It’s getting hot and serious inside Scottrade Center with the playoffs coming around the corner. With a week left and 4 games to be played, the Blues are in positioning mode. They are 2 points behind Boston for the top spot in the NHL that stamps a home ticket throughout the playoffs. The Blues lead the Western Conference at the moment as well, so it’s all about getting the team right for the playoff run. In a nutshell, the team is in yet is fighting to secure a spot at Scottrade for the entire playoff run. They have dominated there all season long so there is still something to play for during these final games.
One can fret over the weekend losses where the team got smacked around by the Avalanche and the Blackhawks by a combined score of 8-2 but that’s not the real issue. Scoring goals has been a problem for a while. The Blues have seen their goals per game average drop the past month. During a pair of wins over Philadelphia and Buffalo, the Blues scored two goals in regulation. If you rely on one line to score it all, forget your chances in the postseason. Great teams will shut that down right away.
There are other issues. Their energy level is in question during the first period. In the Buffalo game, the team looked lethargic. Teams seem to run them over during the first 20 minutes. The Blues get outshot, maneuvered and simply outplayed. Finding a cure to that comes in the tiny details that Ken Hitchcock must play with as he awaits the return of injured forwards.
The Blues are in a stretch of games where level of play can stagger a bit. They have had a spot locked up for a long time and keeping that intensity maintained is harder than one seems. The argument can be made both ways. They have streaked into the season playing very well and been knocked out in the first round. They have also crept into the playoffs and caught fire. Hockey is a sport built on temp and energy. You either have it or you don’t.
The Blues look tired and out of sync right now. If the reason for it stems from injury and end of season wear and tear, there isn’t much to fret about. You reboot and kick it up an notch. If it stems from being unable to patch together wins with this current group or running completely out of energy, there is trouble ahead.
I don’t like getting too optimistic about the Blues when they thrive but I also don’t like getting too down on them during their trials and tribulations. The team has a way of sparking suddenly and catching fire and doing the unthinkable. I can tell you these last few things with little to no hesitation.
*Without Vladimir Tarasenko, the team will have to get more scoring from up and down their lines. Unleash Dmitri Jaskin or shake it up a lot differently. Great playoff teams pull points from all over the roster. Opposing players can find a way to shut down a great line. With Tank’s youthful stick, the Blues need to get more democracy with the scoring.
*Lean on Ryan Miller but don’t expect him to play like he did against Philly every night. That performance was peak performance for even a great stopper like Miller. It won’t happen too often. He won’t slide across the crease three times and make those saves and especially not in the playoffs if the Blues don’t put forth that effort.
*Alexander Steen. Take more vitamins. Eat more broccoli. Do something. Stay healthy sir. We need you. When Steen doesn’t play, Backes and Oshie became human. Oshie doesn’t have a point in his last 6 games and Backes doesn’t have a goal in his last 5.
*Once again, free Dmitri Jaskin. Do something with him useful. Why not these next 4 games? See what you have. Put him on the 2nd line. If Jaskin is going to resemble a tough guy on the 4thline, please replace him with Chris Porter. Give the kid a shot or get him out of there right now.
*Get to more shootouts because you have a guy named Oshie who goalies can’t seem to find a good book on.
Here is what matters. The Blues playoff performance. It doesn’t matter if we finish 1st and flop in the first round. With this team’s heartbreak road history, the playoffs are where the true revelations will occur. Did the team make the right move in acquiring Ryan Miller? Will he make a difference over an entire playoff round? Can the Blues find the energy in the remaining four games to get their spirits up for the playoffs? What happens if we face a team with blood hanging from their lips in the Stars in the first round? The biggest game I see this week is against Dallas. They have given us trouble, winning the past 2 games at Scottrade. We need to beat them and prove that it doesn’t matter who we face in the first round, #6 seed or #1 seed, we are ready to go.
That is where the truth lies for this great team that has broken team records. Win in the playoffs or go home a pure loser. Getting their act together this week is paramount to their success next week in the “real” games.
Ending rant-Jaro Halak is soft if he isn’t comfortable facing his former team. Adam Oates and Halak announced today that the former Blues goaltender asked out of the game tonight. With his team fighting the Columbus Blue Jackets for the 8th and final spot, Halak doesn’t want to play. He isn’t comfortable. He feels a little uneasy about facing the Blues. That ties up that tail right there. Halak lacks the hunger to truly win big games anymore. He is a mental and physical tragedy. Sure, he got a raw deal when he put up good numbers here this season and got dealt. Hey, that’s the NHL. It happens. Deal with it. Go out there tonight and prove Doug Armstrong wrong. Sitting down tells us all we need to know about Jaro Halak. Whether the Caps were in playoff contention or not, Halak should want to play. That’s all. The rumors about his mental makeup are coming to light. Jaro Halak doesn’t have that killer instinct right now and may never recover it. Thank Halak. Let me correct myself. Whether or not the Blues go deep into April and May, I like Miller trade. I don’t think he would opt out of a matchup with his former team if there were playoffs hinging on it. Miller said it didn’t matter if he faced Buffalo or not. Halak asked out of the matchup. Excuse me while I get out my small violin to play just for Halak tonight. A player without a desire to compete is a deadly thing. Emotions or not, Halak should be out there tonight. He can possibly wreck the Blues chances at the top spot. In front of the home crowd. If he is hardened by the trade, stand up and take a shot at your former team. Telling your coach it isn’t in the cards for you to compete is downright sad.
That may be brutal, mean spirited and hard to swallow but that’s my take and I am sticking to it. Go Blues!