simple, playing together, relying on our structure, the details of the game to win us hockey games. And not try and overcomplicated things like we’re doing at home so far."

"At times maybe we play a little bit loose," Berube said. "Defensively we could be better. For some reason, it seems like we miss the emotion or the intensity level at home where on the road, we haven't."

There's a reason for that.

"We need guys to do the job when they're on the ice and right now, we don't have everybody doing the job and when you don't have guys doing their job, you get scored on," Berube said. "It doesn't matter who it is. It's just we don't have enough guys that are pulling on the same rope here and we need that, especially with the injuries we have, we need everybody in the lineup to do the right things and pull on the same rope and right now, we don't."

How does that happen?

"We get other guys back that are injured that are going to play," Berube said.

"We've got to get back to what we just did on the road," Schenn said. "I feel at home, for whatever reason, we’re not playing the same game. We’re not as structured. We’re not as detailed. And it’s leading to maybe exposing teammates at different times. 

"Mistakes are going to happen, and usually what we’re really good at is covering up for our teammate around here. And so far at home we just haven’t been able to do that."
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Ryan O'Reilly (90) and the Blues fell to 4-7-3 at Enterprise Center after
another home ice loss Saturday to the Vegas Golden Knights.

And it's making this a place where the visitors want to come, and that's not a recipe for success.

Ask Vegas.

"Do your job. There's a certain way we play and you have to play good defense, you have to do things, you've got to be strong on the walls," Berube said. 'We were weak on walls with some guys who were weak on walls. It turned pucks over and they get two goals that way tonight, two goals. It's a one-goal game, soft on the walls and it gets jacked in our net. It's unacceptable."

As is the home record.

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