By Lou Korac
When he stood in front of throng of media following an embarrassing 7-4 loss on home ice to Columbus a week ago Thursday, Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said he was “tired of having these conversations. We need to be better.”
In order to do that, performances not only needed to be better in the short term but for a prolonged process as well.
The Blues, being a ceiling team when it comes to the salary cap, got back on the rails for two games, quieting the critics that wanted everyone off the roster disposed of and the coach tossed into a dumpster to rot away.
Well, that rail came unglued again, another disturbing result on Enterprise Center ice when the Blues were thoroughly dismantled by the Minnesota Wild, 5-1, before 17,767 disgruntled fans that booed the team off the ice — again.
This has become a common theme for the Blues (4-5-3) on home ice, which has become a haven for visiting teams that want to get right.
The Blues have given up 34 goals in eight games here, an average of 4.25 per game, and the results literally speak for themselves.
There are losses here of 5-1 on opening night, 7-4 and 5-1 again. For a team that’s supposed to climb back into the ranks of the upper echelon of the Western Conference, the Blues will have to do their darnedest just to climb out of the basement of the conference.
If not for the Los Angeles Kings, the Blues would be the bottom feeders.
“It’s not good enough,” Pietrangelo said after the Blues were outshot 45-16 on home ice. “I’m trying to find answers here, right?
“It’s unacceptable, right? This is a place for years that was hard to play (for opponents). Now it’s not. We’ve got to get back to that.”
The Wild (8-3-2) outskated, outhustled, outmaneuvered, outbattled the Blues in every facet. Minnesota wanted pucks more, they controlled it in the offensive zone, and when the Blues had it on their stick, it was gone quickly.
Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk could at times pitch a tent from the boredom.
“Sometimes you lose and sometimes you get beat and we got beat all over the ice tonight,” Blues coach Mike Yeo said, stating the obvious.
“There’s not much to say,” forward Alexander Steen added. “They just outright beat us tonight.”
And it started fast in this one.
Minnesota, which at one point was outshooting the Blues 33-9 through two periods (the Blues didn’t hit double digits until the 1:21 mark of the third period!), peppered Jake Allen, who made 40 saves, and took a 2-0 lead on goals by Eric Staal and Nick Seeler 45 seconds apart.
It was pretty evident how this one was going to turn out instead of having any sort of pushback.
“You give up a couple goals early, it doesn’t matter, teams are going to score goals,” Pietrangelo said. “We’ve got to find a way to kind of turn that thing around and took a couple penalties in a row there. Second period after we had a little bit of momentum, we had a tough time of getting it back.
“… I think we were too complicated with the puck. … They threw a lot of pucks at the net. Sixteen shots or whatever we had, that’s not good enough on our end.”
“It goes back to work ethic,” Steen said. “I think they outworked us in those areas, made it difficult for us get in, penetrate them inside. And we didn’t have the urgency to get there.”
Even as the Blues were getting outplayed, they got a power-play goal from Ryan O’Reilly, who extended his point streak to seven games (four goals, eight assists), at 11:32 of the first period, it slid back backwards again when Jay Bouwmeester committed an egregious turnover that led to J.T. Brown’s breakaway goal with 1:51 left to make it 3-1.
Bouwmeester skated with the puck towards the boards near the Blues bench at center ice. He was late moving the puck along the wall, and the uck got intercepted by Eric Fehr that sprung Brown loose, and he beat Allen high glove side.
By period’s end, the Blues were getting outshot 13-5 and down two goals.
“The way I saw that play, yes, his job is to skate there,” Blues coach Mike Yeo said. “I think maybe he has an option, I think his support wasn’t that great, I’m not going to pin it on one guy there.
“… It’s disappointing because you felt like you were kind of starting to make some traction, starting to build something and then obviously a step back today. We’ll re-examine and figure out how we can make sure this isn’t too far of a step back.”
It didn’t get better as the game moved along. The Blues were outshot 20-4 in the second and 12-7 in the third. Matt Dumba made it 4-1 and Fehr scored in the third.
Yeo said there would still be bumps in the road as the Blues figure out a plethora of new bodies in the lineup, even when things began to go well. But falling completely off the rails is disturbing, and when it happens like this, heads tend to roll.
“This is the only thing that’s a little bit disturbing is that for a division game and playing at home, we didn’t really seem to really get any response tonight,” Yeo said. “That was disappointing. We’ll have to find out why and we have to make sure that we come back, we’re trying to build not just a winning game and a system and all that kind of stuff, it’s culture stuff that we have to build, and so we have to make sure that we respond now.”
Now that it’s November, and the quarter part of the season coming upon the Blues, the time to get things in gear should be a priority. Those “it’s still early” comments are done and gone.
“It’s time to get going,” Pietrangelo said. “Divisional games, we’ve got to win these.”