Saturday, March 27, 2021

Blues not getting enough from their top-end players

Those paid to produce have seen the well run dry during latest 
2-5-0 slide, including a 4-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Friday

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues returned home Friday  to begin what amounts to two-third of the remainder of their season playing on home ice.

It's supposed to be the place that teams rely on as the upper hand against an opponent, especially one considered inferior and when you're supposed to be grabbing points and solidifying a playoff position.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues forward Mike Hoffman (68) moves the puck while being pursued by
Ducks defenseman Ben Hutton Friday at Enterprise Center.

But instead, what we got on was another concerning result, a 4-1 loss to the lowly Anaheim Ducks to drop the Blues to 0-5-1 in their past six home games and 4-8-3 on the season.

Yes, injuries have marred this team throughout the season, but that excuse and the window it sits in is closing, if not closed altogether.

Sure, some key pieces (Colton Parayko, Oskar Sundqvist, among others) are still out of the lineup, but Vladimir Taraseko has returned and been in 10 games now, Jaden Schwartz has returned, Robert Thomas is back in the lineup, Tyler Bozak, although he returned but sat out the past three before returning again Friday, is back in the fold. 

You get the point here?

All of the sudden, the Blues are just two points in front of Arizona, which won 5-2 against San Jose Friday, that's now nipping at their heels.

This is serious business, and a playoff position isn't guaranteed anymore, and when one thing goes wrong for the Blues (16-13-5), then tend to fix it before something else falls off the rails.

Lately, it's been putting the puck in the net.

In just their past seven games, the Blues are 2-5-0, so four of a possible 14 points. And they've scored 10 goals in those seven games, five came in one game. One was shorthanded, another was on the power play, one was an empty-netter and the only goal scored Friday came on a delayed penalty playing 6-on-5.

That's it.

And those goals have come from Sammy Blais, whose been a healthy scratch two of the past three games, Mike Hoffman, Bozak (shorthanded), Vince Dunn (two), Jordan Kyrou (two), Ryan O'Reilly (one on the power play and Friday's 6-on-5 goal) and a David Perron empty-netter.

The Blues have a lot of money on the ice paid to produce, and as the games are getting into crunch time, it's time for the team to get the bang for these players' buck.

"There’s only a couple guys putting it in the back of the net," center Brayden Schenn said. "I’ve gone dry. Got to do a better job personally and help our team produce. I’ve been put in a situation to succeed offensively, and I've got to get back to doing that.

"So I won’t talk about other guys, I’ll talk about myself."

This is who Schenn is, and anyone that questions which side of the jersey he plays for is sadly mistaken, but he makes a valid point. He's paid to produce and right now, the well has gone dry.​

It's hard to pick at Perron and O'Reilly, who have 33 and 34 points, respectively, on the season and are near a point per game, but they will get lumped in with the ineffectiveness of the past seven games in particular.

Of the Blues' top paid players, which includes Tarasenko and O'Reilly each with a $7.5 million cap hit, Schenn at $6.5 million, Schwartz at $5.35 million, Bozak at $5 million, Hoffman and Perron each at $4 million, Justin Faulk and Krug each at $6.5 million, that's $52.85 million in cap space that's produced 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in that stretch, and 10 of those points came in one game.

It's not as if they're not getting opportunities. Tarasenko, for example, put up six more shots on goal Friday after having seven on Thursday in a 2-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild, and Perron had nine shots and 15 attempts against the Wild, and another three shots on goal Friday.

"It’s not from the lack of trying, or a lack of effort," Schenn said. "When things aren’t going your way offensively, the shots are there but I don’t think we have enough high-quality shots or second chances, and getting guys and pucks to the net at the right time.

"It’s a pretty cliché’ answer of getting guys to the net but usually when that happens, good things do happen. You get a bounce here or two. At times we’re doing it definitely but probably not enough."

That seems to be the biggest problem, which has reared its ugly head these past two games. The netfront presence, and it's been an ongoing issue throughout the season.

First, the Blues made Cam Talbot look good on Thursday by pumping 37 shots at him but how many were really high-danger chances? They were credited with 10 in the game, but with 37 shots and only a goal expectancy of 2.65, one would think that number would be higher. And on Friday, threw 34 more shots on goal at Anaheim's John Gibson but had a goal expectancy of of just 2.36 with 11 high-danger chances according to

"I brought it up the other night, it's traffic. We need more traffic," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "We need to go to the net harder. You've got to make it more difficult on the goalie than we are right now. We're getting good quality, lots of quality, but it's two nights in a row where the goalie out-competed us. That's kind of how I look at it."

And should be looked at it that way, because either the Blues aren't taking the necessary steps to pay the price to score or the opponent simply puts a well-designed game plan together to box them out.

"Well, I think we have to earn our ice out there," Krug said. "It's no secret, a lot of the goals in this league are scored around the crease, and six inches around that crease goes a long way. We've just got to bear down and commit to scoring. You've got to go to the net with a purpose, and you know that it's going to hurt. It hurts to score goals in this league. It hurts to win. We need a little bit more.

"... You're not going to beat a goaltender clean in this league, so we don't have much traffic there. It's pretty clear the last two games. Yeah, we may have outplayed the other team in zone time and held onto the puck on the perimeter, but these goalies are making easy saves. It's not hard on them. We've got to make life more difficult on -- not only other teams' defense -- but their goalies as well. It's just too easy for them. The goalies are too good now."

Berube continues to hammer this message away, and yet it's not translating on the ice. What else can he do at this point?

"Keep telling them, show them," he said. "Put guys in that will go to the net."

Aha! Now we may have found something. 

When a player has his pride hurt and ice time taken away, most of the time it tends to strike a nerve, and in this case, it should.

"Bear down. You've got to have the will and want to be a game-changer and want to help the team," Krug said. "Like I said earlier, it hurts (to go to the hard areas). If you don't want to pay the price, then we're not going to win. You're going to be on the outside looking in, so we've got to bear down."
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz (17) has just two assists in five games since
returning to the lineup from an upper-body injury.

In this last stretch, Hoffman has one goal; Tarasenko -- no goals, two assists; Krug has two assists but has just one power-play goal in 34 games this season; Perron has no goals other than an empty-netter, Faulk has one assist, and Schwartz -- no goals, two assists.

There's got to be more from the players paid to provide it, but right now, they're gripping their sticks so tight.

"They're cliches because they're true. When you're feeling the pressure, you're not scoring goals," Krug said. "You grip the stick a little tighter. We've got to do our best to come out of this as a group. We can't put that pressure on any individual player. I know guys want to be that guy and step up and be the guy that changes the game for the team. But we've just got to do it together, come out of this thing together. That's the only way it's going to happen."

Even the late, great Bobby Plager, who was honored before the game after the Original Blue passed away Wednesday afternoon, would expect better -- and more.

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