Tuesday, April 13, 2021

With Blues staying pat, it's up to players to finish job

Armstrong leaves roster in tact, believing team can get to playoffs; 
currently holds one-point lead on Arizona with 15 games remaining

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- Doug Armstrong can laugh about it now.

Sure, a three-game winning streak can soften the feelings of what was reverberating a week or two ago, but it was getting to the point where the Blues general manager's patience was being tested.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Colton Parayko (55) said he feels it's up to the Blues not to finish the job
after GM Doug Armstrong chose not to make any deadline moves.

"Yeah," Armstrong said laughing. "I don't want to say 'Test your patience.' You want so much for the players to experience playoff hockey. You want so much for them to maximize the most in their careers. I don't want to say that I was any more frustrated than the coaches were, or any more frustrated than the players were. It was a collective frustration, but also a collective understanding that nobody really cares if you're frustrated or not. If you start to feel sorry for yourself or, God forbid, you're willing to say 'We'll get them next year.' If I had felt that was the indication, then there would have been a lot of player movement because our jobs are to fight to the bitter end until they tell us to stop fighting."

And with that thought in mind, Armstrong turned the page on another trade deadline without altering the roster, just as he did two years ago aside from adding a depth defenseman in Michael Del Zotto. 

Look how that turned out.

Not to say the Blues are well on their way to another repeat of 2019, that remains to be seen, and they have to make the playoffs first, but it's a vote of confidence to the coaching staff and to the players that management believes in the team to get to the finish line and then take their chances.

Of course there are other extenuating circumstances, like ramifications of what happens with the Seattle Kraken expansion draft this summer; the flat salary cap that has been and will hold in place at $81.5 million for the foreseeable future, and just not a lot of rentals available that could fit the price tag for what the Blues were perhaps looking for in a COVID-19 world.

Nonetheless, staying pat helped ease a lot of tension inside the locker room.

"For sure. Our group, we have a great group. There's no doubt," defenseman Colton Parayko said. "We're a group that's in there and we're determined to win. We know we have a very good team. It's definitely on us to make sure we show up each and every night to get the results that we want. Obviously you don't always get the results, even when you have your best game, but it's on us to at least to get out there and put our best foot forward, have our best effort every night to give ourselves a chance to win. We definitely believe in ourselves in there and we know we have a very good team. it's going to be exciting the last 15 games. Obviously a lot of good opponents, which is going to be good. It's good. It's going to be a good challenge for us going into playoffs and get ready for playoffs. We're ready to take that head-on and get ready for playoffs."

The Blues (19-16-6), who host the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday for the first time at home, are starting to see the pieces fit with the injured players returning to the ice and making an impact the more ice time they get.

So instead of making a knee-jerk reaction to what was happening during an 0-6-1 skid, which would have been justifiable had it extended beyond that, Armstrong saw what the coaching staff was seeing, and that was points of emphasis trending in the right direction, which makes it easy for coach Craig Berube to believe in the group as its currently constructed.

"I do," Berube said. "I think we've been playing some good hockey here for a while. I think the scoring's coming. We've got to continue to push scoring goals and finding ways to score goals, power play part of it, but I feel like some of our guys that were out a long time are starting to come around and find a groove."
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Ryan O'Reilly (right) and the Blues hold a one-point edge on the Arizona
Coyotes for fourth place in the West Division with 15 games left.

The Blues hold a one-point advantage on the Arizona Coyotes for the fourth and final spot among teams from the West Division with two games in hand. They play Colorado four times, Vegas twice and Minnesota five times among their remaining 15 games left, teams ahead of them in the standings. So the test will be stern, but what better way to be tested than playing some of the best should they get in with a group that's been in place all season?

"I think (Armstrong's) done a good job of putting the pieces in front of us," goalie Jordan Binnington said. "It's good. We're really coming together in the locker room and it's been a long season. We've had a lot of adversity. It's about staying composed and really playing hard for each other and playing together. Hopefully we can do that in the final stretch here."

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