It's been a great season for the Blues
. A really, really great season.
They started off slow under Davis Payne, but ever since making a coaching change and bringing in Ken Hitchcock, the Blues have been among the best teams in the NHL. For long stretches of time, in fact, it looked like the Blues were quite possibly the best team in the league. They played strangling, smothering defense, boasted the best goaltending tandem in hockey, and beat all comers nightly throughout the meat of the season.
Unfortunately, it looks like the season is now pretty much over.
Going into last night's game two against the Los Angeles Kings, the Blues were down 1-0, needing to come out with their absolute best effort to even up the series and show the Kings this was going to be a war.
Kings 5, Blues 2. Enough said.
Actually, I can't really say enough said, because that would leave me with a very short column and you without the near-useless commentary you can only get from an Aaron Schafer
article. So, not quite
enough said, just yet.
What happened last night at Scottrade Center may have been the single worst performance I've seen from this team since Hitchcock became the coach. The Kings answered the bell like a team feeling the win close at hand; the Blues answered the bell like a punch-drunk heavyweight, staggering through the worst period of hockey they've played all year.
Four goals in the first period. Four. That's not supposed to happen to defensive powerhouses. The Chicago Blackhawks, struggling to find goaltending anywhere possible, that's the kind of team who can give up four goals in a period. The Edmonton Oilers, just overmatched in most phases of the game right now, they can allow four goals in a period.
The St. Louis Blues are not supposed to give up four goals in a period. This was the '85 Bears giving up 42 points, or Bill Russell getting blasted for a career offensive night. An historically great defense, which the Blues most definitely had this year, allowing the fewest goals ever in the expansion era, does not give up four goals in the first period of the biggest game they've played all year. It was an embarrassing performance, and I have no idea what the solution could be.
Brian Elliott was frankly terrible, but didn't get much help from his defense either. Missing their number one defender Alex Pietrangelo, the Blues allowed the Kings to simply physically dominate them, pushing them around the ice the way the Blues themselves did to their opponents most of the season. Unfortunately for the Blues, they don't even have the option of moving Elliott out and trying something different; Jaroslav Halak is officially out for the rest of the series with the lower body injury he suffered at the hands of Barret Jackman. So it's Elliott, sink or swim.
The power play was abysmal, going 0-9 including two separate 5-on-3s that failed to generate anything significant. Another short-handed goal for the Kings actually meant the Blues' power play was essential minus-1 on the night. You aren't going to win very often when your special teams are as brutally bad as the Blues' have been in this series.
In the end, though, it's really tough to say what went wrong for a purely strategic standpoint. Maybe the special teams have gone flat. Maybe the loss of the team's best player threw the chemistry off. Maybe this team just happened to peak too early this season, dominating any and all opponents in January before just flat-out running out of gas by the time the end of April rolls around.
Now isn't the time for technical, on-ice adjustments. This is the time for soul searching. If the Blues are going to have any chance at all of pulling off a near-miraculous comeback -- and I, personally, think it's already too late for that -- then it isn't going to be a new tweak in the gameplan that's going to make it possible.
This team was not a defensive juggernaut in the regular season because Ken Hitchcock is a brilliant defensive coach. Don't get me wrong; that's certainly a part of it. But the reason what Hitchcock came to town selling worked so brilliantly was because the players bought in. The played with passion, with energy, and with fire in setting that new goals against record and compiling one of the best records in the NHL.
So far in this series against the Kings, I simply haven't seen much of that team who did such magnificent things through the winter. If they magically show back up in the next two games, the Blues might still be able to make a series of it.
If, on the other hand, we see the same team in LA we've seen with the home ice advantage the last two games at Scottrade, well, it's been a really great season. Just a shame it looks to be ending this way.