In the post-game interview after the embarrassing 4-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, coach Ken Hitchcock indicated that a “lack of urgency” was to blame “(mostly) for the team’s lack of drive late in the season. This is disappointing, because it’s the third year in a row that fans have had to endure this. Last year’s infamous debacle saw the team tumble from first in the division to placing second, directly in the crosshairs of the Chicago Blackhawks. The team seemed up to the task, winning the first two games, only to drop the next four in a repeat of the 2013-2014 implosion. With hungry and driven teams like Winnipeg, Minnesota and Calgary lackadaisical play will spell another early tee time for a team that’s rivaling the San Jose Sharks for postseason underachievement.
Blues Defensive Breakdowns are Uncharacteristic
Casual fans and those without a grasp of hockey fundamentals generally point to goaltending as the major driver for these odd collapses. However, as was the case in the Vancouver game, multiple 2-on-1 opportunities and odd-man chances unquestionably add up. Brian Elliott was quick to agree that it’s (his and Allen’s) job to “clean up” those messes, but repeated instances are bound to pay off eventually. That style of play is frustrating to watch, since the the Blues’ system is based on coherent team play and puck control. With today’s League-wide parity, the chance of getting home ice in any series can be that small difference between moving on or going home. The team is in a bad place of understanding they’re making it in, so mailing in the last month seems acceptable. It isn’t.
Blues’ Core is at Issue, Not Coaching
Coach Ken Hitchcock isn’t telling Blues players that it’s acceptable to slack off during the stretch run. This issue is on the players themselves. Call it aversion to injury, saving themselves for the postseason or (insert excuse here); each game matters and the way a team carries itself into the playoffs sends a message. Athletes at all levels can smell blood and understand when a player, core or team is weaker than normal. Smart teams exploit those things, creating opportunities for lower seeds to knock off unmotivated “favorites.” Given that this has happened to the Blues in the past few years — despite evidence of being a stronger team — the frustrating reality is that this isn’t about talent, it’s about motivation and drive. This starts with the leadership group of David Backes, Alexander Steen, Alex Pietrangelo and others — and has to stop on the ice before it’s too late.