Friday, March 25, 2022

Blues fall to another inferior opponent, one veteran had enough following 5-2 loss to Flyers

Faulk calls out teammates, himself for lack of worth ethic, compete 
level, intensity; O'Reilly had chance to make similar remarks, didn't

ST. LOUIS -- Justin Faulk was not in the mood to mince words.

It's about time someone on the Blues called out this infuriating play against inferior teams.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
It was not a good night for defenseman Nick Leddy (4) and the Blues in the
defenseman's home debut of a 5-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.

It was on full display once again in a head-scratching 5-2 loss against the woeful Philadelphia Flyers at Enterprise Center on Thursday.

Yes, against the very same Flyers that cast off their captain and heart-and-soul player, Claude Giroux, of the past 15 years and one missing several regulars in their lineup, a team playing out the string with no chance at the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Sound familiar?

It should, because the Blues (35-19-9) have had similar results against teams with equal or worse ground as of late. They're 3-5-3 in March and lost to a team that hadn't tasted victory away from Wells Fargo Center this calendar year. In fact, the Flyers (21-32-10) had lost 13 straight away from home (0-12-1), with their last victory coming Dec. 29, 3-2 in overtime at Seattle. But they dusted the Blues aside Thursday like a cheap suit.

This, on the heels of a solid 5-2 win at Washington on the road. A chance to build off a solid outing against a solid opponent in their barn.

Yet it was another clunker for the Blues, and Faulk had enough of it.

"I think we just didn't play our game at all," Faulk said. "The work ethic wasn't there, the compete level and intensity wasn't there from a lot of guys -- I'm very much in that group (being a minus-3). Didn't have a good game by any means. But that's just not acceptable. We've kind of had that. It's been a little bit of a theme, starting slow and thinking we can score our way through in the seconds and thirds and finding ourselves back in games and then win. Sure, certainly at times that's going to happen. To think that that's going to continually happen and think you're going to be at the right side of things more times than not, it's not true. Every team in this league, whether it's the Flyers who are out of the playoffs or a Colorado, guys are going to play hard and make it tough on you and we got what we deserved tonight."

About that work ethic, compete level and intensity being a problem? 

"That’s all it is. One-hundred percent, because when we do it, we did it tonight at times, for a lot of the game, but we're down 2-0 again," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "You can’t just give teams a 2-0 lead. We're not starting a game that way."

With 20 games left in the season, a chance to start using these games to fine-tune one's game and a chance to push an opponent with nothing to play for this season out of the game early, the Blues once again laid a first-period egg.

They were outscored 2-0 and outshot 9-4 and looked disjointed all over the ice. From giving the puck away too easily in the offensive zone or not shooting when shot opportunities were presented, instead looking for the highlight-reel play or over-passing, Philadelphia, got to work. The Flyers, who were outscored 57-29 (allowing an average of 4.38 goals per game in their 13-game road skid), were given life and the Blues were playing catch-up because of a mindset of not worrying about falling behind. They'll just outscore the opponent and find a way, which is not the mindset to have this time of season.

"I don't know if it's arrogance or what it is," said Berube, who benched Jordan Kyrou and Ivan Barbashev for much of the third period. "But you don't compete in the game, you don't work you can get embarrassed like we did tonight.

"... At the start of the game, we didn't shoot, that's for sure. We had some real good opportunities early and just passed them up. And then, you know, what I saw was just a team that skated and outworked us in the first period, that's the easiest way to put it."

The Blues have 17 come-from-behind wins this season. That's good from the perspective of never giving up no matter the circumstances when trailing. And for a team that is fifth in the NHL at 3.52 goals-per-game, it's natural to feel confident even when down.

But that's when players can get into bad habits, thinking they can get away with things instead of making the correct, and what may seem like the boring play. Maybe instead trying to finagle their way out of loopholes, instead maybe they should work for them.

But therein lies the problem. The Blues have that run-and-gun mentality that may win a lot of late summer pond hockey games but ever the ones that count.

"Well, we're good at scoring goals," Faulk said. "There's no lack of confidence with that in our room and that's definitely not a bad thing. I think at times we take for granted that that's a possibility in our group. It's going to get tough and it is tough and we're seeing it more so now that games are tighter. As you get down the stretch and into the playoffs, they're way tighter than what they are right now. We just have to be prepared to be alright with a 0-0 game going into late some nights and winning 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, whatever it might be, those low-scoring games. We've got to be OK with that."

