0-3-1 funk has left Blues continued effort to search for answers;
finding a simple game is way out of playing "cute" hockey
By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- If it wasn't evident before, it sure as heck should be now.
ST. LOUIS -- If it wasn't evident before, it sure as heck should be now.
After another dismal loss, this time on home ice, 4-1 to the Brady Tkachuk-led Ottawa Senators that dropped the Blues' record against non-playoff teams to a not-so-great 16-9-4, the Blues (32-17-7) seem to want to break this mini funk the hard way.
|(St. Louis Blues photo)|
Blues forward Brayden Schenn (10) looks to make a play by the defending
Senators forward Colin White Tuesday at Enterprise Center.
The way they're obviously going about it isn't working. In the famous words of former coach Ken Hitchcock, the "dingle-dangle" way of playing isn't the way to go about it.
The Blues, 0-3-1 their past four games, tying a season-high for most consecutive losses (also 0-3-1; Nov. 11-16), think they can just hope-finesse their way to wins.
Instead of playing as coach Craig Berube identified after the morning skate Tuesday by being more direct and playing a simpler style, the Blues as a group, find it more entertaining to try the hope plays, making blind passes in their own zone, skate with the puck between their legs and try to beat opponents 1-on-3, play east-west instead of north-south, not be sharper or crisper with their puck possession.
Nobody is expecting perfection. It's impossible at the ultra-fast rate NHL games are played at these days. But the decision-making by a group that's better than it's showing these days is mind-boggling to not only a coaching staff but a fan base that's all of the sudden growing increasingly frustrating.
"It's not always pretty, right? Sometimes you get in these funks where you just need to kind of put your nose to the grindstone and just work," defenseman Justin Faulk said. "I think there's no lack of talent, that's for sure, in that room in making plays and executing as a group but you kind of get into these funks once in a while and we’ve got to be able to see it through on the other side of that.
"Sometimes it is tough, you don't execute and you got to kind of cut your losses there and just go to a game that's pretty simple and sometimes just build a greasy one to kind of get ourselves out of it. And I think that's kind of where we're where we're headed here, we had definitely a better effort tonight than we did previous two games I think. But not comfortable with it by any means but it happens once in a while and we just need to find a way out of it by working hard."
A team that's trying to establish itself as a playoff team, someone that considers itself a contender, isn't doing itself any favors these days, and this recent funk has come against -- aside from the New York Rangers -- non-contending teams, or teams well out of the playoff race.
"You just said it, we're in a funk, we hit adversity," forward Brayden Schenn said. "Usually at some point through 82 games, most teams hit it and right now it's obviously us. Is the timing ideal on it? Probably not. But I think it's going to make us better in the long run and it's not going to be smooth sailing for all 82 and like you said, we're going to find a way to put our nose down, keep on working and grind through it. It's never easy coming out of things like this, but it just takes one game to get you going again and move forward to the next one."
Tuesday was actually looking promising in the first period. Slow starts have been an issue for the Blues going back a ways, but Tuesday, that wasn't the case. They outshot the Senators 10-5 and were tied 1-1 but the Blues could have exited the period with a lead with some strong zone time, but another issue, inexplicably refusing to shoot pucks when presented, was on display in the first 20.
"There's probably times. We'll look at the tape," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "I'm sure there's a few plays. There always is where we probably could have shot more. We probably could have shot it instead of looking for the pretty play."
There are those words again ... pretty play.
There's no secret that the Blues have the skill and players that can make those pretty plays. When they execute them, it looks world class. But there's a time and place for those kinds of plays, and when you're trying to fine-tune your game and work your way out of a funk, the Blues are better suited to get back to the meat and potatoes of the game.
Nobody likes playing that style. It may seem boring, but when this team puts on the work boots and grinds the opposition down, they can be suffocating.
Right now, the Blues are infuriating more than anything.
"I thought it was better tonight, but I agree with that, simplifying in certain situations where we don't turn it over," Berube said. "... It's showing video and talking to guys, trying to get them to play a simpler game right now because things aren't going very well. We're not executing out there. You don't have your 'A' game, you're not right on top of your game right now, which we're not, it's important that you don't give the other team freebies."
