ST. LOUIS — The Blues wanted to make a statement in this five-game homestand. But you know what they say about the best-laid plans.
Technically speaking, St. Louis went 3-2 during this stretch and earned six points with wins against Minnesota, Philadelphia and Buffalo (amid losses to Dallas and Colorado).
But those two losses, including Saturday afternoon’s 4-0 debacle against the visiting Avalanche, were rather ugly and further loosened the Blues’ once-commanding grip on the Western Conference’s Central Division.
"We knew we were going to have to play good hockey down the stretch, and today wasn’t that," Blues captain David Backes said. "We’ve got five games left to not only try to solidify a spot, but also get our game in order for the playoffs. Today wasn’t a great step in that direction, but hopefully, tomorrow is."
Even the Blues’ last two wins during the homestand weren’t pretty.
They were able to beat the Flyers’ 1-0 in a shootout Tuesday because Ryan Miller was brilliant, but they still got off to another rough start and the offense was essentially nonexistent. The lethargic 2-1 win against last-place Buffalo that followed on Thursday included giving up one goal in the final minute and almost surrendering a second that would’ve tied it.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said his biggest concern following Saturday’s setback was his team’s inactivity on the power play, a special teams unit that was anything but as it failed to score on four chances Saturday and is now scoreless on nine attempts in the past three games.
"When you’re not scoring goals, it puts a lot of pressure on a lot of areas," Hitchcock said. "So to me it’s getting our best players … to play better this time of year. We look slow offensively and we’ve got to get more energy built up there. Our top players are on the power play. We have to get them playing better. We’ve got to look and be a lot more creative than we are from a goal-scoring standpoint. It puts a lot of pressure on other areas."
With Vladimir Tarasenko still out with his hand injury — the Blues are 44-13-7 with the Russian sniper and now 8-5-0 without him — and now Alexander Steen missing the past two games with a mysterious upper-body ailment, Hitchcock’s club isn’t inspiring much confidence going into the stretch run. A quick turnaround trip to Chicago for an afternoon game Sunday doesn’t help matters, either.
"I think there’s different points where you have some roadblocks and you have to fight through them and right now, we’re not playing our best hockey, but it’s something that we can turn around tomorrow in Chicago," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "I’m sure we’ll talk about it tonight when we land and get things back on the right page."
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The Blues still have the best record in the West at 52-18-7 with 111 points in 77 games. Anaheim, which plays at Edmonton on Sunday, is next in the West with 108 points in 77 games. Colorado is second in the Central with 106 points in 77 games.
But St. Louis is now 11-16-2 when its opponent scores first and 5-14-2 when trailing after two periods.
But the more troubling stat for the Blues is that they’ve scored just two goals in their past nine periods.
"We have to start scoring some goals," Hitchcock said. "We have to start finishing at the net. We have to start getting our power play back involved and being a consistent threat like it was before."
But if the Blues can’t figure out their issues offensively, it’s going to be a tough trip to the Windy City. Brian Elliott, not Miller, will be in net. Tarasenko and Steen again will be out of the lineup and the return for both players is still unknown.
Asked how to fix the recent lack of offense, Hitchcock said the Blues will have to change the lines: "We have to blow it up, start over. We’ll figure it out."
Yeah, the answer probably doesn’t include starting Chris Porter or Dmitrij Jaskin on the first line with Backes and T.J. Oshie, like the Blues have done these past two games.
"I think we’re having trouble hitting the net and getting those second and third options," Oshie said. "Whether it’s forwards not moving it quick enough or D-men not finding holes, we’re not getting there, but we’ll keep working on it. It’s a tough one today, but it’s a quick turnaround. So, hopefully, we’ll learn from this and improve and get better tomorrow."
Backes described the problems plaguing the Blues right now as "nothing not fixable."
"It’s bearing down and making sure with five games left we need to get in playoff mode because it’s not something where you just all of a sudden, ‘OK, it’s the playoffs, we’re in it,’" Backes said. "It’s, ‘Let’s start to play the way we need to be successful for a full 60 minutes and start bearing down,’ because you take a game like tonight in the playoffs and all of a sudden it can be a difference-maker in a series. (Colorado’s) a playoff team and rightly so. They played great hockey all year. We need to make sure we’re matching or exceeding the intensity of the team that comes into our building, especially, but now we’ve got a tough game on the road."
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