Going into the weekend, the Blues
faced another in a seemingly never-ending series of gut checks for the 2010 season. A home-and-home against the Minnesota Wild,
a team the Blues were trying to overtake in their quest to capture the Western Division's eighth and final playoff spot. Not an easy task, by any means; the Wild are a quality hockey team. But still, to have two in a row against one of the teams you absolutely have to beat in order to make the playoffs? It set up so perfectly for the Blues. All they had to do was go out and get at least three points -- though four would have been even better -- and they were still right there in the thick of things.
There was only one problem: every single time the Blues have had one of these big moments, whether it was a long home stand or what should have been a very winnable stretch on the road, they have failed miserably. And it was no different this weekend. Two games, two losses, two more disappointments. There's really only one good bit of news to come out of these games: there probably aren't many letdowns left.
The Blues managed just one point in the two games and fell eight points behind the Wild for eighth place. Even worse, they have only one game left on the season with Minnesota, making it even less likely they'll be able to make up any serious ground in a hurry. When you don't play the team you're chasing it's tough to pick up points.
So what went wrong for the Blues in this latest fiasco? Well, for starters, the goaltending. Jaroslav Halak started both games, and essentially did what he's done all season: make inconsistency look like an art form.
Particularly in Saturday's game, Halak was every bit as frustrating as he's been most of the year. He allowed three goals early and was pulled midway through the second period. Ty Conklin did an admirable job of stopping the bleeding, but by then it was already too late. The Blues never could get untracked offensively and managed just one goal on the night. (There were two positives to come out of that goal, though: Patrik Berglund scored it and it came on the power play. Neither of those things have happened nearly often enough this season.)
Friday Halak allowed four goals, each one with a one-goal lead. The 'Note kept getting leads for their goalie, and he just kept giving them right back. For the first month and a half of the season, Halak looked pretty much like the player the Blues thought they were getting, the playoff hero they paid handsomely to bring in. Since then, Halak has looked decidedly average. Not even playoff average. Just plain old average average. This isn't the guy we all thought Halak was going to be.
Beyond Halak, though, the rest of the team didn't play particularly well either. These were two of the biggest games the Blues have played all year, and they came out depressingly flat, Saturday night especially. The Wild outshot the Blues 12-5 in the first period of Saturday's game. That's right, you heard me. The Blues had less than half as many shots on goal in the first period in what was very much a make-or-break game. That's just inexcusable.
Inconsistent goaltending, an anemic offense, and a seeming lack of real fire coming out of the gate. Sure, I'm talking about this weekend, but I could really be talking about the whole of the Blues' season and no one would be able to tell.
The Blues aren't mathematically eliminated yet, of course, but coming out and losing these two games in such a pivotal moment in the season may have just signaled the beginning of the end for our Blues. They've been one of the worst road teams in the NHL this season, they can't score more than three goals a night, and their supposed solution at goalie gave up four different leads on Friday, then got yanked in the middle of the game the next night. Not much is going right for the Blues at the moment, and I honestly don't see how things are going to turn around any time soon.