Sunday, April 4, 2021

For Blues, their top end players need to produce much more than they are

Many of St. Louis' top players not holding up their end on 
offensive side as skid reaches six games with 2-1 loss to Avalanche

ST. LOUIS -- Saturday seemed to be the narrative for the Blues here recently, playing well in spurts, doing the right things, game in the balance, but in the end, nothing to show for it.

Moral victories seem to be aplenty for this hockey club. Unfortunately, moral victories don't amount to squat in the standings, and time is of the essence for the Blues as the home stretch hits.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ryan O'Reilly is one of a few who has been able to score foe the Blues
during their rough stretch since March. 

But this 2-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday at Ball Arena was the ultimate gut punch.

And if the Blues (16-15-6) somehow miss out on the playoffs for not at least getting a sure point, if not two, on a night in which they really did a lot of the right things except -- cue up the drumroll -- score goals, they're going to look back on a number of games slipped through their hands, but this one will be right at the top.

All but assured of at least one point, of all people to make a gaffe with the puck (Ryan O'Reilly), his mistake led to Cale Makar's seeing-eye shot through a maze of bodies, perhaps pinballing off one or two of them, and somehow slipping past Ville Husso with 41 seconds left in regulation left the Blues gutted with their sixth straight loss (0-5-1) and on the outside looking in the race for the top four in the division, something seemingly inconceivable surely at the start of the season, and even going back a month, seemed unlikely for the Blues to be in this position.

But here they are, and O'Reilly, who lays a lot of blame at his feet for when things go wrong, was on the wrong end of trying to play a puck off the wall and out of the zone, but Makar was standing right there at the point, intercepted it, and in quick order fired it towards the goal and the puck had eyes.

Game. Set. Match.

"I think it was just panic," O'Reilly said. "I think I didn't just trust myself to hold on and make a strong play. I just throw it away. You could see it's not a good play. I obviously could count the numbers and know someone's not there. It was just really, really stupid, which (I) can't afford to do. That just cost us one, maybe two points we're in desperate need of. I wish I could have it back. Got to be a lot better going forward.

"We talk about not turning pucks over, making plays in the d-zone. I come back there and make a terrible play, don't block a shot and it's in the back of the net and we don't even get a point. I've got to take a lot of responsibility for this one. It's kind of pathetic, my game tonight. We're not going to beat that team if I'm not at my best and (I) turned the puck over way too much. I thought a lot of guys did good things. I've got to eat this one here. It's terrible by me."
It's unfortunate O'Reilly felt as if though he had to be the sacrificial lamb, but this is what the Blues have become, so afraid to make a mistake that if they do, it may cost them a game.

And lately, that seems to be the case.

Look at the Friday's 3-2 loss to the Avalanche, who by the way are on a 12-0-2 tear the past 14 games. Two defensive zone coverage mistakes led to power-play goals, and a bad goal allowed by goalie Jordan Binnington were magnified because of the real issue at hand, and that's this team's inability to pot pucks.

Let's call it what it is. This team's lost its mojo, it's lost its will, and more importantly, it's lost its ability to put the puck in the net. For a cap team that has several players making top-end dollars, the amount of -- or lack thereof -- goals being scored is simply not good enough.
You can beat a dead horse here and keep circling back to the injuries, and yes, the amount has been plenty, but the majority of those players aside from a few key ones (Colton Parayko and Oskar Sundqvist) are back playing and have been, and for the well to be running dry like this for a cap-ceiling team is simply unacceptable.

"Puck's have got to go in the net and it's frustrating right now getting these opportunities and you can just tell we're not confident in our shooting now," O'Reilly said recently. "... I think we're all frustrated right now."

O'Reilly and Perron seem to be the only guys putting the puck in the net lately, or are involved in the offense in one way, shape or form.

Perron has eight points (two goals, six assists) the past seven games, and O'Reilly, who scored the lone goal Saturday to tie it 1-1 late in the first period, has seven points (four goals, three assists) the past seven games.

You expect that from your top end guys, but let's take a look at some of the ones not pulling the weight offensively. 

Brayden Schenn has no goals the past 11 games and has just three assists in that stretch and is a minus-8; Jordan Kyrou had two goals (both in the same game against San Jose the past 15 games, has three assists also in that stretch and is a minus-4; Mike Hoffman, a healthy scratch last Sunday against Anaheim, has three goals the past 19 games but in his defense, hasn't been put in a top six role consistently enough to bring forth his best attributes; Jaden Schwartz, who missed five weeks of action with an oblique issue, has no goals and two assists since he returned to the lineup and no goals in his past 15 games overall; Vladimir Tarasenko has scored just twice in 13 games and is a minus-8 since he returned from a separated left shoulder that required a third surgery; Robert Thomas has no points in six games since he returned from a broken left thumb and one goal in 18 games this season; Tyler Bozak, who has missed 23 games with a variety of upper-body injuries, has just one goal in 13 games this season; and defenseman Justin Faulk has no goals in 23 games and Torey Krug has just one in 37 games this season.

These are some high-end players making a lot of money (Thomas is still on his entry-level deal) that aren't producing.

"There’s only a couple guys putting it in the back of the net," Schenn said recently. "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.

"It’s not from the lack of trying, or a lack of effort. 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."

Coach Craig Berube has tried several different line combinations to gain some sort of spark but to no avail. And with the schedule getting harder and harder, the goals seem to be harder and harder to come by.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Torey Krug (47) has just one goal in 37 games this

The Blues have scored seven goals, or 1.67 per game, the past six games and have failed to score more than two per game in 10 of the past 12.

On Saturday, they wasted a solid performance by backup Ville Husso, who stopped 32 of 34 shots and did more than enough to help the Blues win a hockey game even though he owned up to Nathan MacKinnon's goal to open the game in the first. 

"It definitely does become mental," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "We look at these games going back to the Minny game and playing good hockey, solid hockey and we're coming out on the losing end, not getting enough pucks in the net in my opinion. We've got to find a way to get more pucks in the net, but on the other side of things, when you keep playing the way you're playing, you're doing a lot of good things, things will turn. You've got to stay mentally strong, and we've got to find way to get more pucks in the net."

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