Just when you think you know the 2021-22 blues, sadly turns out you were wrong.
Just think about the last four weeks. An overtime loss to Montreal, the league’s worst team, boded ill when they headed to Toronto two days later, so naturally the Blues defeated the Cup-contenders Maple Leafs 6-3. After back-to-back losses to New Jersey and Ottawa, two regulars in the lower ranks of the NHL, the Blues faced Eastern Conference heavyweights the New York Rangers. Of course, the Blues won 6-2.
A 7-4 away win over playoff contenders Nashville was followed by a 4-3 overtime loss to Winnipeg. A loss to the long-lost Columbus did not bode well when they headed to Washington, where the Blues played a solid game with a 5-2 win almost from start to finish. Which certainly meant Philadelphia wouldn’t be a problem on Thursday — Flyers interim coach Mike Yeo didn’t paint the rosiest picture of his team ahead of the game — yet the Blues, by their own description, were embarrassed.
If all of that causes trouble when the Blues take on Saturday’s Carolina, the holder of the league’s third-best record, you haven’t been watching closely.
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“They put this game together in Washington,” Blues coach Craig Berube said, “it’s really a 60-minute, really good game in a tough building against a good opponent who plays really good hockey. Then we come home and we go out for the first hour and we don’t really have a lot of positives with it. Not a very good time. That’s kind of where this team is at.”
In a sport where coaches value predictability, the Blues are anything but. They’re the proverbial box of chocolates where you never know what you’re going to get.
“I think it certainly looks like it,” said striker David Perron. “We’ve had meetings, we’re going to keep having meetings and we’re going to keep going until we figure it out, but it’s pretty black and white. We talked again today about what we need to do to be successful and I think we need to find a way to look forward to the next game like we’re going to do tomorrow and then start making it happen start building our game, realizing that we have 19 games left before the playoffs and that’s the only way we’re going to succeed. There are many small things that we can do better. I think it’s pretty obvious to watch, but now they have to start happening.”
After Thursday’s games, the Blues had a better point percentage against playoff teams (.633) than non-playoff teams (.621). Perron didn’t hesitate to agree with Berube’s observation on Thursday that the team’s problem could be arrogance.
“Maybe,” he said, “sometimes the guys are guilty of saying, ‘Okay, we’re just going to spin free, score more goals than they do and find a way to win two points.’ I think we broke away from that for a while during the season and that relaxed us even more. Now we’re going the other way and it’s exciting to find a way out.”
The Blues have shown they are good at coming from behind, which is a great skill but a risky way to make a living. The Blues are one of only two teams (Florida is the other) to have a record for first goal surrender and tied with Tampa Bay for most wins by first goal surrender. But playing from behind takes its toll and is one step ahead of losing. The Blues have conceded the first goal in the past four games and have taken the lead in just one of them.
Defenseman Justin Faulk said part of the problem could be the success of the team’s offense.
“Well, we’re good at scoring goals,” he said on Thursday. “With that, there’s no lack of confidence in our space, and that’s definitely not a bad thing. I think sometimes we take it for granted that this is possible (to come back) in our group. It’s going to be tough, and it is tough, and we see it even more now that the games are closer. When you get down the track and into the playoffs, they’re a lot tighter than they are now. We just have to be prepared to be okay with a 0-0 game that sometimes goes late into the night and wins 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, whatever it is. We have to deal with that.”
Ultimately, it’s all back to the blues about doing what they’re supposed to do. Defenseman Colton Parayko spoke ahead of the Philadelphia game about all the good things the team had done against Washington — “Everybody just worked,” he said — and that was something they had to do, not just against Philadelphia, but everyone Evening. And then they didn’t.
“We just have to get back to the details that need to happen each night to be successful,” Perron said. “It’s funny. It’s probably one of the teams we’re going to be playing in the playoffs right now, but Minnesota, the way they’re playing is exactly how I think we’ve played here for a long time , and you’re just pounding teams into the O zone, physically, playing right, everyone making good changes, you don’t see changes where the guys go straight into the back check and then three seconds later they’re in our net these things have to come on definitely stop, and then we can take a page out of the book for them when it comes down to it. We’ve been doing it for a long, long time. There are a lot of people in this room who can steer the team in the right direction. “