To say things have not gone to plan so far this season would be a vast understatement. Coming off an exciting 2008-09, the Blues have struggled to find their true identity this season. What exactly is the cause and can we really single it down to just one thing? We shouldn't ignore the fact the Blues were swept out of the playoffs to end last season, and perhaps that was an indication of the play we would see this season.
It is far too early to push the panic button. If you recall, the Blues basically went from last to playoff contender in about a month, so we all know the late season heroics are always a possibility. However, with what happened last season and the return of some big talent like Erik Johnson, we all expected the Blues to improve this year and not have to rely on a late season push to get them a playoff spot.
The finger of blame has been wildly pointing this season, first toward jet lag, then to the players, then to coaches, then scheduling, then to injuries and the players and now I think the blame can rest on all of the above.
Travel / Scheduling
This point is only relevant for the first couple games following the Sweden trip, but it was clear the Blues came out extremely slowly in their first few games following the voyage. While this slow starting trend since continued, starting the year in Sweden for back-to-back games can take a toll on any team once they return to the States. However, the "we went to Sweden, we are tired" only works so long, and though it gives them a pass for the first few games upon returning, it doesn't explain the recent blunders.
Some have argued that the Blues are playing too many games back-to-back and have had too many days off in between contests. The scheduling in the NHL is certainly strange and I'm not going to pretend I understand the reasoning behind it as we watched teams play multiple early games while the Blues sat around idle for four days. The schedule can earn a small portion of the blame due to the multitude of off days, but obviously there is something much larger wrong here. The schedule shits to a more consistent form in November, so the blame definitely should be pointed elsewhere.
They are the ones on the ice and they are the ones in charge of burying the puck and defending their own net. Clearly, they have not done a very good job of either this season and few Blues players have stood out so far. Erik Johnson has provided offense from the blueline, an area the Blues were hurting in last season. We can't really ask much more from him as he has seven points (all assists) and has appeared to improve from game to game this season while adjusting to life on the ice following his knee injury in 2008-09.
David Backes has left the building. When sifting through the roster, multiple disappointments emerge. Backes has just two points (1 goal, 1 helper) this season. Two. We'll let that sink in for a moment. Keep in mind this is a player who lit the lamp 31 times last season, and one that some thought still had another gear to shift up to in his young career. I think it is only a matter of time until Backes finds his groove, but until then, the finger of blame can rightfully be pointed his way.
Brad Boyes. Previously when his struggles were mentioned the point arose that maybe he just needs to shoot the puck more. Through 12 games, Boyes has 41 shots. What does he have to show for this? A mediocre two goals and four assists. To put this in perspective, LA King Anze Kopitar has fired the puck 41 times as well, but over the course of 14 games. He has 10 goals and 11 assists on the year. This may not be the most fair comparison, it does put Boyes' offensive blackout in better perspective. His shots are not finding the back of the net, nor is he generating the type of chances he used to. This guy scored 43 in 2007-08 and 33 last year, so expectations are rightfully high. Currently, he seems a long shot to make it back to his total of 72 points we saw last season.
Patrik Berglund. Most felt he would take his game to the next level and put up huge offensive numbers this season. This still might happen, but things will have to change in a big way and soon if he wants to eclipse his numbers from last year. Berglund's game, just like many of the players, seems just a bit off.
The list goes on and on. The blame is shouldered by the majority of the roster, as the disappointing performances greatly outnumber the positive ones.
From hero to shouts for termination. I'm in the camp that likes Andy Murray and feel that while he is at fault for a few aspects this season, the majority of the blame is out of his control. He is in charge of firing up the troops and making sure they are ready to play at the first whistle. The Blues calling card this season has been inconsistency and slow starts, so this casts an ugly light on Murray. He needs to get these guys fired up and out of the gate in a hurry. Also, some of the line combos fans have seen on the ice leave some scratching their heads. David Perron has been one of the better skaters thus far, yet he has seen time amongst the checkers, limiting what production he might be able to produce. Perhaps the theory that time on the checking line will jumpstart a player has rung true to some extent this season, but the fact remains that some of the line combos have just been odd.
This blog tries to provide an accurate and fair view of all things Blues. While much love will be shown, when something needs fixing, you can expect to see a rant about it here. The power-play has sucked. S-U-C-K-E-D, sucked. It clicked in Sweden, but it sure hasn't made it through customs as the man advantage has been miserable since returning.
Maybe I should let the numbers do the talking.
Power-play: 14.0% - 26th in the NHL
PK: 80.0 % - 16th in the NHL
The penalty kill has been average, but the power-play has been dismal. It is worth noting that the team with the best power-play, Toronto at 28.0%, is an ugly 1-7-4 to start the season, so clearly special teams aren't everything.
The St. Louis Blues calling card; the injury. D.J. King fractures his hand, T.J. Oshie's appendix decides it wants out, Alex Steen has a wrist injury and multiple games of missed time by Brewer, Jackman and Colaiacovo. The injury plague has made it's rounds, but at the same time it should be noted that several players have returned from injury as well.
Paul Kariya and Erik Johnson are back to full health after missing most (or all) of last season. Brewer has returned and Jackman is not far behind. Soon, the Blues will have the vast majority of their roster back in place, and the injury bug will no longer be a viable excuse.
The Last Word
Players, coaches, special teams and injuries - all are at least partially to blame for the team's slow start. All aspects need to improve if the team wants to return to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. With no action until Thursday against Calgary, the Blues will attempt to begin their climb out of the basement of the Central division. Unfortunately, seemingly every team in the NHL can win on any given night, so the Blues will need to right their ways before the hole is too large to climb out of.