As St. Louis Blues fans, one of our favorite things to do is hit the panic button. When things aren’t going well, we are always quick to declare the situation an emergency. The Blues are struggling to string together wins? Cue the “I knew this would happen. This team is horrible,” talk.
With the Blues’ play dipping in recent months (compared to their red-hot start in October), many fans are starting to participate in our favorite activity.
Some common themes you see among fans is throwing blame at Jake Allen, Vladimir Tarasenko, and other players being paid a lot such as Alexander Steen, Paul Stastny, and Jay Bouwmeester.
For example: Jake Allen can’t stop a beach ball, Tarasenko isn’t doing anything out there, Steen and Stastny couldn’t score if their life depended on it, or Bouwmeester is old and can’t keep up anymore. Others are declaring Hutton the new starting goalie for the Blues, and others still are calling all the players lazy due to a lack of defense and offense.
STOP! DON’T FREAK OUT YET!
As Blues fans, we always feel that everything is too good to be true instead of having faith in the team. And while it’s hard to ignore the feeling that everything is falling apart and the Blues will go back to being the Blues, we must show some belief that they can recover.
The reason for this is the Blues were absolutely gassed over the past month.
Due to a brutal schedule from the start of December to their current week-long break, the Blues were forced to play 6 sets of back-to-back games. They also played 21 games in 40 days, with 10 of those being road games. That’s an insane workload. Hockey is a physically demanding sport as it is, and when you add in travel which is also draining, it’s very easy to see how this could start to take a toll on the players. When the Blues started their break last Wednesday, they had played 46 games before some teams had even played 40. It makes logical sense that the Blues’ opponents would be much fresher during games over the last month, leading to them getting outplayed.
The Blues also absorbed a significant number of injuries this season. They didn’t have the services of Steen until halfway into October due to a hand injury. Berglund wasn’t available until after Thanksgiving because of shoulder surgery. Bouwmeester was out until mid-November because of a foot injury and was hurt again in December. Pietrangelo was sidelined for a week with a lower body injury in December. Schwartz is out for at least one more week because of an ankle injury. Zach Sanford is on the IR until at least mid-February because of shoulder surgery. And Fabbri is out for the year because he re-injured his ACL in training camp. That’s 8 significant injuries to 7 significant players on the team.
When you add in all of the injuries the Blues have suffered over the course of the season on top of a ruthless schedule, it is an absolute miracle that they kept their heads above water and played decent hockey.
At the time this article was written, the Blues sit with 55 points in 46 games (just over half way into the season). That’s good for 3rd place in the Central division (4 points back of 1st place) and 7th place in the NHL. The Blues’ hot start in October gave them the breathing room to have a stretch of poor play and be alright.
So, how do the Blues reverse the negative trend and start winning regularly again? They should do what anyone would do when they sustain a minor injury: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation, or R.I.C.E.
Clearly, the Blues needed this break. With no hockey scheduled, including practices, for 5 days, it allowed players to heal nagging injuries and recover physically and mentally. It gave Schwartz more time to heal without the Blues having to play without him. The Blues also only have 6 games the rest of January, so traveling and playing won’t be as taxing. And the players, with the exception of Pietrangelo and Schenn, will have the All-Star break to rest as well. This is even more time to heal up and recover, which is only good news for a physically drained team. Players like Jake Allen and Vladimir Tarasenko looked tired on the ice, so being able to reset will be important in helping them return to their top-caliber play. And with Schwartz expected to be activated in a week, the Blues could be back to playing exciting, hard-working hockey very soon.
Because the Blues have a less grueling schedule the rest of January, they will have more time to practice. With the defense struggling to stop opposing attacks, the offense struggling to score goals, and the power play being atrocious, practice will help. In December, the Blues had virtually no time to work on their weaknesses, leading to many problems being exposed before they could be fixed. Mid-January could be the start of better defense, better offense, and hopefully a better power play (it’s almost impossible for the power play to be worse so it’s only up from here).
Speaking of better defense, the Blues need to tighten up in their defensive end. Loose coverage led to their goalies being hung out to dry many times over the past month. Jake Allen actually had a save percentage higher than .920, but one would not have guessed that based on his win-loss record. He was peppered night after night and gave the Blues a chance to win most games. Hutton just made him look bad by standing on his head for 3 games. His stellar play masked defensive problems that were exposed when Allen was in net. This led many to blame Allen when in reality most of the blame can be put on the Blues’ defense. Giving Allen and Hutton support in the defensive zone will definitely help the Blues’ rattle off wins again. (And no, there is no goalie controversy. Allen is the starter, Hutton is the backup)
What will also help Allen and Hutton is elevating the offense. The Blues were one of the best even strength teams in the beginning of the season, scoring at a rate better than 4 goals per game. Both the forwards and the defense were scoring and it was fun to watch. In December, things took a turn for the worse, as the goals per game dropped to 2. Losing Schwartz hurt. He was scoring more than a point per game and had 35 points before going down against Detroit on December 9th. On top of the rest and practices, getting their leading scorer back will boost the offense. It will allow coach Mike Yeo to put the players back into their usual offensive roles, the defense will trust the offense and move up in the play more, and the goals should start coming again.
With the Blues coming off their break tonight against Toronto, we should see a well-rested team and a great effort put forward by the players. Schwartz will be back by next week and then the All-Star break hits. By the beginning of February, the Blues should be back in October/November form.
For now, don’t panic Blues fans. Instead of assuming the Blues are actually the December version of the team, let’s be positive and assume they are the October/November version that is just tired.
However, if they don’t return to form by the end of February… then we can panic.