The 2016-17 season has been a very strange animal for the St. Louis Blues. Just as often as not, the team’s own problems have been the issue compared to what their opponent is doing.
The St. Louis Blues don’t seem to be able to shake their roller coaster ways this season. They’ve become such a Jekyll and Hyde team that the legendary book feels like it is taking its story from this hockey team, rather than the other way around.
On the one hand, you have the Blues team capable of scoring goals like they were born to do it. We haven’t seen enough of that, but there has been a good string of offense at various points in the season. The Blues, win or lose, had scored three or more goals in five of seven games before their mid-December loss to Minnesota.
Article continues below ...
On the other hand, you have a team giving up far to many goals for the quality they have on defense and in goal. There was, of course, the embarrassing loss to Columbus 8-4. The Blues have also given up three or more goals in six of their last eight games.
Those two things don’t jive for a team trying to take the next step after making the conference finals. They also point to how strange this NHL season has been with the team in second in the division conceding as many as they have score and several other playoff teams with negative goal differences.
The main problem with the Blues seems to be their over-complication of the game. They are putting themselves in too many scenarios where there are too many options and are simply not picking out the right ones.
The Minnesota game was a prime example. In the Blues 3-1 loss to the Wild, the first goal for Minnesota showed just how the Blues are not making the right choices.
While the Blues were trying to execute a line change, the first mistake is made by Vladimir Tarasenko. He vacates the middle of the ice, leaving a lot of space open, in a vain attempt to cut off what he thought would be a rink wide pass. Instead, it was a pass to the defender exiting the zone and allowing Minnesota on the break.
The next mistake is from the defenders. There were all sorts of options for Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson to take and they seemed to pick none of them. This meant the shooter had space and the passing options were not taken away had Matt Dumba elected not to shoot.
Both defenders just sort of back off. Edmundson just pokes out his stick instead of standing up and taking on the shooter. Hockey is an unfathomably fast game and decisions need to happen in microseconds, but backing off the play is a terrible habit the Blues have formed over the years.
“Just a lot of speed coming in,” Parayko said. “So many things to read: where forwards are coming back…where’s the guy carrying the puck, where the other guys are looking to get the puck, things like that. A lot goes on so fast, but the main thing is to try and get them to shoot from a distance. It was kind of a weird shot. The puck came up on his stick and it was almost like a dropper. It was kind of a weird shot. It was maybe just a little too much time and space to give him.”
Parayko’s words give you an idea of everything going on in a player’s head. You have to think in 360 degree terms and be aware of just about anything. That’s incredibly difficult to do and NHL players are obviously the best at it.
Even the Blues are very good at it or they would not be playing in this league. That said, their problem seems be overthinking and consistency.
The frustrating part is even the players know of the issues. “The story of the road this year has been a little bit of consistency throughout the games,” Blues forward Alexander Steen said.
Regardless of what sport you are talking about, when teams are playing at their peak form you always hear how they are keeping things simple. You focus on your game, not the opponent. You focus on your shift, not the shifts going on when you’re on the bench. Keep the focus on your slice of the field/ice/court and trust your teammates are doing the same.
The Blues are doing the exact opposite on too many occasions. You can tell they aren’t always trusting of their goaltending even though both Jake Allen and Carter Hutton have stole them more games than not. Yes, there have been softies, but even Patrick Roy or Marty Brodeur gave up those.
Dec 11, 2016; Saint Paul, MN, USA; St Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) makes a save in the second period against the Minnesota Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon (46) at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
You can sense an unease as to what to do by defenders in so many scenarios. Too often do they get caught flat footed or, if in motion, back too far off the attackers giving too much space.
Even the aforementioned goalies seem to keep things too complicated. There are times they seem to anticipate a defensive miscue and their movements react accordingly. That puts them out of position.
We might not even want to get started on the forwards. If they don’t win the faceoff, the team looks lost in keeping the puck in a zone or getting it out. There are turnovers galore (from everyone, but forwards in poor positions).
The Blues also have a bad habit of having too many people around the puck. If the puck gets pinned in the corner or behind the goal, all three forwards will be in the scrum.
That’s fine in terms of effort, but not in terms of how things usually play out. Logic dictates there won’t be anyone to take the puck if it pops out front, which it does either from a pass or a simple deflection away from the mass of humanity.
The worrying thing is there is no true answer to this problem. It’s going to vary game to game and week to week.