And the Blues gave up at least two, if not, three "freebies" on Tuesday against a team that had lost five in a row and was outscored 20-9.
On Tim Stutzle's goal at 11:35 of the first that made it 1-0, David Perron made one of those hope plays, an ill-advised backhand pass along the defensive zone boards through the middle of the ice that hometown's Brady Tkachuk picked off before Perron tripped him up, earning the Senators a power play, which Stutzle scored on.
"The first penalty, there's no reason to make that play," Berube said. "You've got a play where you can just make a simple play."
We keep coming back to that word: simple.
The second goal was another power-play goal, by Josh Norris 1:24 into the second after Perron did tie it up in the first at 14:43 when linemate Ryan O'Reilly worked his tail off to hunt a puck down, win it and feed Perron in the slot, but Norris scored on a one-timer that squirted through Jordan Binnington from the right circle.
Maybe you say that's one the goalie would like to squeeze, but in the third, another one of those hope plays turned into a goal against.
Ivan Barbashev this time, in a similar position as Perron on the ice, along the right side boards, instead of just simply chipping a puck safely out of the zone, keeping it out of harm's way, inexplicably went to the backhand, through the middle of the ice, gets it picked off by Norris, he feeds Tkachuk in the left circle and Tkachuk makes no mistake, 3-1 at 7:48.
"We give up the third goal there, same thing," Berube said. "We can't make that play. Turn it over, it's in our net."
Not exactly a good recipe for a team that suddenly has produced four goals in its past 10 periods of hockey dating to the third against the Rangers, who by the way are coming to town Thursday, last Wednesday.
The offense will get itself together once the players instinctively funnel pucks to the net and of course, get traffic, which has become more so than not, non-existent again. Oh, and not over-thinking by making more passes than necessary waiting for the perfect shot opportunity. There were multiple distinctive shifts when the Blues had ample zone time, only to play four corners around the perimeter instead of working it between the dots.
But it all comes down to making the proper puck decisions, and more times than not, it's coming from the defensive zone, or in the neutral zone, that enables the five-man units to work effectively, and right now, that's not happening.
"Yeah, I think that's on us forwards," Schenn said. "I think that's kind of what builds our game is putting the puck in the right areas to forecheck and sometimes you can't make a play every time, and maybe when your offense isn't coming, you over-complicate it sometimes. Maybe that's as a five-man unit out there, maybe we're doing that at times."
The Blues will get back to work on Wednesday and practice. They sit in second in the Central Division with 71 points, but the margin for error is getting awfully thin. It's going to have to start to right itself pretty quick and by doing so, the safest way is to just be simple and predictable. Because the unpredictability is leading them down a road to nowhere.
"Keep working," Berube insisted after the game. "We've got to keep looking at things and fix it. Guys will get their mojo back and they'll start executing again, I really believe that and we'll start scoring goals. Right now, we're not getting enough opportunities to score goals, we're not getting enough power plays and when we do get power plays, it's not very good. The execution offensively, we're not very good right now with the puck, we're not executing, there's a lot of shots getting blocked, we're just not generating enough shots right now. That's a big part of the game.
"I didn't see (frustration) tonight. I thought the effort was there tonight. We just weren't mentally sharp."
And they were outworked, which this crop of players hasn't been accused of much. Even when things haven't gone well, they at least work. That's been an area of inconsistency that needs to change.
|(St. Louis Blues photo)|
Blues center Tyler Bozak (21) and Senators center Dylan Gambrell battle
for a loose puck on Tuesday at Enterprise Center.
"I would say maybe the last two games before tonight weren't our greatest efforts for sure," Faulk said. "But just in general, I don't think this team lacks effort by any means. We got a lot of guys that love to compete and do well. Every single player in that room loves to succeed in whatever aspect and sometimes like I said, it's just understanding that things aren't necessarily going your way once in a while and being okay with that and living with that and knowing that you have to almost simplify and go the opposite way, not make it pretty, don't try and do anything too crazy out there and just find your way out of it that way. You can get stuck, I think, once a while if you try and make it too pretty, too cute and whatnot. There's no lack of effort in our group."
"It's on us players in the room to figure it out," Schenn said. "We have too much talent, too much pride in that room and we will. Like I said before, it's adversity right now and we'll work our way through it here starting next game."