Embarrassment in LA
Blues Fall 5-0
There are games where there's nothing to say and a ton to say all at the same time. Tonight against LA was one of those games. The Blues played another uninspired, sloppy game against the Kings and paid for it by a healthy margin. It's the same story from 2010-11 just with a slightly different cast of characters. While you're likely familiar with what's plaguing this team, it's time to break down what went wrong in LA and what's been going wrong for the better part of the past couple seasons.
I was aware the Blues played tonight. The question is, were they? From the start the Blues came out slow in this one. The defense failed to close on their men while the offense resorted to a game of dump the puck and try to chase after it. Again, the special teams were far from special.
I understand we are only opening the page on the 2011-12 season, but the mistakes this crew is making are unacceptable - at any stage of the season.
Brace yourself - this one might be ugly to read.
Jaroslav Halak Pulled
You didn't think I forgot about him, did you? I avoided mentioning Halak in the first few paragraphs as I feel every post-loss article seems to start with him. However, tonight push came to shove and the LA Kings effectively shoved Halak out of the net and on to the bench.
The Kings scored a goal or two I don't think Halak, nor any goaltender truly could have saved. However, he saved just 14 of 18 shots. That's a pathetic .778 save percentage. The final nail in the coffin for Halak came through Anze Kopitar on a fairly standard wrister that bested Halak's left arm. Slow reaction, soft goal, bring on Brian Elliott.
I was all for giving Halak the benefit of the doubt heading into 2011-12 after a 2010-11 season where I was completely unimpressed with the new number one. Honestly, Halak often reminded me of some old "#1" goaltenders of old in St. Louis, such as Roman Turek, but came with a price tag and the expectations of being a true starter capable of stealing games for the Blues.
Benefit of the doubt has officially ended. Halak's performance tonight summed up all of my arguments against him. He was slow to react, lackadaisical in net, poor at controlling rebounds and couldn't make the big save when his team needed him most. Sure, another goaltender might have allowed one or two of LA's four goals against him, but few true number one goaltenders would have allowed Kopitar's wrister to get past.
A true number one goaltender resided at the other end of the ice in Jonathan Quick. This analogy has been made numerous times as the Blues continue to face teams with a big talent in net - something the Blues have lacked for years.
What should the Blues do moving forward?
Honestly, I'm glad I don't have to make that decision. Obviously, I start Brian Elliott in the team's next game. Unless he completely "Halaks" (see what I did there?) I use him in the following game and hope a new face in net jumpstarts this team.
Ugly Special Teams
A whole bunch of adjectives could be used to describe this team's special teams thus far, but I try to keep this site on the PG side of things.
As of the date of this article, the Blues percentage of success with the man advantage is 4%. You read that correctly, 4%. They actually entered the game with a slightly better success rate, but an 0-for-4 game on the power play knocked them down to a percentage that would make any fan wince.
The PK was a bit better, allowing one LA goal on three opportunities. Realistically, the Blues can only improve here as entering tonight they were the worst in the league with a 66.7%.
Slow and Uninspired
Jaroslav Halak hasn't been the only guy loafing on the ice. Really, the slow and uninspired statement stretches across the entire roster. No one has been entirely free of slow, quiet shifts to start 2011-12 and it shows by the team's losing record.
Take the huge loss against LA tonight: there wasn't only point through the entire contest where I said to myself, "hey - they're still in this one". Right out of the gate, the Blues looked like they had already lost and were just going through the motions.
Is motivation the issue? We'll get to that in the next section.
Is Coaching to Blame?
The heat is rising on Davis Payne and rightfully so. Payne replaced Murray and was supposed to be a voice that could inspire the young talent throughout the squad. He did well upon taking over, finishing out the 2009-10 season with a 23-15-4 record.
The following year, 2010-11, was a different matter as the Blues slumped to a 38-33-11 mark.
An obvious issue last year and a huge glaring issue this year deals with motivation, as often the Blues come out and look like they might be playing a pickup game with their friends, not in a contest at the professional level. Something and someone has to be able to get this team fired up and ready to compete for the entire 60 minutes. Sometimes the Blues show up for 20, 40 or even zero minutes (tonight) but rarely does this squad play a hard 60.
Is Payne the answer? Or do the Blues need to find someone else who is?
Another name that often goes overlooked is the man behind Jaroslav Halak. No, I'm not talking about Brian Elliott, but instead I'm referring to goaltending coach Corey Hirsch. I wasn't thrilled with his signing in 2010 after he was cut loose by the Toronto Maple Leafs. If you know anything about the recent goaltending in Toronto, you'd know why I was concerned that the Blues were adding a guy the Leafs subtracted
. He's supposed to find the weaknesses in Halak and tweak them to make him a better goaltender. Instead, I've mostly seen Halak transform into a totally different goaltender than the one we saw make a magical run through the playoffs with Montreal.
Honestly, I don't think it's all to blame on Hirsch, but at the same time I'm not convinced he has done anything to earn his paycheck.
Where to From Here?
The old saying is that there's nowhere to go but up. The sample size on this season is very, very small. The Blues as a whole and individually have not started clicking, which means things are bound to improve.
The other 29 teams in the NHL are always improving. Gone are the days where you can look at a schedule and pencil a "W" beside a matchup before the game is played. Arguably, the Western Conference is as tough as it has ever been and the Blues aren't playing like they belong to be in the playoff hunt or anywhere near it. Other teams in the West aren't going to do the Blues any favors, and in a year where I feel just making the playoffs is an immense challenge, the Blues aren't helping by starting the year so feebly.
This ship needs to get turned around and in a hurry. Changes loom off in the horizon. I'm not sure what to expect from the Blues in their upcoming games but I do know one thing - if they keep playing like this, there will be changes made and jobs lost.