Saturday, April 10, 2021

Blues starting to build again, have to keep pedal to metal

Winning two games is good, team has to keep building in order 
to further themselves in playoff race by putting lengthy streak together

ST. LOUIS -- Let's be honest here, and the thoughts of what has happened the past two games for the Blues is a solid place to start, yet something that can't be the do-all-, end-all now that they've established some footing.

The Blues were able to follow up a nice win against the Vegas Golden Knights with a solid 9-1 drubbing of the Minnesota Wild on Friday at Enterprise Center and put themselves right back in the playoff hunt when it as slowly slipping out of their grips.
(St. Louis Blues photo)/Scott Rovak)
Jaden Schwartz, who scored twice Friday in a 9-1 rout of the Minnesota
Wild, and the Blues have won two straight but need to keep it going.

That's because the Arizona Coyotes, currently the holders of fourth in the division, have dropped two in a row and suddenly the Blues (18-16-6) are one point back with a game in hand (Saturday against this very same Wild team).

But defenseman Justin Faulk, who scored his first goal in 26 games and assisted on two others, is also a realist. 

The Blues should feel good about building something. One has to start somewhere in order to build a foundation, but as Faulk points out, it is just that: a start.

"We have to be realistic here. It's two games," Faulk said after the game. "We need to put this effort forward many more times here throughout the rest of the year. We're not in the position that we want to be in, so we're going to need this effort and need it consistently to put ourselves in a position come mid-May that we're happy about."

That's what it's all about, being in the tournament, or appropriately named the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And that's what the Blues have to focus on. 

It can only happen one game at a time, and now they have to follow up Friday's rather easy win with another win Saturday, and then another, and another.

It's the only way they'll re-establish themselves after sinking into this hole with a seven-game winless streak (0-6-1).

What got them to this point on Friday, though, is even when the losses mounted, the belief didn't.

"The belief in this room hadn't really wavered," Faulk said after a rather light night on the ice with 17:56 of ice time. "We're not in the spot we want to be in, but that doesn't mean that the belief in each other in the group is gone. Finding a way to get through it and winning a couple games is something we knew was possible and we could do."

It was a good feeling afterwards for a team that really needed this. There was definitely tension with each mounting loss for a team expected to be a playoff contender, and in a shortened season, this is the predicament the Blues are looking at now, and they know it.

"We realize the situation we're in," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "Going back a ways, I think we were playing some real good hockey. Obviously you have nights and games where the game -- you don't play as well. It's a tough schedule, a tough league. I thought we were playing good enough to win a lot of games and we weren't. We weren't getting any goal production in a lot of those games and they were pretty low scoring games. But our game was pretty good. 

"These last two games, the goals have gone in. We're getting production now. So it looks to me like our game is really coming around and we're starting to play pretty solid in all three zones and getting good goaltending. Hopefully that continues, that's the key. Like I said, there's a lot of pride and character in that room. You guys know that. These guys have gone through adversity before and came out on top."

The Blues are trying to rebuild their confidence, which is one of the toughest parts of this game, even on a veteran-laden group that's won a Stanley Cup. Or in Kyle Clifford's case, Cups.

But when you're playing well at times, and the results amount to losses regardless, it can wear on a group.

So in taking a pair of must-win games, the Blues have put themselves back in a position where they can start feeling good about themselves, and it's OK to feel good after feeling so lousy for so long.

"There’s a good feeling in the room right now," said captain Ryan O'Reilly, who scored his second NHL hat trick and added an assist, his second four-point game of the season. "It’s something you still have to hold onto a bit, but once you get home, the focus has to shift and know that when we have come in, it’s going to be a completely different game. I think it’s going to be very physical to start; they’re going to respond. So we have to start preparing for it right now. It should be a tough one tomorrow."​

The Blues also have to take into affect  that the league's trade deadline is Monday at 2 p.m. (CT). The three games leading into Monday would have painted a clear picture for general manager Doug Armstrong, who has always had the blessing from ownership to spend to the salary cap ceiling and find whatever it takes to make the Blues a contender.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Colton Parayko (55) gets defended by Wild forward
Kyle Rau during Friday's game at Enterprise Center.

Now that they have a couple wins under their belts, another win Saturday would certainly tell Armstrong that the Blues are in it to win, and that putting dents in what was dubbed a five-year window to compete for championships is not out of the realm of possibility, even though there are players with expiring contracts, like Schwartz.

"Yeah, it's obviously frustrating when you're losing games and just knowing the character we have on our team and how good we can be, especially when you're counted on a lot," Schwartz said. "When things aren't going you're way, it's pretty frustrating. Try not to think about the deadline too much, just try to focus on what I can control and that's coming to the rink every day and doing my part, and doing my job. So that's kind of what my focus is."

That's why the Blues have "got to keep building again. We’re right back at it tomorrow," O'Reilly said.

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