St. Louis Blues are 'desperate' to win gameshttp://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/sports/stories.nsf/blues/story/0F33FEA25464884C862576C40010A5C7?OpenDocument
BY DAN O'NEILL
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
You can spend hours dissecting the St. Louis Blues and why their expectations for the 2009-2010 season have thus far gone unrealized.
Or, you could get to the crux of the situation in three words and roughly two seconds: They can't finish.
Three games into what could be a coffin-closing stretch in their schedule, the Blues have competed well. They swiped a win in Chicago behind the steadfast goaltending of Chris Mason. They had the better play in a 4-2 loss to San Jose on Thursday and they out-chanced the Blackhawks in a 2-1 loss at Scottrade Center on Saturday.
But this season, chances for the Blues are like bullets for Barney Fife. They largely go unspent. The 2-1 loss to Chicago was a prime example of the unfinished business that has crippled the team. In the opening minutes, the building bursting with emotion and energy, the Blues had a remarkable scoring chance.
A loose rebound dropped in front of the Chicago net, as Brad Boyes and Andy McDonald pounced. Chicago netminder Antti Niemi seemingly was down and out. As the crowd rose to its feet, anticipating a red-light ignition, Boyes and McDonald whacked at the puck simultaneously, only to have it slide into Niemi's pad, leaving a gaping hole of open net untouched.
"That's another play," Boyes explained, "the puck gets there … I go to shoot it and Andy goes to shoot it at the same time. We don't get enough on it to get it up over him. If (McDonald) is back a foot or something from me, I get a clear shot. If I'm over a little bit, he gets a clear shot.
"Instead, we're hitting each other's sticks there and don't get much on it. There's a great example. We have to score that. If we score that, we're rolling right off the bat."
The visitors scored first a few minutes later, made it 2-0 before the first period ended, and made it stand up. As the Blues outshot the 'Hawks 35-30, there were numerous other chances, for David Backes, David Perron, Keith Tkachuk, Erik Johnson. ... None paid off.
Throughout the game, and throughout the game before it against San Jose, the Blues had lots of snap and crackle. They just didn't have the pop.
"We had plenty of opportunities to find a way," Tkachuk said. The role Tkachuk, 37, has played this season has not always been conducive to scoring. So far, he has 12 goals.
Tkachuk recognizes that the team's lack of scoring is extinguishing its postseason aspirations. He also believes, at least on some levels, there is responsibility to be taken for the poor harvest.
"We're in a desperate mode right now," Tkachuk added. "We need to be a team that's more willing to sacrifice more in the tough areas. Right now, we're not a team that will pay the price around those tough areas to score goals ... and we're a team that's having a hard time scoring."
With 149 goals as of Sunday, the Blues ranked 27th in the NHL in scoring. They have won 13 of 28 one-goal decisions. They have won eight of 25 games in which the opponent scored first, and just two of 22 games they trailed after two periods. All signs of a team with no counterpunch.
And there's more perspective: Andy McDonald leads the team with 17 goals. With 23 games remaining, given the current individual paces involved, it is possible no other Blues player will crack the 20-goal plateau. Only four seasons here have produced fewer than two names in the 20-goal column — 2005-06, 1977-78, 1970-71 and the inaugural 1967-68 campaign.
It's a far cry from the days when the Blues had two 50-goal scorers in the lineup; Brett Hull and Brendan Shanahan made that happen in both the 1992-93 and 1993-94 seasons. It's also far removed from 1980-81, when the team had 10 players reach 20 goals or more on the way to 45 wins and 107 points.
The numbers are not lost on management, which recently made a bid to acquire Ilya Kovalchuk before Atlanta sent him to New Jersey.
"We're not getting the goals when we need them," said Boyes, who had 76 goals in 164 games the past two seasons and has 10 in 58 games this season. "I don't know. I'm trying to figure it out, too, trying to find answers. To say it is frustrating is a big understatement.
"When you're a guy, like myself, who has the talent to do it, and you're not doing it ... it's letting guys down, you know. You keep going, keep pushing, thinking you're going to come out of it. And in the (58) games we've played, we haven't come out of it yet."
As the Blues sped to Colorado on Super Bowl Sunday, they continued a run of games against playoff-worthy teams. Following the match with the Avalanche at 8:30 tonight, the team returns home for games with Detroit on Tuesday, Toronto on Friday and Washington on Saturday before breaking for the Olympics.
That home stand might seem inviting for most clubs, but not for the Blues. They have lost 22 of 31 at home, counting overtimes and shootouts.
Even when things appear to go right at Scottrade, they can go wrong. Boyes put a puck past Niemi during the second period Saturday, which would have made the score 2-1 and put the Blues back in business. Referee Dan O'Halloran disallowed the goal, ruling he had lost sight of the puck and whistled the play dead.
"That's what happens when you play a top team," Blues defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "They find the bounces.
"We just have to continue to stay positive in here. We can't keep beating ourselves down. We have to work on the good things we're doing and continue to get better, We're still not out of it, we still have life. That's the mentality we need to have."
What the Blues need to have most of all is more goals.