Clock is ticking for Blues to cure what ails them
Time is running out for the St. Louis Blues if they are going to fix their recent maladies before the start of the playoffs.
The Blues’ 4-2 loss to the host Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday was their second in successive games, third in six contests and fifth in 10 games and made it apparent they weren’t able to find any magic elixirs on their quick trip to the Windy City.
There has been plenty of talk recently about learning lessons from these defeats, and also Thursday’s lackluster win against the Sabres, but it’s starting to seem like maybe Charlie Brown’s teacher is speaking to them.
With four games left in the regular season, including two on the road against potential first-round playoff opponents Minnesota and Dallas, the clock is ticking for St. Louis to correct what has been going wrong.
St. Louis still leads the Western Conference with 111 points in 78 games but fell to 52-19-7. Anaheim, which has 108 points in 77 games, plays at Edmonton later on Sunday with a chance to cut into the Blues’ advantage.
St. Louis got off to a good start Sunday with a power-play goal from Jaden Schwartz just 1 minute 57 seconds into the first period, snapping a streak of three games without a power-play goal in which the Blues could not capitalize on nine opportunities with the advantage.
Schwartz took a shot from the left circle that was blocked, but the rebound bounced back to him and he buried it for his 24th goal and 54th point of the season.
The goal was set up by Vladimir Sobotka winning a faceoff against Michal Handzus. Sobotka won 12 of his 18 face-off attempts (67 percent) on Sunday.
St. Louis entered the game with a 41-2-5 record when scoring first.
The Blues’ penalty kill unit deserves a nod here after holding the Blackhawks scoreless on four opportunities with the advantage. St. Louis surrendered two power-play goals against the Avalanche and also allowed one against Buffalo on Thursday.
Ken Hitchcock said following Saturday’s loss to Colorado that he would have to change up the lines to try to fix the struggling offense.
"We have to blow it up, start over," the coach said. "We’ll figure it out."
Hitchcock moved Schwartz and Steve Ott to the first line with David Backes, moved T.J. Oshie down to the second line with Patrik Berglund and Derek Roy (who was a healthy scratch on Saturday), put Brenden Morrow, Sobotka and Magnus Paajarvi on the third line and Chris Porter, Maxim Lapierre and Ryan Reaves on the fourth line.
But the offensive attack was once again inconsistent for 60 minutes and the team’s 23 shots on goal were its fewest in 10 games — matching the mark in its 4-0 loss in Chicago on March 19.
The Blues have now scored just six goals total in their past five games, during which they are 2-3, with all three losses against Western Conference teams fighting for playoff position.
Ott’s leadership, experience and reputation as a two-way grinder made him seem like an ideal fit for the Blues after the trade with Buffalo that brought Ott and Ryan Miller to the Midwest.
But his lack of production offensively in his brief time with St. Louis has been difficult to comprehend.
In 19 games with the Blues, Ott has accounted for two points (both assists) but has recorded a plus-minus rating of -11. The next worst mark on the team belongs to Magnus Paajarvi, who is -5 in 52 games.
After registering a -2 in Saturday’s defeat, Ott was -4 on Sunday after moving up to the first line with Backes and Schwartz. In 59 games with Buffalo, he was -26 but scored 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists).
Ott’s rough game on Sunday leaves him at -37 for the season, which is the worst mark in the NHL. The former Sabres captain passed Washington’s Alex Ovechkin (-35) for that dubious distinction, but Ovechkin has 74 points (49 goals, 25 assists) in 74 games this season.
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.