Torey Krug was perplexed, and Craig Berube wasn’t sure why his team could not find the net for more than 144 minutes during the team’s recent six-game skid. They’d outshot the Ducks 34-24 and the Minnesota Wild 38-11 the previous game. Whether the Blues just encountered hot goaltenders in Cam Talbot (37 saves) and then the Ducks’ John Gibson, by Krug’s estimation, the team has to work harder to create opportunities. (from ‘Badly outshot, Wild defies odds to shut out Blues 2-0,’ Minneapolis Star Tribune, 03/26/2021)
The Blues have lost eight of their last 10 games, and have suffered three straight losses to the Vegas Golden Knights (5-2), the Minnesota Wild (2-0) and the Ducks (3-1). They remain in the fourth playoff spot in the Honda West Division with 37 points, just two points ahead of the Arizona Coyotes (35 points).
“We’ve got to earn our ice out there,” Krug told NHL.com after the game. “It’s no secret that goals in this league are scored right around that crease. Six inches around that crease goes a long way. … You’ve got to go to the net with a purpose, and know that it’s going to hurt.
“It hurts to score goals in this league,” he said. “It hurts to win. So we need a little bit more from everyone.”
To see why the Blues have been pretty mediocre, take a look at the stats of league leaders. There is no sight of a Blues player anywhere on those lists – except for Ryan O’Reilly who leads the NHL in faceoffs won.
Berube blames the Blues’ streaky style of play, and its inability to create traffic in front of opposing goalies, for the team’s current woes.
“I brought it up the other night. We need more traffic, we need traffic, and we need to go to the net harder,” the coach said. “You’ve got to make it a lot tougher on the goalie than we are. We’re getting good quality. Lots of quality. But that’s two nights in a row where the goalie out-competed us.”
Talbot, the Wild starter, was a brick wall. His team gave him two second-period goals to work with, but only had only 11 shots. Bolstered by two second-period Minnesota goals, Talbot was on his way to his seventh straight win at the Xcel Energy Center. He has only allowed eight goals at home.
“He just smothered everything, swallowed everything up. He was so good,” Wild coach Dean Evason told ESPN.com. “Yeah, we didn’t have possession of the puck a lot. They did. They’re really good. But we hung in there. We hung in there because our goaltender gave us that opportunity to hang in there.”
Gibson “Best Player on Ice’
“He was obviously our best player on the ice,” Ducks coach Dallas Eakins said of Gibson. “Just a great, great performance by Gibson. He’s got a great feel for the game. It was not only inspiring but also comforting to know you’ve got that level of goalie in your net. He kept the puck out of the net. That’s what we need from Gibson.”
So how does Berube change things?
“Put guys in who want to go to the net,” he said.
It is not the first time Berube has cited frustration with certain unnamed players not buying into the Blues’ offensive schemes. In early March, he said his team “was not pulling on the same rope.” Since those comments were made at a press conference on March 13, Berube’s team has done very little to instill confidence.
Entering Friday’s game against the Ducks, the 4-1 loss, the Blues were 14th in the NHL this year with 37 points, and St. Louis was 15th in points percentage (.561). The Tampa Bay Lightning tops the league with 50 points, and Tampa carries a .758 points percentage. The Blues are one of five teams that have yet to record a shutout this season. The Ducks and Wild held the Blues scoreless for 144:08 before O’Reilly punched in a trash goal around the net to cut Anaheim’s lead to 2-1. The Ducks added two empty-net goals in the third period to put the game out of reach.
On the Ducks’ second goal, when the game was still 1-0, Krug was caught out of position. His pass out of the corner was intercepted and seconds later buried for an important second goal in that game.
“Yeah, that’s a tough play by me,” he told the postgame media scrum. “I got to make that. Especially for this team. We were rolling there, so I will take ownership on that, and I’ve got to be better. If you want to be a player that can be relied upon in big situations in this league, especially on this team, a good team, you’ve got to step up when you are called upon. I’ve got to make a better play there.”
Defensively, the Blues’ struggles have earned them the ninth spot in the league in goals allowed entering try weekend’s games. The Blues penalty-killing percentage of 74.07% is 26th in the league. The Boston Bruins lead the NHL with an 89.47% t penalty kill rate. Conversely, the Blues have gotten the eighth-most power-play opportunities in the league behind the Vancouver Canucks with a league-leading 126 power plays. St. Louis is tied for second in the league in most power-play goals allowed at 28 with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings. The Nashville Predators have allowed the most power-play goals against with 32 this season before Friday’s games.
The Blues have been 0-5 on their last five power plays – a stark contrast to earlier in the season when they were completely lethal on the man-advantage.
In goal, Jordan Binnington ranks 16th in the league in wins with 10 of the Blues’ 16 wins. Andre Vasilevsky of Tampa Bay Lightning leads the league with 21 wins. Backup Ville Husso ranks 38th with six wins.
Schenn: “Not for Lack of Effort’
“It’s not for lack of trying or for lack of effort,” Brayden Schenn told NHL.com of the team’s effort. “When things aren’t going your way offensively (it’s tough) … the shots are there, but they’re not high-quality shots and second chances, and getting guys and pucks to the net at the right time.”
David Perron ranks 47th in the league in goals with a team-leading 12 goals, but he has largely disappeared since March 20 when he registered four points in the Blues’ 5-2 win against the San Jose Sharks. In 34 games Perron has played, he has 33 points (12 goals, 21 assists). League leader Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid both have 21 goals. McDavid leads the league with 60 points.
O’Reilly has a plus-11 rating, giving him a pedestrian 36th ranking overall in the league entering Friday’s games. Joel Edmundson, the former Blues defenseman now a member of the Carolina Hurricanes, leads the league at plus-24.
Schenn said the realigned divisions this year posed some issues for the Blues, who were placed in the Honda West Division where there are no real geographic rivalries. At one point the team had played the Arizona Coyotes seven straight games over a two-week period. Fans were not thrilled. Schenn said the West is filled with legitimate teams from top to bottom.
“Playing in this division, they’re big heavy teams,” Schenn said. “Some days you have to roll through the wins and help out our goalie. It’s one thing to get shots all of the time, but it’s another to start putting them in the back of the net.”
Justin Faulk was 15th in the league in time on the ice, averaging 24:34 per game to lead the team entering Friday’s game. Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty leads the league in average time on the ice at 26:36 per game. Faulk also leads the Blues in blocked shots with 51, ranking him 32nd among league leaders. Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez and Edmonton Oilers defenseman Adam Larson are tied for the league lead in blocks with 96. Faulk was 31st in the league for hits (78) entering Friday’s games. The Senators’ left winger Brady Tkachuk leads the league with 160 hits.
One statistical bright spot for the Blues is in the face-off circle, where O’Reilly leads the league with 446 face-offs won (entering Friday’s game). Vancouver Canucks’ center Bo Horvat was second in the NHL with 420 face-offs won.
Krug says stats aside, it comes down to making plays and creating opportunities. He is confident the team will emerge from this in a better place mentally.
“We just got to do it together, come out of this thing together. That’s the only way it’s going to happen,” Krug said.
The Blues schedule will not be kind in April. They will face off against division-leading Vegas, Minnesota and Colorado Avalanche in 17 of their next 20 games. Given the number of shots the team is taking, Berube is banking on “puck luck” to help change the Blues’ fortunes down the stretch.
His luck cannot get much worse.