Count the St. Louis Blues among this year’s early underachievers.
After dropping a 7-4 decision to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday, the team was at a loss and head coach Mike Yeo was ready to put himself up on the blocks. It was, after all, the second game in a row that saw the Blues cough up a two-goal lead.
And now St. Louis sits at a 2-4-3 start, with Yeo and Co. saying his job should be in question.
“It’s human nature, there’s going to be finger pointing,” Yeo said. “There’s going to be all kinds of questions. It’s going to be hard for us on the inside to not do that, but I think if we all look internally and figure out what we can do better and what we can do differently and how we can add to the group more, then we all pull in together and we’ll pull in stronger together.”
That’s boilerplate for a team that’s fraught, but the team did have a private meeting after the Jackets game and turned things over for about 23 minutes.
The Blues are seventh in the Central Division and have scored 29 goals, which puts them in some good company. The problem is that they’ve allowed a dreary 36 goals against, making them a leaky ship along the lines of the unsightly Philadelphia Flyers or the disconcerting Detroit Red Wings. Or even the Los Angeles Kings.
To hear Alexander Steen tell it, it’s about work ethic.
“We’re not working hard,” Steen said. “Other teams are outworking us and taking chances.”
That incorporeal “thing” – work ethic – turns games and drives analytics guys silly because it can’t be enumerated, but there’s something to it that bears out on the ice.
Goaltending, too, is part of the problem. Jake Allen gave up four goals on 21 shots Thursday before Chad Johnson was put in during the middle stanza. Allen gave up some not-good goals, like when Anthony Duclair scored one his two by fishing out a loose puck and shoving it in. The Blues’ failure to clear and handle business shone through.
On paper, things should be going well. A team that scores four goals should be in the running to win a game, especially with Ryan O’Reilly notching up three points against the Blue Jackets.
But errors were conspicuous, like Alex Pietrangelo being on the ice for five goals against. And he hasn’t scored yet, going with just one assist in eight games. For an offensive blueliner like the team captain, that’s not cutting the mustard.
Vladimir Tarasenko banked one in against Columbus and that’s good because he’s been nearly indiscernible to start the year. He’s got just two goals, which isn’t bad but isn’t great for a guy who’s supposed to be lighting the lamp on a regular basis. He’s also a minus-six, which means the oft-reported knock on his defensive play may be reasonable.
But honestly, it’s team defence – or a lack thereof – that’s doing the Blues in here. The team’s defence looked chaotic on Thursday, often crowding the plate for Allen and/or Johnson and not clearing the crease when necessary. That kind of dishevelled play, combined with the aforesaid lack of work ethic, has led to games being blown wide open when leads should be held.
So yes, the Blues look great on paper. And they’re scrupulously scoring enough goals, even though some top stars could take flight. The issues are more philosophical than what’s on the page at this point and, as Steen points out, St. Louis is having their you-know-whats handed to them. For anything to change in the near future and for Mike Yeo to save his gig, that work ethic has to come around.