Blues Hope History Repeats Itself
Players say they are still confident they can get team into the postseason
Thursday, 03.18.2010 / 5:38 PM CT / St Louis Blues - Features
By Dan Rosen - NHL.com
After making an improbable run to the playoffs last season, the Blues have not met up with their expectations this season. The ride has been filled with surges and sags that have left the players asking themselves what could have been as they still cling to some leaking confidence that they can make another incredible run to the postseason.
Entering Thursday's game at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers, the Blues are 11th in the Western Conference with 73 points, seven fewer than the eighth place Detroit Red Wings.
"We found out last year how well we can play and the teams we can beat and how we can beat them. I think we got away from that a little this year," T.J. Oshie told NHL.com. "I don't know (why that happened). Maybe it's getting overconfident, thinking it was going to be easy. Maybe it's forgetting what it took for us to battle back last year. Going from last place to sixth wasn't an easy task and it wasn't just our offense or goaltending that won it, it was everything coming together. We got away from that. Last year we were winning games 1-0 and that was good enough. That's all it takes."
Back-to-back losses to Minnesota and Colorado this week are just the latest sag the Blues have seen in a season that started with a pair of promising wins over Detroit in Stockholm.
St. Louis was 5-13-3 at Scottrade Center and 14.2 percent on the power play (20 for 140) before coach Andy Murray was replaced on an interim basis by Davis Payne on Jan. 2. They were 17-17-6 overall and have been fighting to make up ground ever since.
"If you really analyze it, you can look at our home record in the first 12 or 13 games and I think it stems right back to that," Blues GM Larry Pleau told NHL.com. "We had great goaltending and we weren't scoring at home and the power play wasn't very good. If you go back to those first 10 to 15 games at home I think there are a lot of answers there."
Pleau says a lot of that was due to growing pains.
The Blues are still a relatively young team with an average age of 28.3 that is inflated by Keith Tkachuk (38 later this month), Darryl Sydor (37) and Paul Kariya (35). They're all unrestricted free agents after the season.
They have 10 guys who are 25 or younger, including core players like Backes, Oshie, Erik Johnson, Patrik Berglund and David Perron. Big-time prospects Lars Eller and Alex Pietrangelo aren't even a part of the equation yet.
It can be argued that last season, when the Blues went on their ridiculous run from 15th place to sixth over the second half, they were playing way above the curve for a team that is supposed to still be building its foundation.
"A lot of people say that, but I don't think I buy into it," Backes said. "We had a group of guys here that bought into the system, bought into the team concept and did what is best for the team every night. We get that out of this group most nights, but there are other nights we get a little too individualistic. This game is a team game and if you try to do it on your own then the teams that play together will eat you alive."
Perhaps the expectations after last season also ate the Blues alive. Eight of their top 11 scorers have experienced a dip in production from last season. Included among the group that didn't dip is Erik Johnson, who sat out all of the 2008-09 with a knee injury.
"You can't say we got ourselves in the playoffs, but now we can't expect that again. That's the wrong way to think," Pleau said. "We expected it and now we have to learn how to play and operate in a situation when you're expected to do things. That's how you get better."
Since Payne took over the Blues have been slightly better. They're 15-11-3, including a 6-4-2 record at home, and their power play is 20 for 113 (17.7 percent). It's all not good enough to contend in the tightly packed Western Conference.
The Blues recently experienced one of their market surges by winning seven of eight games bridging the Olympic break, but barely made up any ground. Any of the little ground they did make up was washed away with this week's losses.
"We don't like the way the landscape looks as opposed to one week ago," Payne said, "but we have every intention of making sure the picture changes over the next week."
The thing is they really do. Count them out if you want to, but the Blues believe they can get into the playoffs.
"We still have a lot of energy in this locker room," Oshie said. "I think we're up to the challenge."
It'll only happen if their market experiences another major surge.
"It doesn't go up every day," Backes said. "It takes a hit here and there. I think the same type of ride is happening here."