5 Minutes For Scribing:
The Blues’ registry of problems is expanding. Their troubles are brewing and swirling and seemingly about to boil. These are hard times for the Blues on multiple fronts. This goes beyond the usual level of expressing concern about lines, defensive pairings, goaltending, benchings, etc. The Blues are confronting a bleak set of circumstances and facing the most critical stage of the season.
1–The injury outbreak took down another Blue in Monday’s depressing 3-0 loss to the LA Kings: Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (right knee) was lost for the season. Already missing (for now) are forwards Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko, Robert Thomas, Tyler Bozak and Ivan Barbashev plus defenseman Colton Parayko. According to Viz Hockey, the Blues are No. 3 in the league for man games lost to injury — and no NHL team has taken a tougher hit in terms of the collective overall value of sidelined players.
2–This battering of the Blues is obviously reducing the team’s talent, depth and quality of performance. The Blues are 3-5-1 in their last nine games. At 10-7-2 overall, the Blues are tied for 16th in the NHL in points percentage (.579). They’re trending downward. Through their first 10 games the Blues were tied for No. 8 in the league with a .750 points percentage.
3–The Blues’ identity — strong 5-on-5 play — is cracking. During their nine-game skid the Blues have scored only 36.7 percent of the goals at 5v5, getting outscored 19-11 by opponents. The Blues have failed to score a 5v5 goal in four of the nine games and were held to a single goal in two others. Other than being left shorthanded by injuries, this has nothing to do with bad luck on the ice. Over the last nine games, based on shot quality, the Blues have an expected goal-share percentage of 48.6 percent at 5v5. That ranks 22nd in the league since Feb. 4.
4–We have to talk about the shortage of high-danger scoring chances again. I’ve harped on this for a while now, but only because it’s important. It happened again in Monday’s loss to LA. The Blues had 40% of the high-danger chances at 5v5. During this nine–game downturn, the Blues have only 42.6% of the high-danger chances and have scored a mere 36.3% of the high-danger scoring chances.
5–Getting shots on net isn’t a problem for the Blues. Getting their bodies to the net is a problem. And a big one. The Blues are content to launch perimeter shots … many, many outside shots. They have only three tip-in goals all season (24th among 31 teams) and rank 29th in tip-in shot attempts with 13. According to the official NHL stats the Blues have not scored a single goal on a deflection this season. Embarrassing.
6–The Blues’ power play isn’t compensating for the 5v5 deficiencies. After clicking for a bit, the Blues are 2 for 12 on the PP in their last five games. Bottom line: they’ve converted only 15.3% of their PP during this 3-5-1 swoon. For the season STL ranks 26th in the NHL with a PP success rate of 13.8%.
7–The home-ice advantage is melting. The Blues are 1-4-1 in their last six games at Enterprise, having been outscored 13-6 at 5v5 and 20-14 overall. For the season the Blues are 4-5-2 at home for a points percentage (.455) that ranks 23rd in the league. Here’s another indicator of the Blues’ waning performance at 5v5: they’ve scored only 47.6% of the 5v5 goals in home games this season — compared to 60.7% last season and 54% in 2018-2019. That’s a huge dropoff.
8–The upheaval in personnel continuity is a substantial challenge. Consider: Tarasenko, Bozak, Schwartz, Parayko and Barbashev have played in a combined 2,434 NHL regular-season games. (If you add Gunnarsson in, the total is 2,759.) Players that have been plugged into the lineup to replace the regulars — Mackenzie MacEachern, Austin Poganski, Jacob de la Rose, Sammy Blais, Niko Mikkola and Jake Walman — have competed in a combined 321 NHL regular-season games. Whoa.
Keep in mind that every injured player right now was part of the 2019 Stanley Cup champion Blues. Losing them, going without them, is a huge hit.
“We talk about it all the time,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “We’ve got a lot of new players. You’ve got to find chemistry and you’ve got to trust each other. That’s the only way you get out of this is by playing like a team and working as a team. That’s the stuff that we talk about all the time and we’ll continue to do that.”
9. It would help if defenseman Vince Dunn and forward Zach Sanford can fine-tune their concentration and quit making knucklehead mistakes. The Blues turnovers, especially in the defensive end, are deflating this team. And yeah … it would be cool if Oskar Sundqvist can score a goal. He hasn’t had one since the season-opening game at Colorado.
10. The Blues are feeling the pressure, and that can work against them. All Blues can play better, but cranking up the pressure and turning it on themselves won’t ease the strain … it will only increase the strain. We’ve already seen a loss in this team’s collective confidence. That leads to mistakes and more misery. The Blues are physically damaged right now, and the mental stress is intensifying. Not good.
“You can tell there’s a little hesitation now,” captain Ryan O’Reilly said via Zoom late Monday night. “We don’t want to make mistakes and it’s putting us on our heels and you don’t get bounces and find a way to put the puck in the net and we all get frustrated. Everyone in that room is frustrated right now and wants to play better. We have an opportunity where we have to come together. We have to come together and rely on each other to get ourselves out of this and find our identity.”
Correct. Magical solutions do not exist. The roster can’t be restored by quickie trades. The organization doesn’t employ a faith healer. Until their wounded begin to return, the Blues have no choice but to grind, slog and scrape through the afflictions.
Thanks for reading…
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For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.