Finding the Middle
The season is young but we have already seen this Blues team go on a big seven game winning streak followed by the current five game losing streak. We've seen Jaroslav Halak stand on his head to keep puck after puck out of the net and we have seen him literally paddle the puck into his own net (video below). So which end of the spectrum is this team - the one that used determination and effort to crunch opponents or the one that fails to show up and allows goal after goal? The answer lies somewhere in between.
This Detroit loss was a tough one.
Two hard fought periods of hockey where the Blues came from behind twice to level the game. Then the third period started. Do you remember the scene in Mighty Ducks 2 (D2, whatever) where the kids all playing for Team USA decided to switch jerseys before the third period, coming out all in their original Mighty Ducks jerseys? This game was sort of like that, but instead of an emotional cinematic ending, the Blues trotted out some minor league squad that fell under the relentless pressure the Red Wings piled on.
From the first and second periods to the third, it looked as if two completely different rosters skated tonight. The first and second period saw a roster overcoming some pretty ridiculous adversity when Halak batted the puck into his own net. The game easily could have spiraled out of control right then and there, but the Brad Boyes, Andy McDonald and David Backes line kept on churning.
The third period was the opposite and saw the Red Wings rattle off four goals before the Blues even knew what hit them. Between 12:26 and 15:40 in the third, all four goals were scored and that's all she wrote.
So what happened?
Unfortunately, this type of loss is something Blues fans are all too familiar with. The Blues had numerous third period collapses last season, but usually these all took place at home and the road was where the Blues turned in their best effort. Those also were usually one-goal or tied games that the Blues dropped late ... and not the multi-goal blowout that we have been seeing lately.
Sure, injuries are partially to blame. Defensively, the Blues dearly miss Roman Polak and Barrett Jackman helping shut down the opponents' top lines. Offensively, David Perron and TJ Oshie are greatly missed as Perron's dynamic moves create chances while Oshie is one of the best two-way defenseman in the league. Injuries are definitely a factor. However, they should not be used as an excuse for this current stretch.
Obviously a lot of this, like last year, appears to be mental. Determination and a complete game effort are what is allowing opponents like the Red Wings to blow the game open late. There is one area I am truly concerned about though - goaltending.
Would the real Jaroslav Halak please make himself known?
It seems like ages ago when Halak went 8-1-1 in 10 starts including a streak where he piled up six straight wins. Skip to today and we have seen four consecutive losses in games where Halak has allowed four, two, six and finally seven goals. It should be noted that the game in which he allowed four goals saw him get replaced by Ty Conklin after 24 minutes, so the damage could have been worse.
Halak's situation is likely similar to the one plaguing the Blues as a whole - he isn't as bad as we have seen in the last few games nor is he capable of performing at the rate he did earlier this year for an entire season.
He definitely has been unlucky during this stretch (he scored on himself) and was definitely lucky during the early stretch.
In poker, or most gambling you would call this variance. Say you flip a coin 10 times. It could land heads all 10 times, breaking the rule that it should only land heads 50% of the time. However, over a long enough sample size, say such as a million coin flips, you'll get a percentage nearly exactly at 50%.
This is how I look at the Blues. The Blues were getting really, really luck early this season. Everything was going their way, the goaltending was hot and the team didn't need to score many goals to secure the win. Their opponents didn't play particularly well and the team compiled a nice winning streak. Now the luck has turned. Nearly every bounce appears to be going badly, calls are going the wrong way and teams are firing on all cylinders when facing the Blues.
Eventually, things will start evening out. It is too early to decide what this team is and isn't capable off. Just like I said it was way to early to crown them when ESPN had them #1 in their rankings, it is way too early to give up.
The true identity of this team remains to be seen, but I feel confident it is not as bad as the one tonight nor is it as good as the one at the start of the year.
Video of Halak scoring on himself. This is a pretty good indicator things are not going your way.