Saturday, December 4, 2010

Why Are The Blues Struggling?

A few weeks ago, we did a write-up on the St. Louis Blues returning to their former glory. However, two injuries and a confidence-ridden goalie later, they appear to be playing themselves out of the playoff picture.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="518" caption="AP Photo/ Jeff Roberson"]AP Photo/ Jeff Roberson[/caption]

Before the games started on Friday the 3rd, the Blues were sitting 11th in the West, 1 point out of a tie for 8th. At such an early juncture in the season, it's not too late to call them a bust. But their 3-7 record in their last 10 games raises a red flag the size of a barn. More importantly, they are 0-4 in their last 4 tries.

Coaches and fans are always hesitant to accept the "injury" excuse, although it might have some weight in this situation. T.J. Oshie went down with a fractured ankle November 11th, just 6 days after fellow forward David Perron went down with a concussion. Perron's wicked wrister is surely missed in the top 6 for St. Louis, especially given the fact that their best set up man, T.J. Oshie is also on the sidelines.

The Blues have depth at forwards but any time you lose 2 top 6 players and powerplay guys, your team will suffer. More than just their individual production, with two men out, the blues have to shuffle lines which causes a riff in chemistry. The Blues were operating at full steam before the injuries and all lines were clicking. Chemistry was a huge factor in this. Now the Blues are trying to re-balance and learn to play with new linemates mid-season. The recent hiccups are to be expected, nevertheless they need to find a fix until these two can come back. Oshie is still about 3 weeks from returning. Perron is less specified, as concussions are harder to assess.

While they were figuring out their chemistry up front, Jaro Halak, an early Vezina candidate, had to withstand the storm. Unfortunately he did not. He has been pulled numerous times in favor of back-up Ty Conklin who has not faired any better. Halak's meteoric rise this year, a continuation of his playoff performance, was met with an equal meteoric fall. Halak has been given days off to mend his bruising ego, but I feel it is only a matter of time before he gets back into his groove. Much like teams win or lose on goaltending, goalies can be given Ws and Ls because of a struggling team.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="540" caption="Oshie's absence has been hurting the Blues"][/caption]

The frustration bubbling over in Missouri is compounded by the fact that the Blues are playing in the hardest division in the National Hockey League right now. Detroit, Chicago and Columbus all sit in the top 5 in the conference, while the only remaining team, Nashville, is tied with the Blues at 27 points. Since the schedule now has teams face inter-division rivals six times per year(24 out of 82 games), teams don't go long stretches without a tough, hard-fought opponent. Division games are just as much about not allowing your division rival to win 2 points as much as winning the 2 points yourself. 5 of their last 12 games have been against division teams--they have won 1 of these games. Losses to division rivals certainly have not helped the Blues regain their stride.

But Blues fans, don't burn your memorabilia yet! With almost 60 games left, and their current position in standings (1 point out of 8th spot) it will certainly be an easy feat to make the playoffs. The Blues just need to weather the storm and string a few wins together. They have the talent from offense to defense to in the net. Their game today against a hot Edmonton team will be a good match-up but one they should win. Snapping the 4 game losing streak will help as they finish a road trip in Vancouver and come home to play Columbus.  Even a 3-2 record in their next five would be a good sign of things to come. Once Oshie and Perron return, Halak finds his confidence again and the team returns to their team play they will be a force to reckon with in the league (again).

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