Let’s give the St. Louis Blues a little credit to start: the three California teams have posted a combined 68-22-15 record for 151 points to open the 2013-14 season. Their 37-12-8 record against the Western Conference may be even more impressive.
The Blues are considered a top-tier team in the NHL as well, yet flaunt a 0-5-0 record against teams from the Golden State. They have also been outscored 24-11 in the process.
If the playoffs started today, the Blues would finish in second place in the Central Division and would face the third-seeded Colorado Avalanche. With the new divisional-playoff format, Central teams finishing below first are protected against playing Pacific teams. But the second round could pit any Central team against any Pacific team, which includes the Los Angeles Kings – a matchup that makes anyone in St. Louis cringe.
Having seen any playoff hopes come to an end at the hands of the Kings the past two seasons make the Southern Cali team a formidable foe. It seems, though, that the 2012 Stanley Cup champs aren’t the Blues’ only worry anymore. The Sharks and Anaheim Ducks have jumped on the bandwagon, ending any type of streak or scoring phenomena the team may be on.
How can I put this dilemma into even better perspective? The Blues have posted just seven regulation losses this campaign. That means that more than 71 percent of the losses have come against the Pacific’s best. Something has to change.
The most notable problem is a slow start as the scoreboard has read at least 3-0 bad guys in each contest (in four instances, the Blues have faced a 4-0 deficit). St. Louis has also been severely outshot in the first period in the five games, 58-33.
Possibly the most heart-breaking loss came Tuesday night as the Sharks grabbed a 3-0 lead early in the second period when Brent Burns capitalized on blown coverage by the Blues. The previous two goals, scored by Joe Pavelski and Matt Irwin, were also tallied while alone in a scoring area.
The Blues stormed back to make the score 3-2 with goals from defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Jay Bouwmeester to provide hope for a comeback. But, again, the Blues found themselves hemmed in their own zone before allowing yet another goal where a player was left wide open after a rebound popped out in front. Martin Havlat was the lucky recipient this time.
There were other contributing factors to the Blues’ 4-2 loss to the Sharks. It was announced that No. 1 center David Backes was day-to-day with an upper-body injury while Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Sobotka missed their second consecutive game with injuries of their own. This forced the Blues to shuffle the lines, which included starting Magnus Paajarvi on the top line and Carlo Colaiacovo earning time on the wing.
[See related: Injuries Mount in Blues’ Overtime Loss to Senators]
This was something for which the St. Louis team was prepared, though. The signings of Derek Roy, Brenden Morrow and Maxim Lapierre ensured the franchise was prepared for injuries. Yes, the three banged-up forwards are relied on for many aspects of the game. However, constant overlooked defensive coverage and a lack of puck possession is what doomed the Blues Tuesday night. It was more of a system-loss than a depth-loss.
The roster gets another shot at a California team when they face off with the Kings at Scottrade Center in the first game of the New Year, Jan. 2.
California has shown us some good hockey in 2013-14. Still, the Blues have to improve or they will be exiting the playoffs much sooner than they had hoped… again.