Thursday, March 18, 2021

"Soft" Blues need to figure out their defensive mess soon or it'll be a slow, painful finish to their season

4-1 loss to Kings Wednesday uncovered many of same mistakes, issues that 
have plagued them throughout the season, teams are taking advantage of it

It was part of a larger comment from coach Craig Berube, but three of those words -- powerful in nature -- were completely justifiable and painted a picture of what the Blues have become, even in light of the amount of injuries they have sustained this season.

"We were soft," Berube was part in saying after another dismal loss, 4-1, to the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday at Staples Center, the Blues' fifth in a row (0-2-3).
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Torey Krug, Ryan O'Reilly (middle) and Justin Faulk (72) are caught in a
five-game winless streak right now (0-2-3) after a loss Wednesday.

Is this really what the Blues are now, soft? Sure seems that way.

All anyone had to do was watch the first 15 minutes of that game Wednesday and see what's been a common theme, particularly inside their defensive blue line, and especially, in front of their net.

The Blues are getting bullied, they're getting punked, and the opposition is doing it with conviction.

They're doing to the Blues what the Blues used to do to them, and in the Honda West Division, where some of the larger heavyweights reside, that's a problem.

A major problem.

And the opponents know it.

They know the Blues don't have that fearless blue line that used to bully them around once upon a time. They don't have those large, ruffian-types that could pummel them into the ice upon entering their zone, and they know that when the Blues chip pucks into the opponents' zone and attempt to go to work, that relentless forecheck is non-existent.

Alex Pietrangelo is gone. Jay Bouwmeester is gone. Joel Edmundson is gone. Heck, even Colton Parayko, not of his wanting, is gone right now due to injury.

When special teams were an issue early in the season, the Blues glossed those areas over with solid 5-on-5 play, where they were a plus-8 (37-29) in the first 17 games. And now that the power-play has somewhat righted itself and the penalty kill is adequate, the 5-on-5 game is where the Blues have been steamrolled the past 12 games, where they're a minus-11 (18-29).

They're allowing an astounding 3.31 goals per game this season, the worst since allowing 3.46 per game in that awful, pitiful 2005-06 season after the lockout. 

And for a third straight game Wednesday, it was a poor start, one in which they repeatedly said after losses against Vegas last weekend that they needed to be better at. Heck, even their coach, Craig Berube, laid the bait for the motivation for players when he said they weren't pulling on the same rope.

So how does a team once again come out and fall flat on their faces? That's a hard one to answer, but it happened again when the Kings (12-10-6), now three points behind the fourth-place Blues (14-10-5), hit the Blues with two goals 52 seconds apart, then a third in the first period and before they knew it, the game was done.

"It was very slow," said Blues captain Ryan O'Reilly, one of the players who identified against Vegas that the starts needed to be better. "We just didn't start with the urgency we needed. Again, we just weren't quick enough, we weren't physical. In the d-zone, we weren't sharp to go and that's what killed us. We did some good things in the second and third, but our hole was too deep there. We beat ourselves."

Berube has identified the starts as a problem in past games, and this couldn't have been what he envisioned after what he called two solid practices in Los Angeles leading up to the game.

"No it wasn't," Berube said. "Just weren't on our toes there, they were quicker than us, wanted it more in the first period. That's the game.

"They were a lot quicker than us in the offensive zone. We didn't kill any plays. In front of our net, we were soft, letting guys beat us back to our net, just things like that. 

"... It is (puzzling) because I thought we had two good days of practice, a lot of good things and then we come out flat like that just not doing the job. Guys aren't doing their job, guys not competitive enough in certain situations. Just structurally not doing what they're supposed to do."

On the first goal by Drew Doughty, Oskar Sundqvist takes a poor offensive zone hooking penalty, and ultimately, the Kings cashed in on Doughty's slap shot from the high slot after the Kings were able to retrieve loose pucks and score.

"The PP goal, that shot should be blocked," Berube said.

The second and third goals were 5-on-5 goals created by L.A.'s fourth line ... it's fourth line against the Blues' top line and d-pair of Vince Dunn and Robert Bortuzzo, who were not sharp in front of their own net on the play that Carl Grundstrom swooped in and swiped past Jordan Binnington 52 seconds later. Heck, Dunn was out of position and Bortuzzo vacated the front of the crease allowing the Kings to swarm the net.

And on the third goal, it was a case of L.A. retrieving loose pucks again, getting a shot from the point and the puck eventually getting centered to Trevor Moore, who beat Justin Faulk to the net and the puck going in off his skate.

"The other two goals, just getting beat to our net," Berube said. "They were more hungrier around our net than we were."

This is Game No. 29, and when the coach is talking about the opposition being hungrier, that's a problem. 

These are things the Blues harped on the past couple days, that they worked on the defensive zone exits, being stronger on wall play, the kinds of things that haven't translated well to games.

Wednesday, it looked like it all went through one ear and out the other.

"We just have to do it in the game," O'Reilly said. "I think it starts with myself too. I kind of start slow and soft. I've got to find a way to forecheck better and be heavier. If I'm doing that, that can help lead the way and spark something too. I think it's a lot of self-evaluation for every single guy. We have to look at, 'how do we have jump? How do we start clear and fast and intense?' It's killing us right now. You can just see it as a group, we don't have that jump and that trust in our game right now.

"It obviously falls on every one. I think obviously on myself too, leaders of this group, we have to be doing it first and I think other guys follow. It's frustrating. You wat to go out there and do the right thing, but it's hard work and that's what we have to get back to. I, myself, have to get back to. I think take out all the noise and play and compete. We think if we can do that, myself do that, we'll get back to our game and things will start to go our way again."

This would have been the game where one thought the Blues would pull on the same rope, especially when the coach called them out on it after that 5-1 loss to Vegas last Saturday.

"Yeah, well, again, I'm surprised at our start," Berube said. "I didn't think the start was very good obviously. We're down 3-0 in the first period. It's a tough hole to climb out of. Second period was a lot better. In the third period, didn't generate enough offense for sure. But the whole game, we didn't generate enough offense. I bet you we had under 10 scoring chances in the hockey game, which isn't even close to being good enough."

There was a push. Of course there would be, and why wouldn't there be down 3-0? Mike Hoffman scored late in the second to make it a 3-1 game that culminated with a period where the Blues got some semblance of a game back. 

"I think it did (generate momentum) for sure," Berube said. "I think our second period was a lot better than our first period for sure, but second period's how we wanted to play the game against the Kings tonight and I thought we did a good job in the second period, but overall, it's not close to being good enough."

That's the second time Berube said it's not close to being good enough, and the players need to convey that message to themselves, and fast.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jordan Kyrou (25) and the Blues are mired in a rut right now after falling
4-1 to Los Angeles on Wednesday, dropping to 0-2-3 the past five.

"It's on us," Hoffman said. "We've got to be ready to go every night. Every night is a challenge. Every team in our division is good. If you're not ready to play right away, you're not going to win the game.

"... Us as players, no one's going out there to make a mistake or do the wrong thing. Guys are trying to go out there and do the right thing. We've just got to stick with it and stay with each other. We can't be turning on each other and getting negative, otherwise it can go south real quick. This group's good enough that we can work our way out of this, but we've got to stay positive and keep working."

The Blues got Tyler Bozak back into the lineup, which is a good start for getting injured players back, and Jaden Schwartz is expected to return Friday in San Jose, but unless they get these defensive zone issues together quickly, it's not going to matter who returns and who doesn't.

"We know how good we can be," O'Reilly said. "It's a little rut right now, but this happens. It's an opportunity for us to climb and make our push, and I'm confident that we will."

No comments:

Post a Comment