In St. Louis Blues head coach Craig Berube’s postgame press conference following a 5-1 divisional loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, a few testy comments about his team’s lack of performance left many Blues fans scratching their heads.
“We don’t have enough guys pulling on the same rope,” Berube said during the Blues postgame Zoom meeting with reporters. “And we need everybody in the lineup to do the right things and pull on the same rope. But right now, we don’t.”
“We need guys to do their job when they’re on the ice, and right now we don’t have everybody doing the job. When you don’t have guys doing their job, you get scored on,” said Berube, a 2019 finalist for the Jack Adams Coach of the Year Award.
Asked during the press scrum if his comments were directed at the veterans or the younger players, Berube was quick and terse in his reply.
“It doesn’t matter who it is,” he snapped, asserting in the press conference not enough players were sticking to the prepared game plan.
So, left to wonder, fans have their own list of dogs Berube may be referencing. Candidates might include an underperforming defense, spotty scoring from their go-to stars, or the Blues’ inability to close out games. The defense has been porous, allowing 92 goals-against. That gives the Blues a disappointing ranking of 24th out of all 31 NHL teams in goals against this season.
Blues’ Cold Stretches Putting Berube On Hot Seat
If Berube is feeling the heat from fans, all signs have to point to the Blues’ abysmal 4-7-3 record at Enterprise Center. The team has been nearly flawless in road games, but it has been a different story on home ice. They have had a difficult time scoring goals at home, Berube said following the 5-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on March 14.
“It’s a little tough for all of us,” captain Ryan O’Reilly told BluesTV of the team’s home futility. “We want to make this building a very difficult place to play in, and we just don’t seem to know how.”
What’s the fix?
“We get other guys back who are injured, who want to play,” Berube said in the March 14 postgame press meeting. “Do your job. I mean, there is a certain way we play – you have to play good defense, you have to be strong on walls. We were weak on walls, turned the puck over, and they get two goals that way tonight.”
“It’s unacceptable,” he barked.
Berube has a .649 winning percentage as coach of the Blues, and by all accounts, he has earned the respect of players and fans with his no-nonsense approach to managing the bench.
He’s 94-47-21 and won the Stanley Cup for the first time as a coach or player with the Blues in 2019. In his previous head coaching job in Philadelphia, Berube went 75-58-28 with a .553 winning percentage. This would be far below the Flyers’ fans and team executives’ expectations.
“Lack of Effort” a Tired Refrain for Blues
A familiar mantra coming from Berube’s office this season have been cries of “lack of effort,” and the team being ill-prepared for the gauntlet that is the Honda West Division. In January, Blues insider Lou Korac wrote “Effort, compete level come into question for the Blues following 6-3 loss to the Kings.”
Asked after the loss how and why the Blues struggles haven’t been fixed, Berube was resolute.
“You should go ask the players,” he said during that tense March 14 press event.
The two-game set with Vegas was a pivotal series as both teams sit halfway through the season. The Blues led the first game of the series 3-1 in the third period, only to watch Vegas storm back to win it 5-4 in OT. The next night, they came out flat and uninspired, and the Knights routed the Blues 5-1. Berube and others contend the game was close until the third period when metal lapses led to quick-strike Vegas goals. That was what frustrated him, he told the media via Zoom.
The Blues gained an important point even with the OT loss but got nothing following that 5-1 beatdown. Right-winger Mark Stone again was the trigger man for the Knights, scoring three goals in the series – two at 5-on-5. Stone was to be a focus of Blues’ enforcers, as it was his hit in January that knocked veteran Tyler Bozak (upper body) out of the lineup since Jan. 27. The veteran Bozak has been an important player in the Blues system. He was scheduled to return to the active roster in time for the March 18 game against the Kings, according to Chris Pinkert of NHL.com
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Not only did Stone leave St. Louis unscathed, but he also had his way with the Blues. He logged 16 and 18 minutes of ice time in the series with a couple of highlight-reel goals.
The California Road Trip
In early March, the Blues embarked on a West Coast road trip that brought them to Anaheim, Los Angeles, and San Jose in consecutive series. St. Louis was able to stay among the top four teams in the West by picking up a point in six consecutive games on that trip. They would lose the last two games to the Sharks in overtime, however.
Still, Berube, and GM Doug Armstrong, were pleased with the outcome.