Right now, they're not, and that has to become a mindset, or the playoffs will be a short memory.

"It can be yeah, it's boring," Faulk said. "It is what it is. It's not a fun brand of hockey to play but it's winning, and winning's fun. We're not sitting here feeling like this a lot of nights when you do that. 

"Everyone likes to score and get points and what not, but we have to be committed to just playing a hard way of hockey, chipping pucks in, chipping pucks out, tough defensively, just being real stingy and not thinking that it's OK we can score a bunch of goals. But that's just an overall theme that we need to kind of clean up a little bit. That's definitely not ... tonight was a little bit different. We just didn't have anything really.

"We just didn't have a high enough commitment to playing a hard game, making things hard on them. We didn't have a shot for the first 10 minutes of the game. What did we have, two at the end of the first, it was low, four maybe. We made the game super easy on them. We have a chance to see who's committed to playing those games. They're not in the playoffs and it's an opportunity to kind of push them out and see if they really want to play a hard game because sometimes they don't. I've lived it, seen that plenty of times. You can push a team out that's not really playing for much, but we just let them get a jump on us and gave them some energy and we had nothing to slow them up really essentially."

Thursday was one of those rare occasions that a player stepped to the mic and offered harsh criticism of the Blues' play. Not naming names, which is something the Blues normally don't do, but calling out the team for its poor play, probably something long overdue showed Faulk's passion. And it came from a veteran, sure, but one without a letter.

Which is why the comments made by captain Ryan O'Reilly were somewhat disappointing.

O'Reilly isn't one to normally make brutally honest comments, particularly in a negative light, unless he's calling himself out. That's never been an issue when O'Reilly critique's his play. But if there was ever a time when the leader wearing that 'C' could have -- and should have -- been more vocal, more angry and voicing his displeasure with the team's recent shoddy play, it was Thursday.

Instead, O'Reilly chose the more diplomatic route, something that won't sit well with a fan base angry that the Blues aren't more angry.

He certainly does his job behind closed doors, but from a public perspective, the fans maybe want to see some more of that passionate energy.

"You can tell we're fighting it," O'Reilly said. "We didn't take care of the puck like we need to. It's a frustrating two points that we didn't get tonight. 

"We'll be alright, we'll keep working and get through it."

OK, that's great, you'll keep working and get through it. But when? Time is running out and the Blues went to bed being leapfrogged by the Minnesota Wild into second in the Central Division. Nashville lost, so they remain one point back of third place but don't look now, but the Dallas Stars are suddenly four points behind the Blues, and Vegas is five points back. 

And if it isn't feeling a little panicky around Blues headquarters knowing the rear view mirror is suddenly becoming crowded, it should. Perhaps that 11-6-3 record against the league's 10 worst teams would have provided a bigger cushion, but with the chance to grab two more obtainable points Thursday, the Blues allowed them to wither away, another example of playing down to their competition.

"It sure looks like it, right," Faulk said. "I could sit here and say it's not, but if that's our record against the bottom teams, I didn't know it until you said it. That sure shows it, right? You can argue it to a certain extent, but if this is the product we put on the ice, it sure looks like we play down to it, yeah."
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Ryan O'Reilly (left) and the Blues turned in another dud performance
against Travis Konecny and the Flyers Thursday at Enterprise Center.

"Arrogance. For sure, is part of it," Berube said.

The Blues coach benched a pair of forwards for much of the third period, making an example of Jordan Kyrou, who didn't see the ice for the final 14:27, finishing with 12:34 of ice time with two shot attempts, and Ivan Barbashev, who played a mere 7:53, didn't see the ice for the final 12:52.

But it's more than just those two. It's everyone. Veterans included.

"Yeah, for sure. But it's not just on the vets, it’s on everybody," Berube said. "It's on everybody. This time of year, we talk, we play well against good teams, like in Washington the other night, and then we come home and we're playing against the Philadelphia Flyers."
Somebody the Blues should be beating rather handily.

"We have to be better at (the commitment) for sure," O'Reilly said. "It wasn't there, to see that we needed tonight. It cost us. It took us way too long to get going. Two points that we desperately needed with how tight the west is. We're back to work tomorrow."

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