A look back at a Blues season of highs and lows
ST. LOUIS — Doug Armstrong and Ken Hitchcock would rather not have been meeting the media under the circumstances they did Tuesday morning at Scottrade Center.
The Blues’ general manager and coach would much rather be preparing for the second round of the Western Conference playoffs than trying to explain what went wrong in the playoffs after a regular season in which the team established itself as one of the heavyweights in the NHL.
Both Armstrong and Hitchcock spoke about the Blues needing to finish off the Blackhawks in their first-round series when they had the opportunity after taking an early two-games-to-none lead — similar to the first-round series against the Kings in the 2013 playoffs.
"We need that killer instinct," Armstrong said. "We need to be able to, when you have a team down 2-0, you need to take the knife and jam it through their eye into their brain and kill them. We don’t do that."
That quote — yes, that rather graphic quote — might be what we’re left with after this remarkable regular season took another difficult turn and spiraled downward in the team’s last dozen games. But it’s important to remember the good times, too, so let’s take a look at the season as a whole, both the good and the bad.
WHAT WENT RIGHT?
Alexander Steen’s breakthrough. Steen had never scored more than 24 goals or 51 points in his first eight NHL seasons, but he emerged as an offensive force with a hot start.
Steen scored 11 goals in October, nine in November and then had tied his career high of 24 by late December when he was sidelined with concussion symptoms, which came just a few days after he signed a three-year contract extension worth $17.4 million.
Steen couldn’t keep up his scoring binge when he returned to the lineup, but he still finished with 33 goals and 29 assists for 62 points — leading the Blues in goals and scoring — in just 68 games.
Emergence of Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko. The Blues’ youngest regulars, Schwartz and Tarasenko, both emerged as core players for St. Louis in just their second full seasons.
Schwartz, 21, accounted for 25 goals and 31 assists for 56 points and a team-best plus-minus rating of plus-28 in 80 games while playing primarily on the team’s No. 1 and No. 2 lines.
In 64 games, with his regular season cut short by a hand injury, Tarasenko, 22, tallied 21 goals and 22 assists for 43 points and a plus-20 rating. Then he scored four goals in the playoffs, giving him 25 in 70 games.
It’s easy to envision both youngsters as 30-goal scorers as soon as next season and key offensive contributors for the next several seasons.
The Blues through 76 games. The Blues’ victory against visiting Buffalo on April 3 put them at 52-17-7 with 111 points, which tied them with the Bruins for the top spot in the NHL and also tied their franchise record for wins in a season.
Most everything was going well for St. Louis at that point. The Blues got a shutout from Ryan Miller in the overtime win against Philly a few days earlier and had yet to lose more than two games in a row all season.
Despite that, there were signs that the team wasn’t playing its best.
"If we’re honest with ourselves, we can play way better," Maxim Lapierre said after that win. "There’s no way we’re happy with our effort tonight. We’re going to have to fix it."
WHAT WENT WRONG?
Six-game losing streak. The Blues went on to lose their final six games of the regular season, which dropped them from the top spot in the Western Conference to second in the Central Division behind Colorado.
That meant a first-round matchup with the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks — a series that ended with the Blues losing in six games.
Colorado, meanwhile, got a playoff matchup against Minnesota. That series is tied up going to Game 7 on Wednesday night, but it’s easy to say that the Wild would have been a better matchup for the Blues than the Blackhawks turned out to be.
Ryan Miller. How will history remember the Ryan Miller era of Blues hockey?
That is still to be determined by whether Miller re-signs with the club and is able to write a happier ending, but Miller’s 25 games with the Blues did not go as well as they could have.
The goalie wasn’t the reason St. Louis lost its first-round series — Armstrong made sure to point that out Tuesday — but he didn’t make the difference in the Blues winning the series, either.
He was acquired to help St. Louis take steps forward in the playoffs.
That didn’t happen.
Miller went 12-12-1 with a 2.53 goals-against average and .901 save percentage in 25 starts with the Blues. In the six playoff games he had a 2.70 GAA and .897 save percentage.
The Blues might try to re-sign Miller this offseason, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the team move on from him, either.
Power play in playoffs. St. Louis ranked seventh in the NHL in power-play percentage during the regular season, converting 19.8 percent of their opportunities on the advantage.
The Blues were streaky on the power play down the stretch, which was a cause for concern, but then the power play went powerless in the playoffs.
St. Louis scored just twice in its 29 power-play opportunities (6.9 percent) in the Blackhawks series, which ranks last among the 16 teams in the playoffs. The Blues were even worse in the four losses; they scored just once in 16 tries (6.25 percent) after Game 2.
WHAT WENT NOWHERE?
The Blues in the postseason. Another first-round playoff exit means St. Louis has won just one playoff series (in 2012) over the past 11 seasons.
Jake Allen. The Blues’ top goalie prospect, Allen appeared in 15 games for St. Louis during the 2012-13 season and went 9-4 with a .246 GAA and .905 save percentage.
Despite a brief call-up from the Chicago Wolves in early January, Allen did not appear in an NHL game this season as the Blues relied on Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott before trading for Miller.
Instead, Allen impressed again in the American Hockey League. He went 33-16-3 with a 2.03 GAA and .928 save percentage in 52 regular-season games and was selected as the league’s top goalie.
Armstrong said Tuesday that Allen has earned the opportunity to be one of the Blues’ two goalies next season. We will have to wait and see how that mystery unfolds as Miller and Elliott are both unrestricted free agents this offseason and neither is certain to return to St. Louis.
Derek Roy. We could go in different directions here with a couple players who failed to contribute more than they were expected to, but we’ll go with the former Buffalo center who was signed to a one-year deal worth $4 million last offseason.
Roy had a four-year stretch with the Sabres from 2006-07 through 2009-10 in which he scored at least 21 goals and accounted for at least 63 points. When the Blues signed him last summer they hoped he could return to that form as a playmaking center on the second or third line.
But the 30-year-old accounted for only nine goals and 37 points in 75 games this season — he was tied with defenseman Jay Bouwmeester for eighth on the team in scoring — and then was a healthy scratch in two of the playoff games. Had Roy been able to contribute more offensively, he would have made the Blues a much deeper and more dangerous team.
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.