Saturday, May 22, 2021

Blues down 3-0 in series to Avalanche mainly due to silence of top scorers

O'Reilly, Schenn, Tarasenko, Schwartz not bringing the offense against 
Colorado; Blues have only five goals in series due to anemic offense 

ST. LOUIS -- Well, no sense in trying to sugar coat this one, so let's cut right to the chase.

The Blues fell behind 3-0 in their best-of-7 first round series against the Colorado Avalanche after another multi-goal loss, this time, 5-1 on home ice in front of 9,000 fans at Enterprise 
Center on Friday for a variety of reasons.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Brayden Schenn (10) has one goal in three games against the Colorado
Avalanche, a series the Avs lead 3-0.

Sure, the Avalanche, this season's Presidents' Trophy winners, got some fortuitous bounces, and an egregious mistake from goalie Jordan Binnington that gift-wrapped the first goal, but good teams find ways to create breaks, and the Avalanche certainly have been doing that and have been opportunistic in doing so.

But again, lets cut to the chase here and dissect why the Blues, who are on the verge of elimination with Game 4 looming at home Sunday at 4 p.m., are in the predicament they're in.

Is this a wounded animal regarding injuries, something they've dealt with all season? Yes. Are they simply not as good as the speedy and talented Avalanche? Well, the numbers speak for themselves. Did goalie Jordan Binnington have his first subpar game of this series after two sound performances, especially in Game 1, in Denver? There's an argument for that, but plain and simple: the Blues have scored five goals in this series, three of them at even strength, one on the power play and one shorthanded. 

When looking at Colorado's top scorers in this series, the names MacKinnon, Landeskog and Rantanen are at the top of the list with 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) and a plus-13.

Tyler Bozak is the Blues' leading scorer in this series with one goal (shorthanded on Friday) and one assist.

That's it? That's your team's top scorer?

And no disrespect to Bozak, but it's one of your oldest players playing mostly a third-line role.
The rest of the scoring has come from Jordan Kyrou, who was a third-line winger in Game 1, Sammy Blais, a fourth-line winger, Brayden Schenn (a power-play goal) and Mike Hoffman, also playing a third-line role.

Where are the top guns? Where is Ryan O'Reilly, who proclaimed before the series started that, "We're going to have some fun and we're going to beat them." Where is Vladimir Tarasenko? Where is Jaden Schwartz? And truthfully, where is Schenn with the offense? 
These are the Blues' highest-paid forwards, who collectively counted for $26.85 million against the cap this past season and made $23.5 million in salaries. 

Here are their combined numbers in this series thus far: one goal, one assist, 21 shots and a minus-24.


Those are horrific numbers even in a small sample size. 

And it all came to a bit of a boil after the loss Friday.

"I liked the game in general. I thought we competed really hard," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "I thought we had a ton of looks and offensive zone time. Got to score more."

Got to score more. If that isn't an understatement.

And if you want to add in the Blues' top-paid defensemen with Justin Faulk, Torey Krug and Colton Parayko, that's another $18.5 million in cap hits and $16.35 million in salaries that three assists and a minus-9 in this series.

Let's begin with O'Reilly, who makes it hard to tear down based in his superior work ethic on both sides of the puck, but let's face it, a $7.5 million player is expected to produce both offensively and defensive, and sure, he's spent much of this series chasing Nathan MacKinnon's tail around, but he has an assist (on Bozak's shorthanded tally Friday) with seven shots on goal and a minus-6 in this series.

The captain is never at a loss for words when it comes to critiquing his game, but it's justifiable in this case. They're simply not there after a terrific regular-season with 54 points (24 goals, 30 assists) and a team-high plus-26.

"I'm just speaking for myself, gosh I know I can be a lot better," O'Reilly said. "I have to find a way to put the puck in the net. I had plenty of opportunities tonight, still didn't make enough happen. I wish I had the answer and could adjust it, but it's over now and we've got to get ready for the next game. Got to make a difference. It's on us, the guys seeing the big ice, the big minutes. We have to find a way to produce and spark the rest of the group. There's nothing I can do right now. I've got to prepare for the next game and give it everything we have."

Schenn is another one that works his tail off, is physical, tries to set the tone for his teammates and is another 200-foot skater willing to play both sides of the puck. But coming off a season in which he made $8 million and is a $6.5 million cap hit in the first year of an eight-year, $52 million contract, he has a power-play goal on four shots and is a minus-6 in this series.

Tarasenko, along with O'Reilly as the highest-paid forwards at $7.5 million cap hit and $5.5 million in salary, simply doesn't look like himself, whether it's the shoulder surgeries that have plagued him for the past two years, or the recent lower-body injury that's nagging him throughout this series, the Blues' goal leader for five straight seasons prior to getting hurt last year rarely is noticeable on the ice these days. He is without a point with just three shots in three games and a team-worst minus-7.

And Jaden Schwartz, who has been defended in this space since the Blues drafted him in with the 14th pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, also has no points on seven shots and is a minus-5 in the series. His work ethic has always been a plus in these spaces and doesn't go unnoticed, but even his work on both sides of the puck hasn't been noticed. Schwartz could be dealing with some sort of nagging injury being a maintenance day Friday and taking just a quick morning skate Wednesday in Denver, but the results speak for themselves.

"The bottom line is, our top guys are guys that we rely on, they've got to produce," Berube said. "We've got to find a way to score more goals."

Faulk was injured badly after taking a vicious blindside hit from Colorado's Nazem Kadri, who was suspended eight games Friday by the Department of Player Safety, in the third period of Game 2, so he gets a bit of a free pass even though he no points and is a minus-1 in two games with five shots. Krug does have two assists but is a minus-4 on eight shots in three games, and Parayko has one assist and is a minus-4 in three games with seven shots.

Boy, do the Blues miss David Perron and his 58 points (19 goals, 39 assists) from the regular season, but poor Perron is stuck in COVID-19 protocol and sits idly and helpless until he's able to come off. By the time he can, it may be too late. That's why it was imperative that the Blues' top scorers make a difference in this series.

"I think they are creating," Berube said. "There's some good looks out there. It's not going in right now. If I had an answer of why, I would have fixed it already."
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Colton Parayko (55) and the Blues have been bottled up by Brandon Saad
(20) and the Colorado Avalanche in their first-round playoff series.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but something that had to be addressed.

And even though they're normally getting bottom nine minutes but playing on the first- and second-unit power-plays, respectively, Mike Hoffman and Kyrou each have a goal in this series when they combined for 31 (Hoffman, 17; Kyrou, 14) in the regular season and lead the Blues in shots on goal this series (Hoffman, 10; Kyrou, nine). Robert Thomas has two assists and no goals.

"The bottom line is, our top guys are guys that we rely on, they've got to produce," Berube said. "We've got to find a way to score more goals."

Better find it fast, or Sunday will be the knockout punch for the Avalanche.

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