As the “Wheel of Ridiculous Excuses” goes on autoloop in St. Louis, the Blues seem to have little clue why they are losing at such an unexpected pace.
Top excuse is injuries. True, the team has suffered several key injuries to players like Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Ivan Barbashev and Colton Parayko. But the injury bug hits all teams. No excuse. Inconsistency in scoring is another excuse that comes up frequently, and there is some validity to that. These guys cannot find the net, and in the process are making ordinary goalies look like world-beaters.
The other top excuse that usually arises is the subpar play of Jordan Binnington. He’s become a frequent target of the boobirds, especially after the team inked him to a 6-year, $36 million contract to be their goalie of the future. He hasn’t been good. Some have wondered aloud how much confidence the coaches have in the young goalie.
In a key divisional game on April 5 against the Vegas Golden Knights, coach Craig Berube gave the nod to No. 2 goalie Ville Husso (‘Blues Game Day: Husso gets another start in goal; Parayko in lineup, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 4/5/21). Then there’s Berube himself. Fans loved him when his F-bomb laced speech before the Blues’ Game 7 win in 2019 leaked out on social media. The speech was passionate and direct and it worked; it riled his team to the Cup win.
Now, as the team has failed to register any signs of offensive life, fans are asking why is that? The scoring talent is there, the effort comes into question a lot in post game press conferences. What is going on inside the Blues’ locker room? Could it be the coaching?
It’s probably a little bit of all of the excuses listed above. However, the reason why the Blues are just bad right now is really simple.
Team Not As Advertised
The Blues have plenty of scorers, but they have seemingly lost their scoring touch lately. David Perron leads the team in points with 37, and captain Ryan O’Reilly is second with 34 points. By comparison, the NHL’s current points leader, the Edmonton Oilers’ star Connor McDavid, has 64 points.
Losing Carl Gunnarsson to a season-ending injury on Feb. 22 shook an already rocky defense that saw their captain and defensive anchor Alex Pietrangelo sign a deal with Vegas. Torey Krug was signed from the Boston Bruins as a free agent to replace him, and Justin Faulk was working his way through criticism in his first season with the Blues. Parayko was to be the lynchpin of the defense, but he missed 17 games with a back injury. In essence, he was to be the heir apparent to Pietrangelo. Parayko was given a 5-year deal worth $5.5 million per year, as well as an “A” for alternate captain before the season.
The team went into a free fall during his time on injured reserve. The Blues banked on him playing big minutes, and when he went out, they were left picking at the taxi squad.
Parayko made his triumphant return to the ice against Vegas on April 5. He was minus-3 in 19:46 of ice time.
Perron, speaking after that stunning 6-1 loss on home ice to Vegas, quickly rebuked any effort by media to assign blame for the team’s woes on Berube and the coaching staff. The inability to produce is on the players, Perron said.
“Those guys are a part of our team, and we are going to stick together,” he said of the coaching staff.
When the Blues score three or more goals in a game this season, their record is a much different, much more positive story: they are 15-3-3. But when they score two or fewer goals, the team’s record dips to 1-12-3, wrote long-time St. Louis sports columnist Bernie Miklasz on the Scoops with DannyMac blog.
A Season on the Brink
Berube’s team ranks 28th among the NHL’s 31 teams with a .426 points percentage over the last two months, Miklasz added. The Blues have been outscored 85-66 over that time overall, and 57-34 at 5-on-5.
“They are in real danger of missing the playoffs,” Miklasz wrote.
If fans are frustrated, it is because of the way the Blues are losing games. They have been in many close games, but have lost 12 1-goal games this season. Nine of those losses have come on home ice at the Enterprise Center. Blues fans are seeing the team perform its best on the road, but watching questionable efforts when they return home. Postgame press conferences sound repetitive.
A recurring theme for the Blues has been the team’s inability to gain leads early in games. Against the Golden Knights at home, they fell behind 2-0 in the first period before Tyler Bozak netted one to make it 2-1.
