By Lou Korac
Where does one begin?
Same place as many other disjointed Blues losses this season? Well, there have been plenty of those.
For the sixth time (SIXTH!), the Blues allowed five or more goals on home ice, and this was just the 16th game (it happened only four times all of last season), and it happened again in embarrassing fashion following another victory against one of the NHL’s elites in a 6-1 loss to the lowly Vancouver Canucks on Sunday before 16,841 fans at Enterprise Center that again left disgusted and angry.
The boos that reigned down from the plush new seats of the mezzanine level filtered down to ice level were hard to miss. But for Blues players, they’ve become a common occurrence this season. It’s brutal, and the fans have been given more than enough reasons to voice their displeasure.
“They come to see us play, and pay to see us play, and that’s multiple times where we’ve put out poor performances on home ice,” said Blues center Brayden Schenn, who was visibly upset answering questions. “It’s obviously unacceptable and we’ve got to find ways to not only win hockey games but make this a tough place to play. A proud place to play in front of our fans.”
The Blues have some of the more passionate fans in the NHL and back the team 100 percent or more when they play hard, compete and five an all-out effort.
But a roster that’s carrying $80-plus million paying players that have grossly underachieved seem to come up with the same answers after every dysfunctional loss such as this one. The common ones are “we weren’t prepared, we didn’t play hard enough, we took our foot off the gas.”
Forward Vladimir Tarasenko has been down this path before, and did so again apologizing to those paying their hard-earned money and attending this clown show.
“There is no consistency in our game. I apologize to all our fans,” Tarasenko said. “We can’t play at home like this. It’s unacceptable. I don’t know how to like fix it. We work on it, but it doesn’t work for now. We have a really hard game and then the next day, we just blow up like this. Like, I don’t know.”
That really hard game was Friday, at Winnipeg of all places, and the Blues go into MTS Place and shut out the Jets. Granted it was only 1-0 because of great goaltending from Jake Allen and a semblance of a structured defense, but it was there. And it’s been there in the past. Like in Toronto, a 4-1 win, and against San Jose, a 4-0 win, or even obliterating Nashville here the day after Thanksgiving 6-2. But then there are the stinkers, no … bomb-outs. Patrik Laine of the Jets can attest to that when he came in here 24 hours after that Nashville win and scored five times pitching a tent in the Blues’ zone on the majority of those.
And then there was rookie phenom Elias Pettersson, who recorded five points and Brock Boeser was the beneficiary of three of those points with his second NHL hat trick.
Young players are making it a habit of putting up career numbers against the Blues, and the home fans are the unfortunate ones of having to witness these milestones at the expense of those they’re paying to watch.
“We stop playing,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “Saying that, we gave up eight scoring chances in the game and six goals against. There are a lot of areas that have to be better tonight, for sure.
“We’ve got to be mentally tougher than that tonight, to let a bad bounce effect us like it did.”
That bad bounce Berube was referring to was the first Canucks goal, scored by Boeser, which came after a Jay Bouwmeester giveaway to Pettersson, who fed Boeser in the slot. Boeser’s shot was high off the glass, but it caromed back off Allen’s skate and into the net 2:31 into the game.
“They scored that first goal there, where it goes off Jake. I thought before that we had a decent start to the game,” Schenn said. “They get one lucky goal and we just shut it down.”
How? How does a team just shut down that early in the game, and it’s only 1-0?
“We’re a fragile group,” Schenn said.
Therein lies the problem, and that’s the mountain that the Blues have to climb over, but at 10-14-4, it’s going to feel like trying to get over Mount Everest.
“Right now we’re not committed enough to what we want to accomplish,” Blues forward Alexander Steen said. “You know, tonight was a couple of unlucky bounces and it completely changed the competitiveness of the game.”
And how does one get committed then?
“We’ve got to work at it everyday,” Steen said. “Everyday is a new opportunity and we’re not taking those opportunities right now.”
When told of Steen’s comments of the lack of day to day commitment, Schenn’s response was terse.
“That’s a question for him, I don’t know,” Schenn said. “I don’t know. Maybe he can have the answer to that.”
Some tension there? Most definitely, and when results like this continue to become common, despite the important pieces missing in the lineup (Alex Pietrangelo, Jaden Schwartz, Robby Fabbri and Carl Gunnarsson and Berube scratched David Perron today for what he called overall play and too many penalties), there’s going to be the friction and tension.
“That’s certainly why we’re where we’re at and why we show inconsistency like we do,” Berube said. “[Steen’s] dead right.”
But when asked about the veteran play, Berube was to the point.
“Very disappointed,” he said. “Not even close.”
Does the coach begin to hold more veterans accountable and even take their minutes away? Perhaps.
“We can do that,” Berube said. “There’s different ways. That’s an in-house thing anyhow, right?”
The chance to get back in this game was on the table when the Blues were given a four-minute power-play at 8:15 of the first down a goal when Eric Gudbranson high-sticked Steen.
But the power-play looked lifeless with little zone time and only two harmless shots. Pettersson scored 31 seconds after the Blues power-play ended and that was that.
“We were awful,” Schenn said of the power play. “Two shots on goal I think we had and they had six breakouts. So obviously, we need to score there or at least create momentum.”
Allen, who has been sharp the past 10 games with a 1.79 goals-against average and .939 save percentage, was pulled given the mercy pull after Boeser’s second of the game at 14:06 making it 3-0. He allowed three goals on six shots and was pulled in favor of Chad Johnson, who allowed three goals on 15 shots.
“It’s got to be better,” Berube said of the goaltending. “Just like our other players have to be better too. We get a four-minute power play and nothing happens, especially early in the game like that, we have to make something happen there and that’s our best players on the ice.”
Telling was that the Blues called up Jordan Binnington from San Antonio and assigned Sammy Blais to the Rampage. Neither Allen nor Johnson appeared injured, so what does this mean? Time will tell, but there’s the sense management and the coaching staff wants to see better goaltending somewhere
The Blues fell to 6-8-1 at home, and in those six games where they’ve allowed five goals or more, they’ve been outscored 36-15, and what’s worse, the Blues have been outscored 24-6 in losses following a win.
“We work on it, but it doesn’t work,” Tarasenko said. “It feels weird and we all feel bad that we’re here, especially playing like this at home.
“There is no excuses to us. It’s easy to find any excuse right now, but like I said, we can’t play like this, especially at home. This was always a hard building to play (in). We need to get it back somehow.”
Those were days long ago. Now, the Blues’ barn has become a welcome wagon for the strong getting stronger, or those looking to cure their ails.
“We’re going to keep drilling in their heads, so you guys can keep asking me and asking me and asking me, I’m going to tell you the same thing: We’re going at it, we’re going to keep pounding it in their heads until they get it. That’s it,” Berube said.
Photo by Jeff Curry/USA Today Sports
To hear the post-game interviews click the audio players below:
Coach Craig Berube