Blues Weekly: Losing Streak, Bad Defense, Injuries & More

The St. Louis Blues played poorly in all four of their games last week. After a 3-0-0 start, they find themselves searching for answers before the end of October.

St. Louis Blues Weekly Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou
Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou (The Hockey Writers)

The Blues already boast a number of flaws, starting with their constant bad decision-making with the puck. When they continue to turn the puck over and make mistakes, their below-average defense can’t cover those mistakes up. The fact that both goaltenders have played as well as they have is surprising, but the Blues aren’t doing anything to take advantage of that. The only positive to take away from this past week is that they have 75 games left to fix things.

Blues Struggle in 0-4-0 Week

Let me begin this by saying that head coach Craig Berube is not on the hot seat. He’s not to blame for a lot of the issues that this team has. However, the lack of fire and awareness combined with the mistakes by veterans is alarming. That is something that a coach can improve upon. This team seems to have a chemistry issue, which makes little sense given that most of the 2021-22 team is back. More line shuffling could be in order from Berube, but there’s only so much he can do.

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The Blues played four teams last week that they should be better than. The Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets are solid teams, but neither is a strong Stanley Cup contender. The Edmonton Oilers are a Cup contender, but the Blues had just shut them down a few days prior. As for the finale of the week against the Montreal Canadiens, this loss was highlighted by poor coverage and a grave number of mistakes.

One positive sign from the loss to the Canadiens was the play of the fourth line. Tyler Pitlick, Noel Acciari, and Alexey Toropchenko looked tremendous together. If Berube is going to shuffle lines again, he shouldn’t touch this line. With Josh Leivo going back to the American Hockey League (AHL), it’s clear that Pitlick is here to stay, and rightfully so. Pitlick has been a huge boost to the bottom six, as his presence has helped them generate more chances to score.

The Blues’ Defensive Unit is Lost

Justin Faulk has been brilliant, but everyone else must be put on notice. The defensive breakdowns and poor coverage have been consistent with this group all season. General manager Doug Armstrong prioritized puck-moving defensemen over the last few offseasons. However, that shift in philosophy hasn’t done anything to help this unit. The biggest impact of that change of direction has been the worsening defensive play of this group. It’s hard to believe that they thought giving Colton Parayko an eight-year extension was a good idea. That contract combined with the fact that Nick Leddy isn’t who they think he is will be a major problem for this franchise over the next decade or so.

Nick Leddy St. Louis Blues
Nick Leddy, St. Louis Blues (Photo by Joe Puetz/NHLI via Getty Images)

As much as I enjoy watching Torey Krug, he shouldn’t be relied upon to be above-average defensively. He’s a great puck-moving defenseman with a strong veteran presence, but he’s not a defensive defenseman. As for Niko Mikkola, there are flashes of a good defensive defenseman, but there are still major inconsistencies. I don’t think Robert Bortuzzo is good enough to be a top-six defenseman on this team, but here we are. They’ve already tried to mix up the defensive pairings, but now I think they should try to dip into the AHL to give Tyler Tucker, Dmitri Samorukov, or Matthew Kessel a chance.

I’m not surprised that the Blues’ defense is struggling. They only have one defenseman that can be relied on and that’s Faulk, as he’s been the leader of this unit for the last two seasons. The decision to re-sign Leddy was never a good one, the same can obviously be said for the decision to view Parayko as the future number-one defenseman. I don’t know how many of these issues are systematic, but there are clearly issues that need to be cleaned up. The Blues were able to outscore their defensive shortcomings last season, but that has not been the case through seven games in 2022-23.

Buchnevich is Back, Saad Remains Out

The Blues got Pavel Buchnevich back in the fold for their loss to the Canadiens after missing five games with a lower-body injury. He reunited with Robert Thomas and Vladimir Tarasenko, a line that has proven to be elite for this team. Buchnevich is a major piece on this roster and getting him back should help the team find some consistency. He’s an excellent two-way forward with elite goal-scoring ability. He didn’t hit the scoresheet and had a plus/minus of minus-2 against the Canadiens, but they gave up seven goals so that’s not a surprise.

Pavel Buchnevich St. Louis Blues
Pavel Buchnevich, St. Louis Blues (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As for Brandon Saad, he’s missed the last four games, meaning that the Blues are 0-4-0 without him. Saad being out isn’t the reason for the Blues’ struggles, but it wouldn’t hurt to have him back. It’s unknown when he will return to the ice, but he hasn’t been put on injured reserve (IR), so it could be sooner rather than later. With the way the forward group is performing right now, I’d assume that Nathan Walker would be scratched when Saad is back, but it could be Jake Neighbours as well. A player like Pitlick, who just signed a one-year deal, should be in the lineup with Acciari for most of the season. Their chemistry has been far too good to make any changes with them even when Saad returns.

Four Players Carrying the Load Right Now

Despite the team struggling over the last four games, four players continue to stand out over the others. Two players are over a point per game right now, Faulk and Brayden Schenn. They both have nine points, and Faulk is tied for the team lead with three goals. They’ve been oddly criticized recently, but Thomas and Tarasenko have still been good together. Tarasenko had a small slump after a hot start to the season, but he still has seven points in seven games, while Thomas is improving his two-way game and has six points in seven games.

Brayden Schenn St. Louis Blues
Brayden Schenn, St. Louis Blues (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Overall, I have been impressed with Schenn’s start to the season. After multiple injuries last season, he has come back with a vengeance in 2022-23. He’s getting into the dirty areas, throwing hits, and scoring goals despite being shuffled all over the lineup. I wouldn’t read too much into his minus-5 on the scoresheet, because the Blues have a goal differential of minus-7 anyway. Faulk has had an incredible season to this point, it’s no surprise that he is leading the defensive unit, as he is well on his way to scoring double-digit goals again this season. In fact, he could surpass the 16 that he had in 2021-22.

I suspect that with Buchnevich back in the lineup, both Thomas and Tarasenko will take it up a notch offensively. This line drives all of the offense for the Blues, two 30-goal scorers, and an elite passer should create plenty of scoring chances. The Blues won’t make the playoffs if players like Ryan O’Reilly, Jordan Kyrou, Ivan Barbashev, and others don’t start to play better.

Blues’ Week Ahead

  • Monday: vs. Los Angeles Kings (5-5-0, 10 points), 7 PM
  • Thursday: vs. New York Islanders (5-4-0, 10 points), 7 PM

The Blues only have two games this week to figure things out, as they’ll play two home games against playoff hopefuls in the Los Angeles Kings and New York Islanders. The Blues went 2-0-1 against the Kings last season and 1-1-0 against the Islanders. Both of these teams have goaltenders that can steal or control games, especially the Islanders with Ilya Sorokin. I’m curious to see how Berube handles his starting goaltenders this week, although I expect it to be Binnington for both games. The issue hasn’t been in the net, it’s been what’s happening in front of it, which is bad defensive coverage. Either way, the Blues need to come away with points in both matchups no matter what.

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