“Great trip, it really is,” Berube told KSDK.com in St. Louis. “We got points in every game, which is outstanding. I would’ve like to have closed these last two games out. We didn’t do it. We got to dig down a little bit more and find a way to close these games out.”
While the injury-plagued Blues are merely trying to stay afloat in the division, Berube had reason to preach optimism. His star Vladimir Tarasenko was skating in practice, and he was medically cleared to join the active roster on March 12. His return was somewhat tepid by No. 91’s standards; still, he did contribute a goal and three assists in the Knights series. In 2019’s Cup year, Tarasenko was a clutch performer for Berube, scoring 11 goals in 26 Stanley Cup playoff games that year. He is a three-time NHL All-Star.
Berube needs Tarasenko to return to being the elite player he’s been advertised. Soon, the Blues will get some more key reinforcements back in the lineup. Bozak is expected to rejoin the team this week, and scorer Jaden Schwartz (upper body) is not far behind, Berube told Pinkert who covers the Blues for NHL.com. With these two players, and the eventual return this season of forward Robert Thomas (thumb) and defenseman Colton Parayko (upper body), Berube should get better sleep rhythms in the coming weeks. The Blues know they cannot snooze on upcoming divisional opponents Minnesota Wild, Vegas and Colorado Avalanche as they play out the remainder of their regular-season schedule.
The coach has also made some curious personnel decisions not all fans understand, and ones certainly not all have been on board with. Goalie Jordan Binnington, for example, signed a six-year, $36 million contract the day the Vegas series began. He played in the series opener against the Knights and helped the Blues get the overtime point. His contract was the talk of the town, an uplifting note in a somewhat dismal season of injuries and cutout fans. But in the next game, Berube chose backup Ville Husso to be in the net, while his Cup champion rode the pine. Blues fans on talk radio were up in arms, and even hockey “experts” were left dumbfounded by Berube’s decision.
Berube’s Checkered Reviews in Philadelphia
Berube the player is remembered for his gritty, no-nonsense style. He played a bruising, heavy game in his career, and did not often back down from a fight. He signed with the Flyers in March 1986 and had a 17-year NHL career with them, the Washington Capitals, the Calgary Flames, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the New York Islanders. He logged 1,054 games and amassed 3,149 penalty minutes to rank seventh of all-time. Four times in his career, he finished among the Top 10 in the league in penalty minutes. In 1993-1994, he finished the season fifth in the NHL in games played with 84. He played in 89 Stanley Cup Playoff games in his career and was minus-10 in the playoffs as a player.
Despite earning his place in Blues lore as the first coach in Blues franchise history to win the Stanley Cup, Berube hasn’t always been the shiny new penny behind the bench. In fact, critics were pretty harsh on him, calling him a head case. One deemed the young coach as “incompetent” in his previous coaching stop, wrote Flyers beat writer Bill Shoeninger in an April 2014 article for THW.
“It’s been a rocky tenure for Berube, whose tenure (in Philadelphia) has been marred by questionable personnel decision, and a poor relationship with (goalie) Steve Mason),” Shoeninger wrote.
He would only last two seasons as head coach, going 75-58-28. He was an assistant coach to Peter Laviolette, and became the Flyers’ head coach just three games into the 2013-14 season. Berube’s team had a third-place finish in the Metropolitan Division that year, but lost in the first round to the New York Rangers.
Craig Berube – Champion
In June 2016, he signed a deal to coach the Chicago Wolves of the AHL, which was the affiliate of the St. Louis Blues. Berube had spent the previous two years serving as a scout for Team Canada.
There, he worked closely with Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, who also worked with Team Canada. Armstrong offered the jobless Berube an opportunity to scout for the Blues.
He jumped at the opportunity. He wanted to be a head coach, and he knew this was a step he had to take, he told NHL.com upon his hiring as the Wolves’ top coach. On June 25, 2019, the Blues signed Berube to a three-year deal. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Rob Staggenborg covers the St. Louis Blues for TheHockeyWriters.com, as well as hosting several NHL podcasts. He enjoys St. Louis style pizza with gooey cheese, and sitting for hours on end in metro St. Louis traffic listening to sports podcasts. He is a proud U.S. veteran. Visit his website at brockbanner.com
Follow his Blues coverage at STLFanReport.com and on Twitter @RealBrockBanne1