Telling November Ahead for Blues
The first month of the 2011-12 season is in the books. To date, most fans of the Blues probably have more questions than they have answers. Typically, November is the month where the truth emerges around the NHL. Ridiculous starts often fade and uncharacteristic droughts usually end. For the Blues, November will be a telling month for this squad as we'll have a larger sample size to judge by and the true talent on the staff should rise to the surface.
The Blues ended their first month with a 5-6-0 record and 10 points through 11 games. It's far from being the best start the team has ever enjoyed but it also isn't the worst start we could have seen (direct your eyes to Columbus). There have been some nice stories to emerge so far (Brian Elliott in net) but the bulk of the attention has landed on the areas the Blues have struggled in, which unfortunately, are far too many.
From special teams play that is frankly horrific to forwards not producing and an unreliable Jaroslav Halak, the stories that will play out in November are far too many to list. November will be the month where the Blues better come ready to play or they'll be buried in the Western Conference.
In the modern NHL there are no easy games. The Western Conference is mostly stacked, top to bottom, with teams capable of pulling out a "W" on any night. As the Blues have learned the past two seasons, making the playoffs is far from an easy thing.
The club will play 13 games in November but will have the luxury of enjoying eight of them at home. This includes a five-game stretch of home games in the middle of the month.
The Blues schedule in November is loaded with tough opponents, but honestly, there won't be a month where that's not the case. From tilts against Western Conference powers such as Chicago, Detroit and LA, the Blues will face some of the best in the Eastern Conference against teams such as the hot Toronto Maple Leafs, the Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals.
The slow starters around the organization need to get their game in gear. The battle for the top-8 in the Western Conference magnifies each and every point the Blues let slip away early in the year. November must be the month Chris Stewart gets rolling, Jaroslav Halak regains confidence and the special teams play improves by huge margins.
It may seem far too early to say this but another mediocre month for the Blues will greatly hinder their chances of making the playoffs. Last year Chicago narrowly squeaked into the playoffs by finishing 8th with 97
points. The Blues were 11th, finishing with 10 fewer points.
My "not so bold" prediction is that a similar mark in 2011-12 will get a team into the playoffs. Typically, I would have said 95 points should punch your ticket, but given the strength in the Western Conference, 97 is a safer number. This means a team needs to average 1.18
points in each of the 82 games they play. Or, in other words, they need to play at above a point-per-game pace. Currently, the Blues are playing at a 0.90
Obviously, there's plenty of improvements that need to be made.
What's at Stake?
This one is pretty obvious: jobs.
If this team isn't able to pull itself together there will be changes made. So far we have seen an uninspired, uninterested, sloppy squad through the season's first month. If this pattern continues in November the organization will be forced to make changes. Whether you believe the slow start and unmotivated play is Davis Payne's fault or not, he will likely be the first one to go. An organization can't fire all their players and cutting the head coach sends the clearest message of change.
Let's not get too far down the path before we have to but that is a possibility that looms in the club's future if they don't start producing results.