After a five-game losing streak, the St. Louis Blues are left searching for answers, wondering how deep the problems in their organization go. But team captain Ryan O’Reilly quickly blamed himself for many of the team’s struggles. His comments aren’t without merit — the start to his season has been dreadful — but the team’s issues go well beyond the poor play of the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner.
O’Reilly Blames Himself
Throughout his Blues career, O’Reilly has always been the type of leader to jump on the hand grenade for his teammates. So it came as no surprise on Wednesday when he quickly fingered his own poor play as one of the Blues’ primary issues. According to comments reported by beat writer Jeremy Rutherford, O’Reilly opined: “myself, I’ve been absolutely horrible. I’m not really doing anything, got to fight to stay in this league. I’ve got to do a lot more leadership-wise … my own play. If I can do that, that will make a big difference.”
Reflecting on Blues’ general manager Doug Armstrong’s comments about the team, he added: “Doug’s message was clear. This is unacceptable, what’s going on, and he’s absolutely right. We all have to look inside and find our own way out of what’s going on. But yeah, for myself especially, it’s pretty pathetic.”
O’Reilly did express hope in new line changes, but apart from that, painted a pretty bleak picture of his own team’s contributions. He has just one point — a goal — in eight games and is a minus-11. That last stat is particularly shocking for the former Selke Trophy winner who has always excelled at both ends of the ice. The captain isn’t off-base in demonizing his own play. It has been a major concern for the Blues, especially as his potential contract extension looms. But he is far from the only Blue who is struggling this season. And the team’s problems truly start in their own zone, on defense.
Blues Defense Must Improve
The Blues’ defense remains the core issue with the team — and unfortunately, the hardest to solve. Of the seven defenders who have played games this season, only Niko Mikkola carries a positive plus-minus at plus-2 (although Robert Bortuzzo is even at zero). Torey Krug is an abysmal minus-10, and Colton Parayko isn’t far behind at minus-six. That is indefensible for a team that is paying the fourth-most money in the NHL to its defense — and it creates seismic questions about the future if a turnaround doesn’t happen fast.
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Justin Faulk has been a more-than-point-per-game player but has also been a liability in his own zone at times. No defender is playing well. And when the two-way forwards like O’Reilly are also struggling, that creates a recipe for disaster for the entire team. Goaltenders Jordan Binnington and Thomas Greiss have disappointing stats through eight games, but it is hard to evaluate them fairly in light of the team’s many other struggles. The defense bears the brunt of the blame for the team’s issues right now.
A Long November
The Blues are anxious to put October behind them. But November does not look any easier. They’ll play both the red-hot Boston Bruins and Vegas Golden Knights. They’ll have their first game against defending Stanley Cup Champions the Colorado Avalanche. They’ll have a two-game trip through Florida to play the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Panthers and the three-time Cup Finalists the Tampa Bay Lightning. It is a brutal stretch of some of their toughest matchups of the season, but they need to right the ship quickly or risk the season being lost before it has really begun.
When it comes to evaluating what needs to change, that conversation gets trickier. Everyone on the team bears some responsibility for the wheels falling off, and O’Reilly might be right that he deserves a bigger slice of the pie. But this hand grenade is too big for him to shield his teammates from the shrapnel. The entire team needs to shape up, or some of them will start to ship out when Armstrong decides that change is needed.