“I hit the crossbar on one. They’re all different games if those go in,” Perron told Bally Sports Midwest after the 6-1 drubbing by Vegas on April 5. “We had a lot of good looks early on. Their goalie made some key saves — (Ivan Barbashev) had a breakaway, I think. Schwartzy (Jaden Schwartz) had a breakaway. I had another good look that I think hit his blocker – kind of went behind him even, and outside the other side of the net. So, obviously those matter a lot when they don’t go in. So we’ve got to stick together in here, find a way to regroup. I know it’s tough times right now, but that’s really what I believe.”
Punch-Drunk Against Vegas
The Golden Knights hit the accelerator in the second period with four unanswered goals to pummel the punchless Blues in the April 5 home game. Vegas is now 3-2 against St. Louis and is even at 1-1 in 1-goal games. St. Louis last took Vegas down 5-4 in a shootout on Jan. 26 — they lost 5-4 in overtime on March 12.
The Blues had previously beaten Vegas in 10 straight games.
“We got a goal or two against, and we get away from our game,” Perron told Bally Sports Midwest. “As a team, night after night, we’ve got to play deep. That’s how we’re going to put pressure on teams and not give up odd-man rushes, things like that.”
The Golden Knights scored two goals 32 seconds apart and added another for three goals in 1:59 to take a 5-1 advantage in the second period. Alec Martinez scored on a one-timer at 7:08, followed by Carrier, who tipped in a shot at 7:40. Jonathan Marchessault scored on a wrist shot at 9:07.
“It was really good tonight,” Marchessault told reporters following the game. “We were finding lanes and we had bodies in front of the goalie. We had a couple of good bounces there. This should be a positive for us the rest of the way.”
Similarly, the Blues have had tough luck scoring against the division-leading Colorado Avalanche. Against the Avs, St. Louis is 1-3 and has lost a pair of 1-goal games so far this season (a 3-2 loss and a 2-1 loss). The teams play each other another four times.
The critics have been vocal in St. Louis.
“Despite having the NHL’s second-highest payroll according to Cap Friendly, the Blues can barely buy a goal,” Miklasz wrote. “Ownership’s investment includes $47.6 million for forwards, and another $21 million for defensemen. There isn’t much to show for all that dough.”
“The paucity of goals has been submerging this team for two months now,” he added.
What’s the Upside Here?
So, where is the upside here? Where do fans find any glimmer of hope?
St. Louis fans use 2019 as part of their daily lexicon, so let’s go back to that magical year. The team was in similar straits, having lost consecutive games with the trade deadline looming, according to Blues insider Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic speaking on the BK & Ferrario Show on 101 ESPN in St. Louis. General manager Doug Armstrong dealt Paul Stastny for a top draft pick at the deadline, and the Blues found winning magic the rest of the season. Binnington was a huge reason why the Cup came to St. Louis for the first time in franchise history.
So, there is reason for hope, Rutherford said on the show. It has happened before, he noted.
The company line to fans is to keep the faith, even as the Blues disappoint them in these huge games against division-leading opponents. “We will get it worked out” and “It comes from within” are the chirps floating around the Blues these days. There are also messages of scorched earth — screams of “burn it down” and “rebuild now.”
Perron isn’t distracted by that talk.
“You keep going at it. That’s hockey. No one is going to give us anything,” Perron told Bally Sports Midwest following the 6-1 loss against Vegas. “It was a tough lesson tonight, for sure. We had a really good start. I think maybe we think it’s going to go down because we have a good start. It’s always shift after shift, we’ve got to keep building. It’s never over and there’s a restart the next game. That’s our next opportunity.
“It’s never going to be perfect. There are good teams in our division. Nothing is going to be given to us. So, there’s what? Eighteen games out? That’s what we have to focus on.”
While the Blues spend time playing catch-up during a tough slate of upcoming games, the Wheel of Excuses will be in full force, spinning like the wheels of a hot slot machine.