When the NHL playoffs begin on Wednesday night, the Blues will be at home, watching on television for the first time in seven years.
It was a reality that neither the players, general manager Doug Armstrong or coach Mike Yeo really wanted to accept on Tuesday as they conducted a post-season session with the media.
“Right now there are still a lot of emotions, the biggest being disappointment and frustration,” said forward Alexander Steen. “We have an extremely long summer ahead of us.”
Armstrong in particular said the responsibility was “on my shoulders” for the team failing to advance to the playoffs after their season-ending loss in Colorado on Saturday night left them one point behind the Avalanche for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
“We took a step back this year,” Armstrong said. “It’s my responsibility to get it going the right direction. … This is on my shoulders. I understand that. The decisions that I make that put us in this spot today, I take ownership on that.”
The members of the front office and coaching staff will have plenty of extra time to dissect the biggest reasons for the Blues’ lack of success this season, but both Armstrong and Yeo immediately pointed to two areas that they know needs to improve.
The first was team’s home record, 24-17, which was well below the record of the top three teams in the Central Division – Nashville, Winnipeg and Minnesota. The Blues finished 20-15-6 on the road.
“You can’t have the home record that we had and be satisfied, for a whole host of reasons,” Armstrong said. “This is a Midwestern town and the people who come here work for a living. We need to send them home happier than we did this season. … I think if we are in the top 10 home records, we’re in the playoffs.”
Said Yeo, “For me, it’s a mindset. We go on the road there’s a better understanding, better preparation and we invest in the game better. We have to get back to being a team which is much harder to play against at home.
“We have a long list of things that have to get better and that is obviously on our list. That’s a focus for all of us.”
Armstrong said at one point during the season he considered having players go to a local hotel after the morning skate, trying to replicate a road game.
“We didn’t do it, I’m wondering if we should have done it,” he said. “I was crazy not to do it because we’re sitting here today with a home record that wasn’t good enough.”
The second area the team must address is the Blues’ performance on the power play, where they had only a 15.4 percent success rate, the second worst percentage in the league, ahead of only the Edmonton Oilers.
“If you are seventh in the NHL in goals against for the entire season, if both ends of our special teams are in the top half, we’re not having this conversation today,” Armstrong said.
Yeo said the lack of success on the power play will be “a huge focus” in the off-season discussions.
“We will not sit around as a coaching staff and just assume things are going to be better next year,” Yeo said. “Obviously we have to look at everything. We’re going to do everything we can to go to school with the rest of the league, what makes the best power plays successful compared to us, analyzing everything that’s gone wrong for us this year. We have to do everything on our part to make sure that changes.”
Armstrong said he also will reflect on his decision to trade Paul Stastny to Winnipeg at the deadline and not bring in players to help make a playoff push, but he still thinks it was the right decision.
“I just felt there wasn’t enough information there (at the deadline) to say you were a player away from contending for the Stanley Cup,” Armstrong said. “My job is to somewhat deal in reality … Our record for 40 percent of the season indicated that it wasn’t time to buy. … The potential trades that were there. Were they worth two of our top prospects? I didn’t think so at the time and I still don’t think so today.
“But all I know is that it sucks sitting here today, it really does. Now how would I have been if we had traded two top prospects for a guy and we’re sitting here in two weeks? That would probably have sucked more.”
Even if the Blues had won the final game and qualified for the playoffs, they would have been without forward Vladimir Tarasenko. Tarasenko suffered a dislocated left shoulder in Saturday’s game and is scheduled to undergo surgery on Thursday. The timetable for his return will be four to six months.
Goalie Jake Allen also said he might not have been able to play for a while after hurting his hamstring in the final game. He now will have plenty of time to rest.
“It’s going to be a long summer mentally.” Allen said. “I’m probably going to be bored by next week.”
Armstrong said next season will be an important one for Allen, but he is not alone in that category – trying to limit the valleys that have occurred in his game the last couple of seasons.
“The peaks are high enough but we need to get the valleys higher,” Armstrong said. “When our players play at their best I like their peaks but their valleys need to get a little bit higher. Jake needs to be better. He knows that.
“Next year is a huge year for him, just like it’s a huge year for all of us. Skaters, manager, coaches, trainers … we have had a perception here for six or seven years as an elite organization. You lose that perception when you miss the playoffs.
“At the end of the day we’re not a playoff team. That’s not good enough for our fans, it’s not good enough for us and it’s certainly not good enough for our players.”